Unrest presages volatile outlook in DR Congo
Unrest presages volatile outlookThe outlook is gradually deteriorating in the DR Congo as it becomes clearer that President Joseph Kabila has no intention to submit to constitutional term limits and is highly likely to seek a third term in office in elections next year. Kabila’s mandate will expire on 19 December and presidential elections that were scheduled for November have now been delayed, pending issues such as an outdated voting register. Although the opposition is united for the first time behind veteran leader Etienne Tshisekedi, the government’s repression of demonstrations on 19 September indicates that it may yet rely on force to cling onto power and all the lucrative patronage streams that come with it.
Kabila has been in power since taking over in 2001 from his assassinated father, Laurent, who only ruled for four years after seizing power from the kleptocratic dictator Mobutu Sese Soko. The present governing system is a decentralised semi-presidential republic based on a structure of distributing rents obtained from mining, primarily from Katanga province, among a governing elite that shares out posts based on loyalty to Kabila, around whom the system is based. Although the system has brought relative stability after the disastrous civil war, the country has yet to experience a non-violent handover of power in its modern history of bloodshed and exploitation, and Kabila’s refusal to leave office indicates this is unlikely to change as the country enters a new phase of uncertainty.
The crucial variable is the unity of the opposition, which has overcome its fractious history of division and disjointedness to come together under the banner of “Le Rassemblement”, or The Rally, of which Tshisekedi has been appointed president. With the grouping focused solely on ensuring that Kabila steps down on 19 December, it has been able to overcome some of its many weaknesses. Nevertheless, the fate of another powerful opposition leader, Moise Katumbi, who has been driven into medical exile by a judicial campaign against him, as well as a rumoured poisoning, indicates that Tshisekedi and the Rassemblement will also face the full hostility of state institutions, both open and covert.