Congo-Kinshasa: Kabila the Son, the Father, and Now the Holy Ghost

Joseph Kabila Kabange, President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, addresses the general debate of the General Assembly’s seventy-third session (file photo).

The Great Kabila Political Drama in the Democratic Republic of Congo has just taken a new twist, as we journos love to say.

Remember it all started in May 1997 when, riding on the back of the Rwanda army, Laurent Kabila came to power, ousting long-ruling dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. Kabila fell out with his benefactors just under two years later. In January 2001, he was assassinated.

With the fall of Kabila the Father, Joseph Kabila the Son took over. Not taken too seriously when he ascended to power, Kabila Junior proved to be an adept political gamesman.

When his time to leave came, he used every trick to delay it for over two years, as he allegedly continued to line his and his family's pockets.

When he eventually did, little did the world know he was going to serve up the ultimate pièce de résistance.


Kabila's chosen successor in elections held December last year was Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary. He was so dismal, the popular opposition leader Martin Fayulu, who is believed to have won by 60 per cent of the vote, routed him.

But in Africa, often neither the vote nor the count matters. It is the announcement. When it came, now-president Felix Tshisekedi, who is thought to have polled about 20 per cent of the vote, was named winner.

Nearly everyone was blindsided. In the distinguished history of African election rigging, no ruler had ever stolen victory for the opposition - let alone for the third candidate - so brazenly.

So though Fayulu may have won, Tshisekedi is the one who wears the crown. With Kabila's Common Front for the Congo (FCC) coalition dominating Parliament, Tshisekedi has so far played along like a good puppet, yielding to the former president's whims.

After nearly four months of being sworn in, and still without a Cabinet, a few days ago Tshisekedi named a Kabila ally, Prof Sylvestre Ilunkamba Ilunga, as prime minister.

Mid-week it was reported that Tshisekedi's Cap pour le Changement (CACH), the political alliance between the president's Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) and Vital Kamerhe's Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC) coalition, and the FCC had reached an agreement to share the political spoils.

FCC will have 60 per cent of the Cabinet positions while Tshisekedi's CACH coalition will take 20 per cent.


Effectively, Kabila is still in charge. DRC has therefore moved from the rule of Kabila the Father, to Kabila the Son, and now to Kabila the "Holy" Spirit.

In it all, Kabila has revealed a great flaw - he might be the artful election cheat and political Diego Maradona, but he's a bad puppet master.

He has reportedly refused to move out of the presidential palace, leaving Tshisekedi to make do with humbler digs. He is also reportedly clinging on to the presidential jet. Tshisekedi is playing along because, it seems, it is good for him. Looking like an abused child, and carrying himself with a more democratic demeanour than any previous Congolese ruler, he cuts a sympathetic figure.

With Joseph overplaying his hand, Tshisekedi is able to make him the fall guy, allowing resentment against the Kabila House to continue simmering.

Any great puppet master knows that often the best act is when they don't show either their hands or face. Kabila seems not to have learnt that lesson. Instead, he's becoming Tshisekedi's scapegoat.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is publisher of data visualiser Africapaedia and Rogue Chiefs.

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