In DRC, Tshisekedi dances next to fire in skirt made of dry grass

Monday November 20 2023

A cartoon illustration. PHOTO | NMG

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

Gatete Nyiringabo is a lawyer, governance consultant, and outspoken public affairs commentator based in Kigali. Gatete is as delightful as he is controversial and infuriating. His knowledge of African issues is rich.

Born and having grown up a refugee in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), his understanding of the country is granular, and he’s obsessive about it.

Few things get Gatete’s goat like the killing of Congolese Tutsi (including the Banyamulenge). His social media postings and blogs on the issue are many and impassioned. I had a lengthy exchange with him on developments in DRC. Excerpts:

Charles Onyango-Obbo (COO): In recent months, you have kept a continuous spotlight on the killing, some of them public lynchings, of the Congolese Tutsi, and have said some very fruity things about President Felix Tshisekedi, and what you present as his deadly alliance with genocidal forces in eastern DRC. First, there is a view that these killings could harden attitudes so much, and result in the thing Kinshasa fears most – an enclave that forms into a separate state somewhere in the Kivus as a “Congolese Tutsi safe haven”. Possible?

Read: OBBO: Some Africans have their bad democracy, good coups, people’s dictators

Gatete Nyiringabo (GN): No. Although the Tutsi of the DRC are in an extremely vulnerable state, the trigger would have to come from something else. There are differences between the Tutsi of North Kivu and South Kivu. But, if the broad Rwandaphonie of DRC, including the Hutu and Banyamulenge, unite, they would make the majority population of North Kivu. It could change the political dynamic, but who knows?


COO: Kinshasa has a different view of events in Eastern DRC. It blames Rwanda for backing the (Banyamulenge) M23 rebels. Rwanda has consistently denied this and says Kinshasa is in bed with the remnants of the forces that carried out the genocide against the Tutsi in 1994 and are plotting a Genocide 2.0. Leaders rarely act without a game plan. You have written that these massacres are good politics for President Felix Tshisekedi. Explain.

GN: My assessment of DRC in the coming weeks and months is that President Tshisekedi needs a “common enemy”: M23 or Rwanda — they don’t make a difference anyway — to win the city of Goma in the December 20 election. He is hoping to provoke Rwanda into a very visible reaction. If that doesn’t happen, he could ask the UN peacekeepers, Monusco, or his sympathisers in the Western human rights community, to make up another massacre like they did for Kishishe in November/December 2022. The international community would send him letters of condolences, and he would declare one year of national mourning. That would help him postpone the election.

Read: ULIMWENGU: We either fix our problems or prepare to perish

COO: Sounds too extreme. Would he need to do that?

GN: Yes. otherwise, he will have to stick to the election calendar of next month, or else, his regime will immediately fall into illegitimacy after December. Right now, they are so far behind in the election preparations. Nonetheless, in case the elections happen, he is likely to have to cheat to win. Then you have the same illegitimate outcome. Can he navigate the illegitimacy and maintain himself in power? Could the country be engulfed by political chaos? Either way, the fate of Tutsi Congolese is most uncertain in the coming months.

COO: You paint a bleak picture. Where are the dangers likely to come from in this election?

GN: No major candidate is likely to accept defeat. Martin Fayulu, considered the legitimate winner of the 2018 election that Joseph Kabila fiddled for Tshisekedi, and Dr Denis Mukwege can be “talked to”. Moïse Katumbi can’t. Former president Kabila seems to want Tshisekedi. The West wants Mukwege. The people want Katumbi. If Kabila and Katumbi reconciled as I recently heard, then Tshisekedi might be in big trouble.

COO: What are the realistic prospects for each of these candidates, though?

GN: Apart from the Congolese public, Katumbi has some standing in Africa: successful governor, successful businessman, owner of a successful football club. He is the Congolese equivalent of South African billionaire Patrice Motsepe, who is also President of the Confederation of African Football (Caf). He has the credentials that would play well as a new face at the African Union table; he is well-regarded in East Africa and South Africa, with deep ties in countries like Zambia and others.

Read: OBBO: For the big 2027 Afcon, we must now reinvent Community

COO: You aren’t one to put your penny on Tshisekedi.

GN: Tshisekedi was first accepted for his father’s name; former premier and prestigious opposition figure Étienne Tshisekedi. Now people have realised he isn’t his father. Few Congolese want him, except the people of his native Kasaï, who hardly make up five percent of the electorate. He maintains ministers like Vital Kamerhe and Speaker of Parliament Bahati Lukwebo for their Kivu electorate. Plus, his wife is from South Kivu.

COO: Why isn’t it a wrap for him then?

GN: Because Mukwege has taken over Kamerhe’s South Kivu voter base. So, he only has Goma. Fayulu has Kinshasa. If Tshisekedi and Kabila’s wives came to Goma to campaign for the president it would significantly boost his chances — of finishing second, behind Katumbi, whose popularity spans the whole country.

COO: And if there is a contested outcome?

GN: Some people see the election commission chief Denis Kadima as just another chap from Kasai who is in Tshisekedi’s pocket. If Katumbi and Fayulu contest it, a conflict could well erupt between Kasai and Luba, and Kinshasa too. A lot is riding on this.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the "Wall of Great Africans". Twitter@cobbo3