24 March 2019

Congo-Kinshasa: Collaboration or Coalition? Tshisekedi's Tough Choices As Leader

Photo: allafrica.com
Former president Kabila and President Félix Tshisekedi
analysis

It has been a little over a month since Felix Tshisekedi became the Democratic Republic of the Congo's (DRC's) head of state.

Protests that followed the presidential election seem to be dwindling. And internationally the African Union and Western countries, including France and Belgium, have recognised his takeover.

But Tshisekedi faces an uphill struggle to establish his legitimacy. The poll was contested by the platform that supported Martin Fayulu in the presidential election. The coalition, called Lamuka, seems to have come round to accepting that it failed to win power. Fayulu is seeking to fit into the current political scheme. But it's clear that he's called on his supporters to remain vigilant to make sure Tshisekedi doesn't renege on promises he's made.

Other aspirant presidential candidates have also fallen into line. The political parties associated with Fayulu in the coalition have made it clear that they recognise the current authority of the country. This includes the National Union of Federalists of the Congo party under the leadership of Gabriel Kyungu, Mouvement social pour le renouveau under Pierre Lumbi and a wide range of members of Ensemble under Moïse Katumbi.

The Catholic Church, which was first to contest the result of the poll, has also recognised the new head of state.

All this suggests that the race for the presidential chair is over. The question now is to identify where the real power lies. And what capacity the new president has to run the country. The hard truth is that Tshisekedi can't set up a government to fulfil his political project unless he takes one of two options - cohabitation or forming a coalition.

A difficult and complex beginning

For the first time, a peaceful and civilised handover of power took place in the country, between Joseph Kabila and Tshisekedi. But these stories are quiet about one fact: that the old regime remains firmly in place.

Tshisekedi's power is being undermined by the outgoing regime in a number of ways. Firstly, Kabila loyalists were put in key positions to run essential state services. Examples include the army, police and intelligence services.

Secondly, Kabila's cabal has made sure that it retains power through institutions like the national assembly and provincial governments. This is clear from the fact Tshisekedi has lower representation in the national assembly.

There are already signs of tension. One was Tshisekedi's recent decision to suspend the process of installing senators and electing provincial governors, amid allegations of procedural irregularities and corruption.

Kabila's camp considers these decisions a violation of the country's laws, while Tshisekedi's supporters view his decision as part of the president's duty as the guarantor of the constitution and stability of the republic.

Difficult choices

The option of cohabitation would see him poach members of the Common Front for Congo, which has the largest number of parliamentarians.

This approach would be interesting because it would allow him to infiltrate the majority parliamentary group and get it to support his political project as head of state.

If that doesn't work, he'd be forced to form a coalition with other minority parties to counterbalance the weight of Common Front for Congo. This option is rather complicated because he would have a weak hold on both the parliament and the government. He would be a president without power. In other words a puppet.

Yet another option is to form an alliance with Common Front for Congo. If this happens, some thorny questions will be raised about the control of the parliamentary leadership. For example, who would lead such a coalition - Kabila, who holds the the moral authority of the Front Commun pour le Congo, or Tshisekedi?

Another tricky question would be which political programmes or projects should be given precedence.

And lastly, will it be possible to take the country in a new direction while there's a continued reliance on people who for almost 18 years plundered the country?

To eat with the devil, you need a long fork

Tshisekedi doesn't seem to have many options to set up his first government as head of state. Initially, he will probably have to deal with the current parliamentary majority which is held by Kabila's supporters, the Common Front for Congo.

Hopefully, he can reshape it during his term in power. In the meantime, he should not lose sight of the popular wisdom that eating with the devil requires a long fork. Despite the apparent cordiality between himself and Kabila, he should not forget that the former head of state remains a political opponent.

If, following Nelson Mandela's example after his release from prison, Tshisekedi calls all Congolese to reconcile and to work together for the good of the nation, he must not lose sight of the need for justice (for all) as the basis of the rule of law.

Only then will he be able to claim an alternative rule and new perspectives for the Congolese people.

Albert Kasanda, Researcher in Political Philosophy and social sciences, Czech Academy of Sciences

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