DRC’s Tshisekedi gets to work while questions loom over his election
Although questions continue to loom over the legality of his election, the new president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Felix Tshisekedi, has wasted no time in getting to work. Tshisekedi was declared winner by the electoral commission (CENI) having won 38.6% of the vote, representing the historic opposition party, UDPS, in an election widely questioned as fraudulent. His actions since taking office suggests he is moving fast to establish the facts on the ground.
The polls that were originally scheduled for December 2016 were finally held on 30thDecember 2018. Voting was postponed in three opposition stronghold cities due to concerns over the Ebola crisis and security situations. The voting process took place without significant incident. However, there were some protests in the time between the end of the polls and the announcement of results; internet was shut off in the country and public gatherings were met with heavy responses from the security services.
Following the announcement of preliminary results, opposition candidate Martin Fayulu cried foul, alleging that widespread vote rigging had taken place. His claims appear to be backed by the DRC’s Episcopal Conference who had over 40,000 observers deployed on election day as well as supposed leaked original results from CENI.
Whilst many still believe that a (not-so) secret deal was done between Tshisekedi and former president Joseph Kabila, the new president is seeking to do what he can to distance himself from his predecessor and leave Fayulu’s failed legal challenge far behind him. However, the suspicion of Tshisekedi being Kabila’s political dauphin looks credible and was further bolstered after a recent meeting between the two. Sources say that Tshisekedi and Kabila have agreed to form a coalition, which will allow them to name a prime minister that is amenable to all concerned.
A local political commentator was of the view that “Kabila is tired of the poisoned chalice that is the presidency of DRC. He obviously made his money during his time in office and he now wants to be able to enjoy it. What I don’t yet know is whether he is tired enough to go on permanent retirement or whether this is just a sabbatical that he will try to find his way back from.” Rumours allege that Kabila has been granted immunity from prosecution. We also expect a constitutional amendment that allows presidents to be appointed by parliament, smoothing the path for Kabila’s possible return in 5 years.
Fayulu would have been by far the more acceptable candidate to the international community. A former Exxon-Mobil executive, Fayulu is seen as much more in line with the thinking of the international community. As one foreign diplomat accredited to the DRC told us, “international business would have found a sympathetic ear in Fayulu.” However, in reality, it seems that it is rather a case of ‘anyone but Kabila will do’ if it means that stability will reign in the country.
Whilst Fayulu continues to refuse to be beaten (calling recently for a re-run of the polls), the risk of further major election-related violence is limited though a significant security threat does remain from the various inter-ethnic and communal struggles that have plagued the country for decades.
Fayulu still manages to draw large crowds at rallies around the country. However, his calls for a committee to be set up by the African Union to investigate the results as well as a call to hold a rerun of the elections within six months have both fallen on deaf ears. Having exhausted his domestic legal options, his only real hope lies with the international community. However, they have already begun embracing Tshisekedi.
Tshisekedi gets to work
Whilst it is difficult to predict Tshisekedi’s efficiency in bringing about the vast reforms desperately needed in DRC, it is clear that many, at home and abroad, are willing to give him the chance to prove himself. Meanwhile, he has wasted no time making his mark on the presidency. Since his swearing in on 23rd January, his actions include the following:
Announcement of plans to reduce the price of a biometric passport ‘significantly’ from the current USD 185. This is not an insignificant move given that a 2017 investigation found that USD 120 of this amount left the shores of the country into the coffers of the public companies that were processing applications.
Announcement that the DRC will be making an application to join the East African Community bloc. Accession to this grouping will give DRC favourable tariffs for trading with other EAC members as well as vital easy access to the port of Mombasa in Kenya.
Meeting with a consortium of major Japanese businesses (including Honda, Panasonic & Mitsubishi) to discuss partnerships around the cobalt industry. The companies are large-scale manufacturers of electric batteries that use the commodity and may be willing to invest heavily in procuring a stable supply.
A tour of neighbouring countries to discuss security threats, infrastructure projects and trade links.
Despite these noteworthy steps, certain key issues will require more delicate politicking and provide a sterner test of Tshisekedi’s political capability. Among them, conversations around the new mining code, the influence of China, western sanctions on officials, the role of populist icons such as Moise Katumbi and Jean Pierre Bemba, as well as how to engage with the former president; all of which will need a significant level of negotiation with his adversaries.
On the last point, although the majority in the National Assembly are members of Kabila-friendly parties, the recent meeting with Kabila suggests that he will face less opposition than previously expected.
In terms of the investment landscape, Tshisekedi’s agenda is still being firmed up. Efforts to restructure revenue generation and distribution efforts will show the level of emphasis on improving efficiency versus simply raising taxes. Meanwhile, should he be successful in increasing cooperation and compromise with his adversaries, we may well see less contract abrogation and regulatory upheaval on the one hand; but few corruption investigations, on the other.
The imminent choice of a prime minister will provide useful information about the Tshisekedi-Kabila relationship, and is therefore something to monitor closely. A PM that is not entrenched in the stable of Kabila will show a willingness to challenge the status quo but will also potentially lead to difficulties in implementing any new regulation given the balance of the National Assembly.
Unified opposition candidate, Martin Fayulu insists he is the true winner of the polls though his appeal was thrown out by the Constitutional Court despite various observation groups backing his claim.
Popular opposition figures who were banned from contesting the election by CENI but command a large following and significant foreign support.