Tshisekedi’s delicate balancing act says a lot

Saturday March 16 2019

DR Congo President Felix Tshisekedi

DR Congo's President Felix Tshisekedi attends the 32nd African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa on February 10, 2019. The president is appearing not fully in charge of the country but what are his options? PHOTO | SIMON MAINA | AFP 

FRED OLUOCH
By FRED OLUOCH
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Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi can no longer conceal the delicate balancing act between asserting his authority and doing the bidding of his coalition ally and predecessor Joseph Kabila.

Congo watchers say that the delay in forming a Cabinet and naming a prime minister since he was sworn in January 24 is as a result of horse-trading between his CACH Coalition and Kabila’s Common Front for the Congo (FCC) over who gets what portfolio.

“Tshisekedi is trying to show that he is in charge, but Mr Kabila has a long list of people who want to be paid back for their long years of loyalty,” Stephanie Wolters, head of the Peace and Security Research Programme at the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa, told The EastAfrican.

She said that while Mr Kabila wants to make the coalition favourable to Tshisekedi after signing an official agreement two weeks ago, his resources are restricted because he is no longer the president, despite wielding considerable power over Tshisekedi.

The new president’s main headache is that his CACH Coalition only managed to get 46 MPs out of the total 500 while FCC has 337 MPs and are demanding the post of prime minister.

There is widespread talk that a back room deal with Kabila has left the former president with considerable control over the incumbent.

Without a Cabinet and a PM, former ministers in the Kabila government are still performing their duties, save for those as these were elected as MPs, who are required by the law to relinquish their portfolios.

Congolese who spoke to The EastAfrican refer to FCC as the “government side” which they cite for the delay in forming a government.

In a recent tour of Namibia, President Tshisekedi hinted at his frustrations when he said that he will not accept being a “ceremonial” president.

But what are his options?

“How much independence can he really assert and how much risk is he willing to take to assert his independence?” asked Ms Wolters.

On March 2, President Tshisekedi announced his intention to free all political prisoners and facilitate the return of political exiles within 10 days.

“To cement the democratic advances achieved in our country, I have made reducing tensions a major goal. I will order the justice minister to take all necessary measures within the law towards conditional release of all individuals detained for opinion offences—notably during the protests held before the elections,” President Tshisekedi said.

But nothing happened, with political observers noting that this is a sign of the difficulties that lies ahead in trying to make decisions without consulting Mr Kabila.

Most of the political prisoners were jailed by Mr Kabila for speaking out about his misrule, mismanagement of the extractives sector or corruption and they could still pose a threat to the CACH-FCC coalition.

During Mr Kabila's rule, opposition demonstrations were banned, political opponents were detained and dozens of protesters shot dead.

With the realisation that President Tshisekedi will always have to negotiate with Mr Kabila on polices and their implementation, sources say that some powerful Western powers have been discussing with the new president how to shake off the Kabila influence.

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