The battle over Kabila’s succession has begun, and is certain to be the leitmotif of Congolese politics over the coming two years.
To a certain extent––to a large extent––the recent controversies over the electoral law and calendar, and the arrest of opposition members and civil society activists (a whole slew were detained on Sunday), are all part of this battle.
While the most visible manifestation of this struggle were street demonstrations, violently repressed by the police and Republican Guard, in Kinshasa in January, it is the divisions within the ruling coalition that are causing the president a headache these days. In early March, some of the largest parties in the ruling coalition wrote a letter to President Kabila. This included the MSR of Pierre Lumbi (the national security advisor)––the second largest party in the presidential coalition; the ARC of Olivier Kamitatu (minister of planning); the PDC of José Endundo (minister of environment); UNADEF of Charles Mwando Simba (former minister of defense); the UNAFEC of Gabriel Kyungu wa Kumwanza; and MSDD of Christophe Lutundula; and the ACO of Dany Banza. The letter––which has not been released publicly, but has been commented on in the press and confirmed by its authors in private––warned about splits in the presidential coalition and the souring of relations between the government and the people. Several things stand out: The signatories include some of the largest parties in the countries, making up almost a third of the ruling coalition’s seats in parliament. Banza, Mwando, and Kyungu are all from Kabila’s home province of Katanga, where the succession battle has become increasingly linked to the current governor, Moise Katumbi. Katumbi has had a very public falling out with Kabila in December, and recently announced that he will soon step down as governor when Katanga is split into four new provinces. He is widely suspected to be preparing a run for the presidency in 2016. During a recent trip to Katanga, Kamitatu is reported to have met several times with Katumbi, and one of Kabila’s advisors told me that this whole letter was linked to Katumbi’s « insurgency, » as he called it. Katumbi would have a head start in a presidential race: He is very wealthy and has built himself a national brand through populist gestures and his TP Mazembe soccer team, which has won several African titles in recent years. His disadvantages include being married to a Tutsi Burundian wife––suspicion of Tutsi runs deep and often virulent in the Congo––having a past of legal troubles related to his various business endeavors, and being from Katanga. The presidency has been in the hands of Katangans for the past 18 years, a fact that westerners often complain about. This is not the first time that the signatories of the letter have lodged such complaints with the presidency. Last year, Lumbi’s MSR party led the charge against a constitutional revision that could have seen Kabila extent his presidency by another 5 years, and Lutundula, Kamitatu and Kyungu adopted similar positions. Will this succession battle be led by members of the ruling coalition, or the opposition and civil society? Surely a mixture of both. But with the opposition leadership divided––Vital Kamerhe and Martin Fayulu have had a series of public fallings-out, and the UDPS is collapsing as its ailing patriarch Etienne Tshisekedi leaves the scene––these splits within the ruling coalition could be decisive. It remains to be seen whether Kabila will continue to allow this kind of dissent, or whether hardliners around him––people like intelligence chief Kalev Mutond and interior minister Évariste Boshab––will begin to crack down. For now, the gloves are still on, as Kabila met with the signatories of the letter individually over the weekend.