On 6 December, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) President Félix Tshisekedi delivered probably one of the most anticipated and courageous speeches of his term in office to date.
He exposed some of the main grievances raised during his consultations with political and social actors. He explained the ongoing political impasse and laid out options to clear the obstacles that have prevented him from delivering on his programme for the country.
In the address, Tshisekedi announced the end of the Front Commun Pour le Congo-Cap Pour le Changement (FCC-CACH) alliance, sealed during the controversial 2018 presidential elections. This came after more than two years of clashes that have prevented the government from reforming and improving governance and service delivery.
Both the FCC (the party of former president Joseph Kabila) and CACH (pro-Tshisekedi) have been embroiled in political scheming ahead of the 2023 elections. Reforms that are desperately needed for peace and stability in the DRC quickly became tools to shift the balance of power, to the detriment of running the country in the interests of its citizens.
Tshisekedi hopes his move will reconfigure the political space in Parliament to his advantage
The president laid down a two-pronged approach as a way to break the deadlock. He announced the appointment of an 'informateur', a sort of mediator, to come up with a new majority in Parliament. Tshisekedi, who has minority support in the National Assembly, hopes the move will reconfigure the political space to his advantage.
How exactly this will happen is not clear. The DRC's electoral laws allow neither floor crossing in Parliament nor defections from one party to another in the course of a presidential term in office.
However, some observers have argued that a number of Members of Parliament (MPs) are willing to break ranks to support the president's vision. They suggest that cracks are forming in Kabila's FCC coalition as some MPs feel their political survival is at stake. Some analysts even believe that the FCC's grip on key national institutions has been dwindling for some time.
A procedure has been initiated by Tshisekedi supporters in Parliament to remove the bureau of the National Assembly, particularly FCC president Jeanine Mabunda, who has been at loggerheads with Tshisekedi on several occasions. Two hundred and eighty one out of the 481 MPs voted in favour of moving Mabunda out. This no-confidence vote in Mabunda and her bureau is a good indication that Tshisekedi is likely to succeed in poaching FFC MPs to his side of the house.
DRC's laws allow neither floor crossing nor party defections during a presidential term
Recent reshuffling of senior army officers and a ceremony held to renew army loyalty to state institutions send a clear message to Kabila and will test his hold over the security apparatus. Tshisekedi might also rely on new political allies such as Jean-Pierre Bemba and Moïse Katumbi, who were quick to praise the 6 December decision to end the ruling coalition.
The president also indicated the possibility of dissolving Parliament and calling for fresh elections if the move to gain a new pro-Tshisekedi majority fails. The FCC has argued that there's no 'persistent crisis between government and Parliament' that would justify dissolving the National Assembly. They also indicated that general elections would need to be held, not just parliamentary ones.
The FCC-CACH alliance has stymied the government's ability to capitalise on the momentum presented by the country's first peaceful transfer of power. Attention has been diverted away from structural issues that need focused political effort and resources to solve. The country faced the prospect of wasting five years of a Tshisekedi presidency characterised by power battles in Kinshasa, while developmental and security problems worsened.
Tshisekedi has now drawn a line in the sand. His speech opened a new battlefront in the DRC and the country has effectively descended into political crisis. Violence that erupted after the announcement of the end of the FCC-CACH coalition shows what could lie ahead.
The split in the ruling coalition is unlikely to produce a leadership committed to reform
In the best-case scenario, the decision could pave the way for a realignment of political forces with leaders more inclined towards governance and service delivery rather than accumulating power. But the complexity of the process makes this unlikely. In the worst-case scenario, new political conflict could drag on, adding to the deep security concerns in the Kivu and Ituri provinces where foreign and local armed groups remain a serious threat to civilians.
The coming days and weeks are likely to be turbulent and the DRC's partners should be prepared for any surprise. The FCC's reaction to the presidential address shows that the coalition will not go down without a fight. In a public declaration, FCC spokesperson Néhémie Mwilanya Wilondja took note of the decision and called for the withdrawal of pro-Tshisekedi CACH representatives from regional and provincial governing bodies.
Over the years, violence has been the preferred tool for most political leaders in the DRC to win and maintain power. It remains an option given the volatile security situation in which links have been established between some political actors and armed groups still active in the DRC. There is always a chance that the split in the ruling coalition could produce a leadership committed to peace and reform, but as things stand, the likelihood is slim.
ISS Great Lakes Region Team