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What will become of the national dialogue?

While international attention continues to focus on the M23––there have been persistent skirmishes to the north of Goma, a meeting between the government and the M23 in Kampala, and the death of the head of FDLR-Soki––the political opposition has been meeting in Kinshasa to decide on the way forward.

Since last Saturday, hundreds of opposition politicians have been hunkered down in the Limete neighborhood, trying to decide what to do about the national dialogue. Since the controversial 2011 elections, the opposition has been demanding such a dialogue, an initiative President Kabila seemed to endorse in his State of the Union address last December. The UN Security Council has also apparently thrown its weight behind the idea, asked the head of the peacekeeping mission to “promote inclusive and transparent political
dialogue among all Congolese stakeholders with a view to furthering
reconciliation and democratization” in Resolution 2098.

But the various parties seem to have radically different visions of what this dialogue should be. In his decree of June 26, Kabila used the name Concertations nationales, and placed the heads of the national assembly and senate at the head of the “presidium,” which will coordinate the meeting, control the funds, and––to the outrage of the opposition––unilaterally adopt the meeting’s by-laws. Discussions will take place in the assembly, which will include hundreds of people from all political parties, customary chiefs, civil society, courts and public administration, experts, and “historical figures.” It’s hard to see how they will come to an agreement on anything, especially as the whole thing is only supposed to last for twenty days. And there is nothing to guarantee the implementation of these conclusions: President Kabila is simply required to report the conclusions to the Congolese people, after which he is apparently free to ignore them.

The opposition has, not surprisingly, called foul, and is pushing for a change to this decree to make the discussions more balanced and their conclusions more binding. We will have to wait for the end of the Limete conclave to know more, but the opposition is also becoming a victim of its own internal divisions. The two biggest opposition parties––the MLC and the UDPS––are not officially attending the conclave, although some UDPS members are present. The UDPS continues to suffer from the split created when a majority of its election parliamentarians refused to obey Etienne Tshisekedi’s order not to take up their positions in the national assembly. Accusations are now piling up that Samy Badibanga, the leader of one of the UDPS factions in the national assembly, is growing too close to Kabila.

Things are hardly better within the MLC. Jean-Pierre Bemba continues to manage the party from his jail cell in The Hague––he made the decision not to attend the conclave, suspicious that the concertations would be a means for Kabila to co-opt the opposition through a government of national unity, and perhaps even to change to constitution to allow Kabila to stay in power past 2016. This remote-control-management has allowed relations to sour among the party’s remaining leaders––Jean-Lucien Bussa and Thomas Luhaka have fallen out over how the party should be managed, most recently over who the MLC should send to the national election commission. Bemba reportedly believes that a verdict in his ICC case will be forthcoming this year, and that he could be let off with time served, despite the long list of MLC-defectors who have testified against him.

Meanwhile, the new head of the UN peacekeeping mission, Martin Kobler, has not yet arrived. When he does arrive in Kinshasa, he will have the unenviable task of trying to make sure the concertations do not turn into a farce.

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