Former President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Joseph Kabila isn’t known for any remarkable exploits or policies but is viewed as a leader who only became the ruler of his country because he was the son of his father.
Kabila took over the reins of power in his vastly mineral rich, but humanly impoverished, country after the assassination of his father in 2001.
While he spent time in the military when his father, Laurent Desire Kabila led the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo supported by Rwanda and Uganda that eventually overthrew Mobutu’s kleptocratic regime, he is neither recorded as an accomplished military nor political leader─until now!
First, his presidency of 18 years neither managed to unify nor pacify the country still occupied by different militias and a United Nations Peacekeeping force that, in reality, keeps no peace!
Secondly, after the expiry of his second and last constitutional term in office in 2016, he, like many rulers on the continent, tried several times to change the constitution so he could perpetuate his rule but failed due to the relentless objections and deadly demonstrations by his countrymen and women.
In fact, it could be said that Kabila tried far more tricks to stay in power than any other ruler on the continent but failed.
Towards the expiry of his second term in 2014, he employed traditional tricks─like the ones the Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni has deployed of changing the constitution and bribing members of parliament, that failed as well.
The DRC’s constitution, particularly Articles 70─which limit a presidential term to five years and renewable only once and 220 which bars amendment of presidential terms.
Thirdly, Kabila also tried to deploy President Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi’ tricks─ of cracking down on demonstrators but wasn’t brutal enough to kill as many to scare the rest away.
In a final bid, Kabila’s party even went to court to ask “What happens if elections aren’t held on time”! And the court ruled that “he stays in power until they are held” and a clear winner declared!
Lack of money and the need to have a census was used to delay the elections! All of which gave Kabila two more years to stay in power unelected but he couldn’t postponed elections forever due to internal and external pressure.
Then, after conventional methods successfully used by his “presidential elders” on the continent failed to secure him prolong stay in power, he went “rogue” and did what no other African ruler has done: he allegedly rigged the vote for one of the opposition candidates who was said at the time to be “weak” and through whom he could still wield power even after leaving office.
When it happened, no one saw this one coming and it seems to be bearing fruits that; again, no one could have foreseen it in just two months─for at the time, commentators either thought Kabila would steal the vote for his chosen successor Emmanuel Ramathani Shadary or would simply refuse to vacate office or that he had negotiated with Felix Tshisekedi to allow him to retire peacefully.
Now, suddenly, information coming from the halls of power in Kinshasa say that Kabila is set to be like some kind of “co-president” with Felix Tshisekedi!
On Wednesday, March 6, Kabila and his successor, Felix Tshisekedi announced that they had formed a “coalition government” to reflect the “will of the people”.
In a statement to the media, the two said that because Kabila’s “FCC [party] holds an absolute majority in the National Assembly”, they had affirmed “their common will to govern together as part of a coalition government”
Apparently, Tshisekedi’s problem is that he can’t govern without a majority in parliament and has even failed to name a prime minister of his choice!
For while Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress party won only 32 seats in the December 2018 parliamentary election in an 485-member parliament, Kabila’s Common Front for Congo (FCC) party won a whopping 337 seats.
To strengthen his hold on the party, cleverly, Kabila had, days before the joint statement with Tshisekedi, gathered all the leaders of the 18 political parties that form his coalition to sign a “pledge of allegiance” to him!
While it’s not clear what “to govern together” might mean in practice, it’s probable that Kabila’s party will have a substantial share of cabinet positions and, as far as decision-making is concerned, Kabila himself will have a say on how the country is run.
Effectively, the DRC might operationally be under a joint-presidency!
How this will work remains to be seen.
In that sense, whereas democracy activists may rightly criticize Kabila for manipulating elections, it’s also true that he has given us a new formula and angle from which to observe and analyse elections.
That also means that he has earned himself the title of “Professor of Politics and how to stay in power without running for office”.
And if his formula that is likely to lead to power-sharing manages to stabilize the country, secure its borders, disarm all the militias and give Congolese sustainable peace, Kabila might in future be thanked for it!