On Monday this week, President Joseph Kabila met with the heads of state institutions––army, parliament, senior judges and prosecutors. The following day, Deputy Prime Minister Evariste Boshab announced that a political dialogue would be held shortly. Ruling party members filled in thedetails: the UDPS, a powerful opposition party led by Etienne Tshisekedi, would participate; it begin be held around November 15 in the town of Muanda (west of Kinshasa); and the meeting would be presided by UN Special Envoy Said Djinnit.
The news sent a shock wave though the Congolese blogosphere. The Dynamique de l’opposition, the main group of opposition parties (UNC, Ecidé, MLC, Fonus, l’Envol, ATD and others), which is currently holding a large meeting in Kinshasa, criticized the announcement, saying it would only serve to further delay elections.
Some Congolese pundits were outraged that the UDPS, whom many consider the flag bearer of the opposition, would be party to this kind of initiative. Meanwhile, a Congolese newspaper (C-News) reported that a UDPS delegation had arrived last weekend in Kinshasa for the dialogue, which some fear could lead to the co-option of the party into a government of national unity. The Catholic church, adding to the confusion,congratulated the president on the announcement in a tone that was much less defiant than that of Archbishop Monsengwo after his June meeting with Kabila on the same subject.
But hype in Kinshasa has reached a fever pitch––the Dynamique is beginning to call for civil disobedience and and popular protest. It then likened the self-immolation of a taxi driver in Lubumbashi (he was protesting police harassment) to the Senegalese protest that helped bring President Abdoulaye Wade to his knees.
What is really happening?
I contacted Felix Tshisekedi, the son of Etienne and in charge of UDPS diplomacy, by phone. He said that the UDPS has not accepted any invitation to a dialogue, that they were still open to one, but that it would have to be under international mediation. He castigated Congolese journalists for reporting otherwise. He says that Bona Kalonda, the nephew of the UDPS president, did travel to Kinshasa as reported, but on personal business. Papis Tshimpangila, the legal counsel of the party, also traveled to Kin, but on his own private business.
So what about international mediation? Senior UN officials say they know nothing about Djinnit playing this role, although he has been in touch with members of the political elite as part of his job. Indeed, it would a surprising turn of events, since in the past the Congolese government has been hostile toward any UN involvement in mediation––when Martin Kobler, the former head of the UN mission there, tried something similar last year he was reprimanded by Kabila.
So will there be a dialogue? Possibly. Congolese politicians are inveterate dialogue-ers. The seem to be on a perpetual world tour of negotiations, trekking from Venice to Ibiza this year for the “pre-dialogue”, Rome for FDLR talks in 2014, to Addis Ababa for the PSCF and Kinshasa for theconcertations nationales in 2013, Kampala for months of M23 negotiations in 2012––and who can forget the per diems and expense accounts set up for the Goma Peace Conference of 2008, or the year spent amid the slot machines and fake waterfalls of Sun City casinos in 2002?
And frankly, if there is no dialogue, what is the alternative other than, as the Dynamique puts it, “a large resistance front to definitively block the path to this abuse of power”––in other words, blood in the streets of Kinshasa? So we are stuck between a dialogue that could allow Kabila to co-opt the opposition and delay elections, and protests that could easily turn violent.