Felix Tshisekedi: Glimmer of Hope or Kabila’s Shadow?


By Mhando Mbughuni

Last year, Joseph Kabila surprised the world when he announced that he would step down from the DRC’s Presidency.

Having been in power for the past 18 years during which time the country witnessed a massive crackdown of his political opponents, his decision was not at all expected. Kabila’s party, Common Front for Congo (FCC) chose Mr Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, a close ally, to carry its banner in the presidential race 2018.

Speculations are that President Kabila was setting into motion a game plan to run the country from the shadows.

The election results however, dealt a major blow to Kabila’s party as Mr. Shadary barely scraped up 23 per cent of the votes, trailing behind opposition candidates, Martin Fayulu and Felix Tshisekedi with 34 per cent and 38 per cent, respectively.

There was resounding sentiment that these results set precedence in African politics. Kabila’s announcement came within two years of long-serving Zimbabwe’s President, Robert Mugabe, and former South African President, Jacob Zuma were forced out of office by internal political pressure.

Since the coup d’état that led to the overthrow, and assassination of the then Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba in 1961, the DRC had not experienced a peaceful transition of power. In light of this, Kabila’s exit was heralded as a new dawn in a country that has been devastated by endless conflict and impoverishment.

Being the largest francophone country in Africa, the DRC is home to almost 77 million people, according to the World Bank statistics of 2016. It is also known for its vast natural resources in mineral, oil, and forestry sectors.

Apart from diamonds, uranium, and gold, the DRC is prized to hold the largest cobalt reserves, providing over 50 per cent of global supply of this metal for manufacturing smartphones, aircraft engines, and many other electronic essentials.

In stark contrast to its wealth, are high poverty levels which rank the DRC 176th out of 189 countries in the human development index (HDI) Report of 2017. Peace and democracy have been distant realities as rebel groups prevail in the mineral rich north eastern region, wielding superior military strength to government troops.

Now, Kabila has passed the baton to Tshisekedi. While to some, the latter’s win has been welcomed as a sign of democracy and stability in the war-torn country, others see the incumbent is “new wine in old wineskin.” Martin Fayulu, a prominent opposition figure accused the country’s electoral body of robbing him legitimate victory, dubbing it, “electoral coup”.

He accused former President Kabila of manipulating election results and striking a power-sharing deal with Mr. Tshisekedi following the ruling party’s defeat.

Behind Fayulu, was an overwhelming support of the country’s Catholic Church, which also deployed 40,000 observers to tally vote counting. They contend that the results have been rigged.

The French and Belgian Foreign Ministers publicly backed these claims. The African Union and Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) suggested vote recounting to clear the atmosphere which was already boiling with tension.

Finally, the Constitutional Court ruled in favor of Felix Tshisekedi, as the new President of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

What does the future hold for post-Kabila DRC? One would be mistaken to expect any radical reforms, at least for now.

Kabila’s party won majority seats in Parliament. This means despite losing the Presidency, his party has the mandate to nominate the Prime Minister and other Cabinet Ministers.

This gives them the upper hand to determine who runs institutions, including sensitive ones like the security forces.

It was a no brainer that a partnership between Tshisekedi’s government and Kabila’s party was likely to happen. Contrary to that, the new administration would have faced legislative impasse, eventually failing to enact any credible reforms and policies.

Despite the speculation of political maneuvers, this election gave a glimpse of hope. The Congolese sent a clear message that they have had enough, and they demanded change through the ballot box.

The incoming administration is faced with the critical task of establishing credibility and trust to stabilize and unite the country. Institutional reforms will be necessary to steer the DRC towards this trajectory.

Whilst, it is still uncertain whether the new President will have breathing room to lead the DRC into a brighter future, it is obvious that despite his exit from the driver’s seat, Kabila still commands great influence over the DRC’s politics.

To prove critics wrong, President Tshisekedi will have to pull a mission impossible to insulate the DRC from Kabila’s invisible hand.

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