The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has a new president since 24 January. Although this was a historic day in Congolese history – it was effectively the first peaceful transition of power since independence from Belgium in 1960 – President Félix Tshisekedi Tshilombo is unlikely to bring about the significant changes that the DRC needs or that many investors were hoping for during the next five years. In line with A2 Global’s previous warnings, ex-president Joseph Kabila and his allies will remain in control of government policies, businesses and the courts, indicating that businesses will face political and bureaucratic continuity despite ambitious promises made by Tshisekedi during his election campaign.
A highly problematic election
On 10 January, the electoral commission – Commission électorale nationale indépendante (CENI) –confirmed Tshisekedi, the leader of the opposition party Union pour la Démocratie et le Progrès Social (UDPS), as winner of the 30 December 2018 presidential election. To the surprise of many, including international media, non-governmental organisations, and analysts alike, it was not Kabila’s anointed successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, who won but an opposition candidate.
Meanwhile, Martin Fayulu – the leader of the eight-party opposition coalition, Lamuka (which means Wake Up in Lingala) – accused CENI of committing massive voter fraud. Fayulu claimed to have received 61 per cent of the votes nationally and proclaimed himself the legitimate president on 20 January. Reports in reputable international media and research institutions – Africa Confidential and Financial Times, and New York University’s Congo Research Group – supported his claims based on an allegedly leaked voter tally from sources within the government, and an independent tally by the Congolese episcopal council, CENCO. Unexpectedly, however, the constitutional court, which is dominated by Kabila loyalists, upheld Tshisekedi’s victory and he was sworn-in on 24 January.
Tshisekedi’s surprise victory led to suspicions among international media as well as among Lamuka supporters that he had struck a deal with Kabila behind the scenes; such doubts were likely fuelled by Tshisekedi’s increasingly conciliatory tone towards Kabila in the days preceding his election victory.
In addition to the presidential election, the Congolese electorate also voted for their next national assembly – the lower house of the bicameral legislature. It is entirely dominated by the ruling coalition – Front Commun pour le Congo (FCC) – which holds 337 of 485 seats voted for – 71 per cent of votes Lamuka-affiliated parties got a meagre 94 seats, while the two-party coalition Cap pour le changement (Heading for change; CACH) – which includes UDPS and its partner party Union pour la nation congolaise (Union for the Congolese Nation; UNC), which is led by Vital Kamerhe – received no more than 46 seats. That is still less than the 58 seats of the ruling party, Parti du peuple pour la reconstruction et la démocratie (People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy; PPRD).
Changing political dynamics bring new and old security risks
In the one-month outlook, Tshisekedi’s victory de-escalates the risk of politically motivated violence across many parts of the country but does not completely eliminate it. Rather, it changes the dynamics by breaking up the opposition forces. Had CENI confirmed Shadary as winner instead, it is highly probable that Lamuka as well as the other two-party coalition, CACH – which includes UDPS and Vital Kamerhe’s UNC – would have presented a united front against Kabila and the ruling coalition.
What is likely to follow is a change in the dynamics of violence
In turn, this would have presented much higher stability risks than the current political panorama, a chance neither Kabila nor his allies could take. What is likely to follow over the next three months is a change in the dynamics of violence, which will remain focused on Lamuka strongholds but with growing signs of division between coalition partners. Effectively, Lamuka emerged as an alternative to Kabila, not to Tshisekedi or Kamerhe, which tests its supporters allegiance to the coalition; some have already defected.
Furthermore, Shadary is considered by Western actors to have been at the centre of the security forces’ violent repression of two major conflicts in the DRC over the past two years. The first relates to an armed uprising in the central Kasaï province in 2016 – amidst which two U.N. experts were killed under unclear circumstances. The second relates to an incident in May 2017, when religious group Bundu dia Kongo (BDK) attacked the Makala prison in the capital Kinshasa to free their leader, Ne Muanda Nsemi, along with approximately 1,000 more prisoners.
Shadary’s leading role in that repression prompted the European Union (E.U.) in May 2017 to impose travel bans and asset freezes on him and eight other high-ranking officials in the Republican Guard and the armed forces, FARDC. That Tshisekedi used to be a lawmaker in the Kasaï region further de-escalates the risk of violence in the area, and there are already signs of improving security after nearly 600 militants and 50 recruiters of non-state armed groups in the area said on 26 January they surrendered their weapons. Several Catholic bishops two days later officially broke from CENCO’s position and recognised Tshisekedi as legitimate winner.
Elsewhere in the DRC, supporters of Lamuka are likely to continue to mobilise for demonstrations, with particular flashpoints being in Kinshasa, the south-eastern city of Lubumbashi, and the central cities of Budungo, and Kikwit, and Goma in the north-east. However, as support from Western powers, including the E.U. and France, as well as African intergovernmental organisations, such as the African Union and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Fayulu’s and Lamuka’s ability to disrupt daily life through demonstrations will quickly dissipate, most likely over the next one to two months. In parallel, over the next six months a number of Lamuka allies are likely to defect to the ruling majority, a common feature of Congolese politics. Several leading figures of Lamuka, including Moïse Katumbi and Adolphe Muzito, have been members of the PPRD or Kabila’s government; the latter was prime minister between 2008 and 2012.
Conversely, as Lamuka appears weakened, UDPS supporters are emboldening, and present a moderate likelihood that groups of youths ‘take matters into their own hands’ to stifle dissent from other opposition groups. During Tshisekedi’s inauguration, for instance, gangs of UDPS youths were reportedly spotted along with police officers across Kinshasa, allegedly looking for Fayulu supporters. As Fayulu is campaigning for what he sees as his legitimate right to the presidency, frustration among UDPS youths is highly likely to grow in response, presenting elevated risks of mob violence in the three-month outlook. Kinshasa, where Fayulu lives and where UDPS is headquartered, will be a flashpoint…