10 June 2015

Zambia: Kabila's "Decoupage" - an Aim At Moise Katumbi's Rising Popularity

opinion

It's not in dispute that Katanga governor Moise Chapwe Katumbi's popularity in Africa's third largest country - the Democratic Republic of Congo - has rose to unprecedented levels in the last decade. Two things - football and his selfless spirit to transform Katanga - have won him many hearts. He's adored by his people.

Since assuming power in the southern tip of the Congo, Katumbi embarked on an ambitious plan to revive the fortunes of one of the richest provinces in Africa. The people of that region had never experienced what they have come to see.

From a massive road network system covering thousands of kilometres to the electrification of rural and urban communities, construction and renovation of schools and hospitals, Katumbi has his footprints dotted across the province.

A visit to many areas in Katanga reveal how much work and transformation has occurred during Katumbi's tenure as chief executive of the province. The road network system connecting Zambia and Lubumbashi - the country's second largest city - was before Katumbi's return in a terrible state. A journey of 45 minutes would last not less than three to five hours. And this is the main inlet connecting the southern part of Congo to its neigbhours and eventually crucial regional partners like South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Angola, Mozambique, Tanzania and Angola among others.

Similar developments have occurred interlinking Kolwezi, Likasi and Lubumbashi making access and doing business possible in a country where such occurrence only a wishful thought. Most of the key areas in Katanga are well lit. Areas such as the townships of Nkenya, Kinkalabwamba, Makomeno, Katuba, Kalumbwe have equally experienced massive developments and all of these developments have been attributed to Katumbi who commands a lot of respect in Katanga.

Katumbi's investments in football particularly TP Mazembe where the team has gone on to win two African Champions League titles in 2009 and 2010 under his tenure and finished second at the FIFA Club World becoming the first and only team on the continent is something that has not departed the lips of an ordinary Congolese. For his works in Katanga, some of his supporters have touted him for even bigger national tasks.

What started as just a regional effort has seemingly swirled and is now hitting every parts of the Congo. Kivu, the Eastern part, Kisangani, the central part and Kinshasa - where veteran politician Etiene Tshisekedi has held firm - have all warmed up to Katumbi that such popularity has unsettled some of the people in his ruling party. They consider him a possible threat and have been working hard to neutralise him.

Such seasoned politicians as Kyungu WaKumwanza have admitted that Katumbi's popularity in Katanga, a key province in the Congo, has never been seen before in the history of the former Belgian colony. Wakumwanza is a key Katumbi supporter.

President Joseph Kabila, whose term officially ends next year when the country holds elections, has not hidden his intentions of extending his stay in power albeit illegally. For him to strengthen his hold on power, President Kabila must remove potential threats in his way and Katumbi's rising popularity is perhaps his greatest headache.

President Kabila has tried and continues to explore means of staying in power. Experts have noted the machinations Kabila has outlined to continue his hold on power included a failed attempt at changing the constitution that collapsed in parliament after claiming the lives of 40 people who had died in protests.

That is why the the international community is being called upon to take keen interest in Congo. The situation is as fluid as it can get. This fluidity will only be curtailed if President Kabila paves way for the next leader where the likes of Katumbi may emerge as potential successors although it does not seem as though it is something the incumbent is willing to giving away so easily hence the decoupage. Today, Katanga has four regions among them Lualaba, Haut Lomami, Haut Katanga and Tanganyika.

This, according to experts is, an expensive, cumbersome, and politically controversial breakup of the country's 11 provinces into 26 for the primary purpose of neutralising Katumbi and strengthening Kabila's hold on power. By so doing, Kabila hopes Katumbi will not enjoy the powers he believes have catapulted him into this massive popularity.

Further, Kabila hopes he will have 26 of the new governors he will appoint as his loyalists and hopefully in his thinking Katumbi will technically no longer be part of the political structure. But the Congolese people are patient. They seem to be waiting and looking forward to 2016 when they will install their "Moise wamuu Bible (the Moses of the Bible)."

Experts at Foreign Affairs Magazine state that with the approach of the 2016 presidential elections however, Congo has experienced a political earthquake and the country will seemingly continue to endure such.

After Kabila tried to remove the two-term limit, he was faced with unexpected resistance not only from the parliamentary opposition but also from elements within his own coalition. So he shifted to demanding a nationwide census, which was estimated to take three years to conduct, before federal elections could be held. In January, that demand provoked mass demonstrations initiated by the opposition but powered by activist youth. During those protests, Kabila's security forces killed at least 40 people and jailed hundreds.

When his allies in parliament succumbed to the public pressure, Kabila produced yet another strategy to remain in power. He outlined an electoral calendar for a plethora of local, provincial, and national elections between October 2015 and November 2016, which most Congolese and foreign experts view as an impossibly ambitious number to actually hold. Furthermore, the elections are to be conducted by an "independent election commission" that is widely viewed as pro-government.

Kabila has promoted loyalist hard-liners into key security positions and stepped up political intimidation, including the arrest and continued detention of youth leaders who attended a conference on democracy sponsored by the U.S. embassy. Kabila's strategy is a recipe for chaos. It will inevitably delay presidential elections, and it will vastly increase the risks of widespread violence, repression, coup attempts, and renewed interference by neighboring countries.

Congolese people at home and abroad are waiting. They already have an option and they are very much aware the decoupage is but a political gimmick targetting perceived political challengers. Therefore, whatever Kabila would in his grand scheme aimed at Katumbi may have grave political ramifications.

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