A draft law meant to tighten rules on election candidacy in the Democratic Republic of Congo is being seen as a tool to ring-fence President Felix Tshisekedi’s second term ahead of scheduled elections in December.
The proposed law is among several pieces of legislation up for debate in the September session of the Congolese parliament, which often also discusses budgetary rules this time of the year.
The parliament is set to discuss the draft dubbed the “Tshiani Law”, after its author Noël Tshiani, a 65-year-old economist, who worked at the World Bank and ran for president in 2018.
One of the provisions of the Bill is that only Congolese born of a Congolese father and mother may be appointed to positions of sovereignty or as state officers, including president, prime minister, in the courts and tribunals, the ministries of finance, defence and security.
Majority MP Pitshou Nsingi Pululu, who is pushing the draft, said: “We want to lock around 250 posts that we consider to be part of our country's sovereignty.”
The Bill was initially proposed in July 2021 but was not adopted. Its proposals follow a pattern seen in countries in Africa but most of which have locked out state officer positions from people who hold dual nationality, rather than singling out those of mixed parentage.
In Kenya, for example, a president, minister, soldier of the Kenya Defence Forces, MP, Member of County Assembly and ambassador cannot hold two passports. The president should be a Kenyan by birth, without specifying nationality of parents, while members of the judiciary and other independent commissions may be picked from the Commonwealth of nations, including the East African Community.
Yet, some people in the DR Congo believe that Tshiani’s and Pululu’s initiative is a strategy to keep Tshisekedi rivals such as Moïse Katumbi, who has mixed heritage, out of the presidential race.
President Tshisekedi had avoided commenting on the Bill until recently at a public function.
“I did not give my opinion so as not to get involved in the controversies that this law has aroused in the Congolese political class,” the Congolese leader said. “Tshiani is a Congolese — until proven otherwise — who has the right to think what he believes is good for his country. That is his right, we cannot put Tshiani on trial here because we are in a democracy where everyone has the right to express themselves."
“I don't think being born of a Congolese father and mother is a sufficient criterion for serving one's country loyally, faithfully and appropriately. Because, even the most recent history of our country shows us that there have been Congolese whose fathers and mothers have participated in the ruin of this country, so it's not a criterion, and those who think it is a criterion are free to argue."
The "Tshian Bill” has been rejected by Congo's opposition parties, and the Catholic clergy have described it as discriminatory.
Mr Katumbi, once an ally of President Tshisekedi, left the coalition a few months ago, fuelling suspicion the draft law targets him. He has announced that he will be a candidate in the presidential election due on December 20.
Registration of candidates closes on October 8.
Mr Katumbi, a wealthy businessman, is known most for his leadership of Congolese football club TP Mazembe based in Lubumbashi in the south of the country. His father had Greek and Italian roots, and was Jewish.
He served in Katanga Province as governor for eight years and backed Tshisekedi’s presidency.
In December 2022, he fell out with President Tshisekedi and left, declaring that “President Tshisekedi's record is very bad and chaotic.”
“I gave advice internally, I proposed a list of tasks which was not considered," he said on the day he quit and declared he would be a candidate in the presidential election.
A number of ministers from his camp also resigned from the government. They included the late Chérubin Okende, who was killed on July 13 in circumstances that remain unclear to date.
Tensions are running high between the Katumbi and Tshisekedi camps. Some people close to Katumbi also have cases pending in the courts.
Salomon Kalonda, a close adviser, is on trial before the military court in Kinshasa, accused of collusion with Rwandans in planning a coup.
An MP from the Katumbi camp, Mike Mukebay, is in prison for contempt of the head of state.
In 2018, 21 candidates applied for the presidency. According to the electoral law and the constitution, candidates must be of Congolese nationality by birth; be at least 30 years old; enjoy full civil and political rights; have a higher education or university degree or provide proof of at least five years’ professional experience in the political, administrative or socio-economic field; be eligible to vote or be identified and enrolled when submitting their candidacy.
The nomination paper must include the following items: A certificate of nationality; A valid extract from the criminal record; A photocopy of the voter’s card; A receipt for payment of the non-refundable application fee of 160,000,000 Congolese francs ($100,000) paid into the public treasury; A certified photocopy of the higher education or university diploma or certificate in lieu thereof or proof of at least five years’ professional experience in the political, administrative or socio-economic field.