Congo Siasa will be publishing a series of articles over the coming weeks drawing on information from several thousand WikiLeaks cables from the Kigali and Kinshasa embassies.
When Vital Kamerhe was forced out of his position at the head of the Congo’s national assembly in early 2009, it brought out the worst in Congolese leadership, sometimes in the offices of the US embassy in Kinshasa. When the stand-off was reaching a peak on March 2, 2009 the US embassy sent a cable to Washington stating, “The Kamerhe affair is the first major political crisis of a democratically-elected government.”
The crisis had begun on January 21, when Kamerhe had publicly condemned a deal to conduct joint operations with the Rwandan army on Congolese soil. For Kabila, this was perceived as a personal affront from a man who had been instrumental in setting up his political party and running his election campaign in 2006. He demanded that Kamerhe resign – when he refused to do so, the presidency deployed “the big guns,” as the embassy cable states. A “Gang of Four” – Planning Minister Olivier Kamitatu, former Defense Minister Tchikez Diemu, head of the PPRD party Evariste Boshab and head of the AMP coalition Katumba Mwanke – were allegedly put in charge of obtaining Kamerhe’s resignation. Three members of the national assembly’s directorate stepped down, and several sources told the embassy that they had each been bribed with $200,000 by the presidency. Shortly afterwards, Kamerhe began telling diplomats that he had received physical threats.
In this cable and others, the embassy is skeptical of Kamerhe, who comes off as mercurial and capricious. “Contacts we spoke with report that his blind ambition to one day become president has compromised his judgment.” The cable then details allegations of corruption leveled against Kamerhe, commenting that “whether the allegations are true, all Western representative we spoke with agree that Kamerhe lies frequently in efforts to obtain political advantage. In fact, last week he told an EU rep he would have to resign because the United States wanted him removed from office. When we met with him last week, he began the conversation by denying he had made such a statement and claiming that Kabila and his supporters were spreading malicious rumors that the United States were spreading malicious rumors that the US was against him.” Nonetheless, the embassy considers Kamerhe as “probably one of the most politically sophisticated of DRC’s political class” and as “an energetic champion of the National Assembly’s prerogatives as set forth in the Constitution.”
The presidents’ representatives – who frequently appear throughout the cables as guests in the embassy’s offices – do not come off any better. A high-ranking envoy told the ambassador in April that if Kamerhe is thinking about challenging Kabila by force, he needs to be prepared to go into permanent exile, “otherwise the cemetery of Gombe is nearby.”Another official from Kabila’s inner cirlce told the ambassador that “if there had been a free vote without the enforcement of strict party discipline, Kamerhe would have survived any no-confidence vote.” Parliamentarians were apparently afraid that if they had supported Kamerhe, they would have been forced out of the party.
As tensions peaked, the international community got involved, albeit daintily. Key ambassadors, including the US representative, met with Kamerhe and with people at the presidency (neither Kabila nor Katumba Mwanke, who was cited as key in pushing Kamerhe out of office, were available to speak with). They expressed their concern at the threats against Kamerhe. In the end, however, the US position was that this was an internal matter that, despite the backstage shenanigans, was on the face of things legal.
“Kamerhe’s departure from office, however, proceeded non-violently in accordance with constitutional and parliamentary procedures, as well as pursuant to the internal procedures of Kamerhe’s and Kabila’s political party.” In talking points for the August 2009 visit by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the embassy wrote: the “recent high-profile power struggle between the President and […] Vital Kamerhe […] was resolved according to established, democratic procedures.”