Tshisekedi faces critical year ahead as elections loom

Saturday January 22 2022
Supporters of DRC President Felix Tshisekedi

Supporters of DRC President Felix Tshisekedi at his inauguration in Kinshasa in 2018. He plans to run for a second term next year. PHOTO | AFP


Three years after coming to power in a highly contested election, Democratic Republic of Congo President Félix Tshisekedi is once again preparing to hit the campaign trail ahead of next year’s elections.

Last year, President Tshisekedi announced his intention to run again, confirming that he was not going to be a one-term president. He openly said in a public rallies and during a tour of his home province of Grand Kasaï last December that he was on vote-seeking mission.

“I have a vision for my country. I want to achieve it with a second term,” he said last year.

But first, President Tshisekedi must cobble up a political movement. He has managed to stabilise his administration, against all odds and predictions by political observers.

He got off on the wrong footing through a difficult coalition with his predecessor Joseph Kabila in 2019. When it collapsed in 2020, he had to seek new allies.

President Tshisekedi is now settled after stamping his authority on all spheres of government. The heavyweights of Congolese politics such as Jean-Pierre Bemba, former vice-president of the DRC, Bahati Lukwebo, president of the Senate and even Vital Kamerhe, his former chief of staff, were once all Kabila’s main men, but are now in President Tshisekedi's fold.


The former governor of Katanga, Moïse Katumbi, is still in President Tshisekedi’s camp, even though he is expected to contest the presidency.


Mr Katumbi has been touring the northern provinces of the country, launching his party with pomp and colour, strongly criticising some of the government's actions, while still having his own party members as ministers in the current government. His statements make it difficult to determine his stand for now.

Yet President Tshisekedi has more on his hands, as a surprising rivalry has arisen in his own party. Jean-Marc Kabund, the powerful chairman of the UDPS and first vice-speaker of the National Assembly, is also pitting himself against President Tshisekedi.

Meanwhile, the camp of former president Kabila, although weakened, still vows to return to power.

President Tshisekedi expects Mr Kamerhe to oppose him come 2023. Previously the chief of staff, Mr Kamerhe was jailed for 20 months for corruption in 2020, but was released on amnesty last year. He is currently undergoing medical treatment in Europe, and owes his release to this electoral prospect. But since there are no permanent enemies in politics, Mr Kamerhe could repay the gesture from the president, and could play wingman again for him in 2023.

One of the challenges for President Tshisekedi will be how to retain the popularity he had when he came to power. Heir to a party that fought in the opposition for more than 35 years, he carried the aspirations of many Congolese. He now has to defend some of his actions as head of state.

His detractors criticise his almost chaotic record in the security sector. He had pledged to eradicate insecurity in the eastern provinces of the country. But the massacres have not stopped.

Recently, DR Congo initiated a joint operation with Uganda to target the Allied Democratic Forces, the rebel group that has terrorised people on both sides of the border. The operation has since expanded to target all terror gangs, according to official statements. It is unclear though how long it will run, and its successes.

Under Tshisekedi however, the economy has grown, exceeding the forecasts of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which resumed a lending to Kinshasa. The reserves of the Central Bank of Congo are increasing; tax collection is becoming more refined; the General Inspectorate of Finance is making the management of public finances more efficient; the budgetary collective is on the rise; investments in the electricity and fibre sectors give hope for economic diversification.

But financial scandals, even in the offices of the Head of State are still being reported.

Preparations for the 2023 elections have been delayed and with less than two years to go, the Independent National Electoral Commission is barely getting off the ground. It has not registered or updated the voters’ roll. It expects to register 50 million voters but has to contend with poor road infrastructure, erratic power supply and face violence in vast territories.

A spanner in the works is the planned general census, a first in 38 years, which governments want done before the election. If carried out a planned, it could have an impact on the electoral timetable. And in the DRC, any hitch or delay in the electoral process is always blamed on the head of state.