Opposition Divisions Open the Door for Kabila
Johannesburg, Oct 31, 2011 (Menafn - Southern Africa Report/All Africa Global Media via COMTEX) --A month ahead of general elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) opposition parties remain too divided to pose a serious challenge to incumbent President Joseph Kabila.
The last hope of a united opposition appears to be in The Hague, where former DRC vice-president Jean Pierre Bemba is languishing in an International Criminal Court cell, awaiting the conclusion of his war crimes trial. Bemba ran Kabila a close second in 2006 presidential elections - the DRC's first democratic vote since independence from Belgium in 1960. Intervention by Bemba may be sufficient to unite Kabila's fractious opposition.
If he does intervene, he is expected to throw his weight behind Etienne Tshisekedi and his Union pour la Democratie et le Progres Social (UDPS) party to lead a united campaign against Kabila. But it is almost certainly too late to mount a serious "stop Kabila" campaign - particularly since the National Assembly, dominated by Kabila's Parti du Peuple pour la Reconstruction et le Developpement (PPRD), scrapped the constitutional requirement of two rounds in the presidential election in the event that none of the two candidates achieved 50% plus 1 vote in the first round.
Kabila and the PPRD have done little since winning power to improve the lot of the DRC's crushingly impoverished population of 62-million. The country has yet to recover from the brutal, 32-year dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko or from the decade of war with followed his ouster by Kabila's father, Laurent-Desire Kabila. That war was the biggest in Africa's history (and commonly referred to as Africa's Great War), directly involving eight different countries and leaving 5,4-million people dead - most of them DRC civilians. Swathes of eastern and northern DRC remain ungovernable as armed militias from Rwanda and Uganda continue to perpetrate atrocities on civilian populations - most publicised have been the devastating gang rapes and mutilations of women.
Africa's Great War led to the world's largest UN peacekeeping force in the DRC, allowing a settlement whereby the warring factions' armed militias would integrate and be forged into the national army. Their movements morphed into political parties - with erstwhile warlords as well as civil society representatives forming a transitional government in 2003 with a bicameral legislature comprising a 500-member National Assembly and a 108-member Senate.
The transitional government had a bizarre arrangement, comprising presidential incumbent Kabila as president and four vice-presidents (two former warlords, one representative of civil society, and one representative of the central government). The transitional government was therefore known as "1 4."
A new Constitution was adopted in early 2006 and an election held in July that year, boycotted by veteran opposition leader Tshisekedi and his UDPS party.
Kabila won the presidential election with 58% of the vote. But the results of these elections showed that the country was divided into two linguistic blocs:
- The western Lingala-speaking provinces which voted en masse for Bemba (now resident in The Hague); and - The eastern Swahili-speaking provinces which cast their lot for the incumbent, a Swahili-speaker. His late father and presidential predecessor, Kabila senior, hailed from the mining province of Katanga.
Katangans see Kabila as one of their own, though he grew up in Tanzania and only came to the DRC as a rebel officer alongside the Rwandan-backed revolutionaries.
The context in the general elections of this year is dramatically different. Earlier this year, the National Assembly, dominated by the PPRD and its allies, amended the Constitution to avoid a second round of presidential voting.
This puts immense pressure on the rival opposition to rally behind one candidate to have a realistic shot at the presidency. The alternative, a US embassy report released by WikiLeaks noted mournfully, was that "the increasingly unpopular Kabila wins the 2011 race by default".
Despite this, the opposition is as divided as ever - though, at first blush, it appears that it was dealt a good hand in this electoral cycle.
Tshisekedi has chosen to participate in the process this time round and, at age 78, still shows skills in mobilising crowds of activists and sympathisers. There is also new blood injected into the opposition that could prove quite a challenge for the incumbent. Among the emerging leaders is Vital Kamerhe, the incumbent's own 2006 campaign manager and former speaker of the National Assembly, who has since fallen out with Kabila.
Kamerhe has turned into a tough foe. He has succeeded in forging name recognition and alliances nationwide, including in the restive south-western province of Bas-Congo, with powerful leaders such as MP Ne Muanda Nsemi, head of the banned cargo-cult Bundu dia Mayala.
Another presidential contender of note to emerge is the Senate president, Leon Kengo wa Dondo, a three-time prime minister of Mobutu, a qualification that makes his appeal to voters doubtful.
The only option for the opposition would be to rally around one leader who has a clear chance of defeating the incumbent: either Tshisekedi or Kamerhe. But nothing remotely close to this scenario is happening.
If anything, opposition is more divided than ever, despite Tshisekedi's urgent shuttle diplomacy between 11 other opposition presidential candidates vying to unseat Kabila. He recently visited Bemba for the second time at the Scheveningen Prison Complex in the Netherlands in an attempt to secure his backing in the upcoming presidential elections.
Violence remains a major real concern in the run-up to the November elections, which has already flared up on several occasions in the confrontations pitting UDPS supporters against PPRD party members, or when riot police have violently repressed UDPS demonstrators.
Additionally, UDPS doubts the autonomy of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) from the ruling party. Some fear that these elements turn the country into a powder keg that might explode after the election in the event that Kabila is re-elected.
UDPS and other opposition parties affiliated with it are requiring access to CENI's central server as well as an audit of the electoral registers. CENI has accepted this demand from the opposition but on condition that the ruling majority also participate, which the latter adamantly refuses, accusing UDPS and its allies of trying to derail the electoral process. Besides, CENI discovered that there were more than 100 000 duplicate voters' registrations - some due to technical glitches and others due to attempted electoral fraud. CENI vowed to bring those responsible to court. Some independent analysts actually estimate that the number of these duplicate voters might be as high as 700 000 (out of a total voters' roll of 31-million). UDPS sees this as a sure sign that a massive vote rigging scheme is in the offing.
The UN stabilisation mission in the DRC has appealed to political parties to carry out peaceful electoral campaigns and to accept the results. Whether this advice will be heeded will be seen in a month.
Copyright Southern Africa Report. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).