Kabila move in DR Congo triggers relief, but uncertainty remains

Thursday August 09 2018

DR Congo President Joseph Kabila, holds a press conference on January 26, 2018. Analysts say suspicions will run deep that Kabila, by picking a loyalist to contest the December 23 ballot, wishes to wield influence behind the throne. PHOTO | REUTERS


By announcing he is formally stepping aside after 17 years in power, President Joseph Kabila has eased tensions in DR Congo but the volatile country remains gripped by uncertainty ahead of scheduled elections.

Domestic, regional and international pressures are likely to have played a role in the president's eagerly-awaited decision to pick a successor instead of naming himself.

But suspicions will run deep that Kabila, by picking a loyalist to contest the December 23 ballot, wishes to wield influence behind the throne, analysts say.

"Kabila evacuated the question about his intentions from the agenda by choosing a successor," Hans Hoebeke, senior analyst for Congo at the International Crisis Group (ICG), told AFP.

"This should not reassure too much. There are no guarantees that the elections will effectively be held and, if they are, that they will respond to minimal criteria of credibility."

Kabila has ruled the country since 2001 since the assassination of his father, Laurent-Desire. His tenure has been stained by a reputation for corruption and conflict.


After his two-term limit expired at the end of 2016, Kabila stayed in power, invoking a caretaker clause in the constitution to remain in office.

In recent months, he has kept everyone guessing whether he would try and run again.

On Wednesday, just hours before the deadline for filing election bids was due to expire, his office made the big announcement.

Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, former interior minister of the DRC, was designated as Kabila's ruling coalition candidate.

By choosing a close ally who is under European sanctions for human rights violations, Kabila signalled that loyalty prevailed above all other criteria.

Small base

Shadary will run against a long list of other candidates from opposing parties, and does not have widespread recognition in the country.

"His political base is in Maniema, a small artisanal mining province in the east, which includes less than five percent of the DRC's electorate," said Indigo Ellis with risk analysis company Verisk Maplecroft.

If Shadary wins, Kabila will wield special clout in addition to his positions as senator and head of the People's Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD), Ellis added.

Kabila would "almost certainly remain the string-puller behind the scenes, at least initially, with Shadary as a figurehead president," he said.

For this reason, and on the assumption that the opposition is able to unite behind a single candidate, a Shadary election victory is "bound to attract accusations of foul play," he said.

The fate of Moise Katumbi, 53, a prominent opposition figure leading recent opinion polls, who was barred from entering the country last week to lodge his candidacy, remains a concerning issue for some analysts.

"We believe that the real goal, for the moment, must be an election in which the rights of all and of every individuals are respected, in peace and equality of opportunity," a church-based group, CENCO, in a statement this week. "That is the price for credibility of the polls."

Other important questions include the government's ability to organize the elections in time in a country the size of Western Europe where infrastructure is notoriously poor.

The electoral commission said in November they expected elections to cost about $420 million.

The opposition, as well international players including the United States, have also expressed concerns with electronic voting machines that the electoral commission intends on using.

The machines, imported from South Korea, are difficult to use and liable to be hacked they claim.

Regional pressure
Commentators suggest that the inflexion point for Kabila's decision may have come from the DRC's neighbours, which have eyed the country's instability with concern.

The DRC was the theatre for two wars, from 1996-7 and 1998-2003, that sucked in states from around central and southern Africa. Embers of that conflict glow on a smaller scale in eastern DRC even today.

"President Kabila has made a highly honourable political gesture for the good of his country," said African Union (AU) chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat.

Pressures from African countries were most effective, said a diplomatic source in Kinshasa, singling out Angola — a traditional ally of Kabila — as well as South Africa and the AU.

"He can't be completely immune to the reality that in many ways regional opinions have turned against him (from running)," said Stephanie Wolters, Johannesburg analyst at ISS Africa, adding the threat of new US sanctions may also have weighed on Kabila's decision.