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This photo, taken at Place de L'Indentite in Lubumbashi, shows the Katanguien Identity monument, 22 May 2016. AFP/Junior Kannah
Report 239 / Africa

Katanga: Tensions in DRC's Mineral Heartland

​As the regime keeps delaying an encounter with the electorate, growing tensions and state repression in Congo’s resource-rich Katanga may be the precursor of a violent escalation. Without a credible national dialogue and better working relations between the central government and new provinces, the country could descend into a crisis reminiscent of the late 1990s.​

Executive Summary

Katanga is at the heart of growing political tension in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Intentionally stalled preparations for elections scheduled for November and rushed, politicised implementation of decentralisation and break-up of some provinces (découpage), including Katanga, have fuelled tensions between the region and centre and between the opposition and President Joseph Kabila’s ruling majority. This assumed an overtly political dimension after the former Katanga governor, Moïse Katumbi, declared his candidacy for president, provoking Kabila to initiate investigations and issue a warrant for his arrest for undermining national security. The Congo’s fragile institutions are under great strain. A credible national dialogue to discuss how to manage a transition, a commitment not to change the constitution for political purposes or prolong the transition to preserve the status quo, and measurable progress toward elections are urgently needed. To avoid prolonged crisis and likely violence, the UN and international partners should help facilitate and build on African Union attempts to support a dialogue.

Katanga has been at the centre of the DRC’s tumultuous political history, as the seat of a failed secessionist movement at independence and as a key battleground in the second Congo war (1997-2003). Under Kabila père, then son Joseph, who succeeded him on his death in 2001, Katangans have held many critical positions in government and the security forces. Dissatisfaction with Joseph Kabila has been growing since the 2011 elections, in Katanga as elsewhere. One factor, failure to finance provincial administrations properly, has been compounded in Katanga by a sense of entitlement based on the huge contribution its mineral exports make to the national budget. This took a political turn in 2014, when Katumbi and other important local elites, mostly ex-Kabila allies, came out against the president’s apparent plans to keep power after his second – and according to the constitution final – term expires in December 2016. The central government has increased repression and augmented the already heavy military presence in the region.

In early 2015, partly in reaction to the growing opposition, the government decided to implement découpage, as foreseen in the 2010 constitution, increasing the number of provinces from eleven to 26. Katanga was split into four new provinces. While some local elites welcome the opportunity to run their own administrations, many in Katanga are unhappy at what they see as a divide and rule strategy. The découpage was rushed, ill planned, under-resourced and coincided with a budget crisis, due mostly to the drop in demand for Katanga’s minerals.

Katumbi’s emergence as a prominent Kabila opponent coincided with a split in the ruling majority, of which he was part. The opposition is strengthened but also fractured. On 4 May 2016, Katumbi declared his candidacy in the presidential elections that are still some way off, further heightening tensions. The announcement that he was being investigated prompted widespread demonstrations in Lubumbashi, Katanga’s major city, and the would-be candidate left the country for medical checks.

The looming national crisis is already damaging weak political trust and may manifest itself through an upsurge in armed violence, protest, increased state repression and even security force fractures. All these may occur, and some have already, in Katanga, which is likely to be a major arena for violent political struggle and a symbol of wider problems. Serious tensions exist there between communities, especially local ethnic groups, migrants and the internally displaced (IDPs), who increased from 50,000 to 500,000 between 2011 and 2014. The economic downturn will also increase resentments and make problems harder to solve.

A crisis that could pose a serious challenge to stability in the region, and to international peacekeeping efforts, needs to be headed off. While national politics is increasingly zero-sum as the electoral deadline nears, some actors, including at local level, still have a strong interest in cooling the temperature to prevent conflict emerging. Early measures against unaccountable armed groups, and especially against those who encourage them, could avoid a greater problem later on. Politicians should desist from using armed groups to pressure their opponents, and national authorities should act, with support from the UN Stabilisation Mission (MONUSCO) to discourage them from doing so. MONUSCO should use its leverage to encourage this and deploy more assets to Katanga, especially human rights monitors and police. But this leverage is diminishing, and confronted with a gathering storm, other more radical options, such as downsizing the mission, may eventually have to be considered.

To address distrust between the centre and provinces, financial flows need to be more regular, transparent and in line with statutes. National auditors and civil society must be better empowered to monitor these flows and their use. Resolving the DRC’s national and provincial problems ultimately requires trust and dialogue, as well as electoral progress. The stalled dialogue initiative, mediated by Edem Kodjo of the African Union (AU), should be pursued and other channels of communication kept open to allow elite-level talks on national and provincial interests. Congo’s internation­al partners should support dialogue, as the AU is doing, and ensure that the critical question of centre-province relations is kept on the table.

I. Introduction: The National Context

Map of Katanga CRISIS GROUP

This report examines links between long-term tensions in the Katanga region and the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) linked to the constitutional and electoral deadline at the end of 2016.[fn]In this report, Katanga refers to the area that was Katanga province until July 2015.Hide Footnote  President Joseph Kabila, in power since his father’s January 2001 assassination, has been elected in 2006 and 2011. The latter vote was controversial, marred by fraud and manipulation. A constitutional amendment early that year, favoured him, as it allowed a candidate with a plurality but less than 50 per cent of the vote to avoid a run-off in which the opposition could have united behind a single candidate. Constitutional amendments also increased the power of the central government over the provinces. However, the constitution still unequivocally limits the president to two terms.[fn]President Kabila was declared the winner, with 48.95 per cent of the vote. Etienne Tshisekedi was runner-up with 32.33 per cent. Article 70 establishes a five-year term, renewable once. Article 220 prohibits the revision of Article 70.Hide Footnote

Kabila’s mandate, therefore, should end in December 2016, but there is neither the financial resources nor political will to hold elections in November, and the electoral timetable is in disarray. The ruling majority (henceforth “the majority” in this report), an alliance of parties built around the president’s People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD, the largest in parliament), appears unwilling to relinquish power or face the electorate.

After failing in 2014 to amend the constitution to allow Kabila to stand for a third term, it turned to delaying elections, first by insisting on a prior national census. When this failed, due to sustained popular outcry in early 2015, the majority concentrated on delaying preparation and funding of elections. Updating the voter register, the most time-consuming requirement, has made almost no progress. Kabila’s government, a seasoned observer has noted, seems determined to “boycott its own election”.[fn]Kris Berwouts, “La République démocratique du Congo: de la fin de règne au règne sans fin?”, IFRI Notes, July 2016, p. 5. The last census was in 1984. The parliament’s allocation of seats depends on the number of registered voters. Berwouts, “DR Congo’s electoral process is at an impasse. Here are 3 scenarios for what comes next”, AfricanArguments.org, 22 May 2016.Hide Footnote  With only months to the end of the president’s legal mandate, the polls’ slippage (glissement) has become inevitable. The calculations of the Electoral Commission (CENI) suggest a delay of up to several years. The regime’s plans to stay in power were given legal cover by the Constitutional Court’s May ruling that the president could remain until an elected successor was installed.[fn]Crisis Group interview, CENI president and vice president, diplomats, Kinshasa, March 2016. “RDC: Joseph Kabila autorisé à s’accrocher au pouvoir”, Afrikarabia.com, 12 May 2016.Hide Footnote

As discontent grew in early 2015, the government suddenly prioritised implementation of long-planned decentralisation. This started with creation of 21 new provinces carved out of six of the existing eleven, a process known as découpage. Fully implemented by July, it was poorly planned and chaotically administered, adding to delays in both national and local elections. In March 2016, existing provincial assemblies indirectly elected governors for the new provinces, a process that took place under tight regime control and firmly established Kabila’s dominance of the new provinces.[fn]Découpage is discussed in more detail in Chapter III below.Hide Footnote  For new provinces, existing provincial assembly members formed assemblies according to their constituencies, then elected governors.

In the course of 2015, the government announced a national dialogue on the electoral process. Most of the opposition has refused to take part, arguing it would legitimise delays or demanding broad international engagement and guarantees. The dialogue has, however, become an integral part of the international attempt to avoid a deepening of the political crisis. The African Union (AU) announced support in January 2016 and in April appointed former Togolese Prime Minister Edem Kodjo as facilitator. The need for a dialogue was also included in UN Security Council Res­olution 2277 (March 2016). In June, an international support group was created for the facilitation.[fn]“Inaugural Meeting of the Support Group for the Facilitation of the National Dialogue in the Democratic Republic of Congo”, AU press release, 4 July 2016. The Group includes: the AU, UN, European Union (EU), the International Organisation of La Francophonie (OIF), the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR).Hide Footnote  Other international reactions to the current blocked situation have been more forthright, including the imposition on 26 June of bilateral sanctions by the U.S. on the chief of police of Kinshasa, Celestin Kanyama.

Kabila’s attempts to keep power have been resisted by both the “old” opposition around Etienne Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) and former allies, such as Vital Kamerhe. In 2015, the opposition received a boost with the defection of Moïse Katumbi, the former Katanga governor, and several important parties from the majority bloc, which formed the “G7” coalition.

Opposition and civil society organisations have sought greater unity. The former continues to struggle over whether to present a single candidate in an eventual election and whether to participate in the national dialogue.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, politicians, diplomats and civil society members, Brussels, Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, Bukavu, Goma, February-March 2016.Hide Footnote  The “Citizen Front 2016”, established in December 2015, was the first attempt to create a platform bringing political and social actors together, but it faltered because of strategic differences and distrust.[fn]The “Front citoyen 2016”, grouping parties, civil society organisations and individuals, formed in Senegal in December 2015. Floribert Anzuluni, also coordinator of the Filimbi youth organisation, coordinates it. Tweet by @SalomonKalonda (political adviser to Katumbi), 4 January 2016; “RDC: Moïse Katumbi annonce son appartenance à l’opposition”, Radio Okapi, 3 January 2016. Katumbi did not participate in this gathering. Crisis Group interviews, Congolese political analyst, Brussels, February 2016; civil society representative, Goma, March 2016.Hide Footnote  In June 2016, a meeting of several opposition leaders in Genval, near Brussels, led to creation of the “Rassemblement” under the leadership of Etienne Tshiskedi. The platform brings in Katumbi allies, including the G7, thus forming a potentially potent new alliance.[fn]In full: “Rassemblement des forces politiques et sociales de la RDC Acquises au Changement”. “La ‘déclaration de Genval’ unifie l’opposition congolaise”, L’Echo, 11 June 2016. “RDC: Katumbi dans les valises de Tshisekedi”, Afrikarabia.com, 8 July 2016.Hide Footnote  It does not include Kamerhe, however, the leader of the Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC).

The biggest blow to the opposition has been the Catholic Church’s decision to pursue a less confrontational line. Divided over its political strategy, it had taken a very strong position that the elections be held as scheduled by the constitution in November 2016, but, reportedly after intervention of the Vatican, cancelled a “March of the Christians” protest on 16 February for fear it could turn violent.[fn]Earlier, in December 2015, it recalled its representative from the opposition meeting in Senegal. The Church is also divided over its political strategy. Crisis Group, interviews, diplomats, civil society members and Catholic Church official, Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, March 2016.Hide Footnote  This frustrat­ed opposition politicians, because the Church has strong moral stature, national presence and mobilisation capacity. Katumbi in particular has been identified to a large degree with it, for instance appealing for a daily two-minute prayer at noon in support of the “democratic struggle”. The Church reappeared on the political scene after the June episcopal conference, speaking out against manipulation of the constitution, but it is unclear whether this heralds more activism.[fn]“Le front de l’opposition congolaise ne désarme pas”, La Libre Belgique, 4 February 2016. Crisis Group interview, Congolese Episcopal Conference (CENCO) representative, Kinshasa, July 2016.Hide Footnote

Katumbi took a bold step on 4 May, when he announced his intention to stand for president.[fn]He is backed by the G7 and the Alternation for the Republic (AR), a new alliance of several smaller parties.Hide Footnote  That day, Justice Minister Alexis Thambwe announced he was being investigated for “recruitment of mercenaries”. Facing hearings, growing pressure and intimidation, he was hospitalised on 13 May. On 19 May, the national prosecutor issued an arrest warrant, but Katumbi was later granted highly unusual permission to travel abroad for medical care. Since Katumbi and the G7 left the majority, tensions have increased, particularly in Lubumbashi, capital of the former province. Protests turned violent on 24 April.[fn]“RDC: l’opposant Moïse Katumbi dénonce l’enquête ouverte contre ses ‘mercenaires’”, Le Monde Afrique, 4 May 2016. Crisis Group interview, Congolese analyst, Kinshasa, July 2016. “Opposition en RDC: manifestations à Kinshasa, répression à Lubumbashi”, Jeune Afrique, 25 April 2016.Hide Footnote  There are also more security forces, with armoured vehicles, in and around the city.

These national problems will almost certainly continue to worsen when the presi­dent’s mandate ends in December. They may take several forms: breakdown of already low political trust, explosions of popular anger, state repression and even fractures in the security forces. This report analyses a region, Katanga, that will be a major player in the coming crisis and is representative of the country’s wider troubles. After examining its place in Kabila’s Congo, it looks at perceptions of découpage, political tensions between members of the Katangan elite in the region and Kinshasa, the risk of political violence linked to armed groups in Katanga and the overall impact on national politics. Based on fieldwork in Lubumbashi, Kolwezi and Kinshasa, it is part of a series on the DRC’s broader electoral process.[fn]See also, Crisis Group Africa Report N°225, Congo: Is Democratic Change Possible?, 5 May 2015; and Richard Moncrieff, “The reluctance of Joseph Kabila to cede power could push Congo to the brink”, The Guardian Global Development, 2 May 2016.Hide Footnote

II. Katanga: The Centre of Gravity in Kabila’s Congo

In this podcast, Crisis Group's Richard Moncrieff discusses the links between long-term tensions in the Katanga region and the crisis in DRC linked to the constitutional and electoral deadline at the end of 2016. CRISIS GROUP

Katanga has always been central to Congo’s political dramas. Katangans’ desire for autonomy and sense of exceptionalism are fuelled by the region’s extraordinary mineral wealth, currently the source of well over half the DRC’s fiscal revenue.[fn]For more on Katangan history, see Crisis Group Africa Report N°103, Katanga: The Congo’s Forgotten Crisis, 9 January 2006; and Crawford Young, Politics in the Congo (New Jersey, 1965). The population of the former province was estimated at 9.2 million in 2010, 13 per cent of the national estimate of 69 million. Katanga had 4.7 million of the 32 million registered voters for the 2011 elections (14.6 per cent) and 72 of 500 seats in parliament. It had the most registered voters, and its population was surpassed only by Kinshasa.Hide Footnote  Only weeks after independence in 1960, Moïse Tshombe’s National Confederation of Katanga (CONAKAT), supported by Belgian and U.S. interests, declared secession. The ensuing crisis prompted the first UN deployment of peacekeepers to DRC and was a defining moment in the country’s early turmoil. The UN force and the national army ended the attempt in 1963 and briefly forced Tshombe into exile. Other CONAKAT supporters fled to Angola, where in 1968 they founded the armed National Liberation Front of Congo (FNLC), the “Katangan tigers”, and with support from the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) launched failed invasions of Katanga in 1977 and 1978 (the “Shaba wars”).

Under Mobutu Sese Seko’s rule (1965-1997), the province’s mineral wealth was mismanaged, contributing to the decline of the huge state-run mining company Gécamines (Général des Carrières et des Mines) in the late 1980s.[fn]Gécamines was created in 1967 as successor of the colonial Union Minière du Haut Katanga (UMHK).Hide Footnote  When he was forced to allow some political competition in the early 1990s, Mobutu stirred tensions between Luba immigrants from Kasaï and native Katangans to weaken his strongest opponent, Tshisekedi (who is from Kasai). He also appointed Gabriel Kyungu as Katanga’s governor, who created a new political party, the Union of Federalists and Independent Republicans (UFERI). In 1992, Kyungu blamed Katanga’s economic woes on Luba migrants and adopted an explicit policy of cleansing ethnic Luba from its major mining cities, which led to purges that killed more than 5,000 people. In September 2000, Kyungu formed the Union of Congolese Nationalists and Federalists (UNAFEC).[fn]The Luba are DRC’s largest ethnic group. The name applies to a variety of peoples who speak closely related languages and share culture and political history, derived from the Luba kingdom of the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries. Subdivisions include Luba-Shankaji of Katanga, Luba-Bambo of Kasai and Luba-Hemba of northern Katanga and southern Kivu. Kyungu, a Lubakat from Ankoro in current Tanganyika province and long-time spokesperson for the region’s frustrations, was Katanga provincial assembly speaker from 2007 until its dissolution in 2015. Crisis Group Report, Katanga, op. cit.Hide Footnote

Katanga had a significant role in the 1997-1998 war, in which Laurent Desiré Kabi­la, a Lubakat (Luba from Katanga), overthrew Mobutu. Supported by Angola, many ex-“tigers” joined his Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (AFDL), which developed an important base in Katanga. Many Katangans also joined the central government. However, resentment quickly surfaced, as predominantly northern Katangan politicians staffed the new administration and its security forces, while the province’s south was deprived of the greater share of power and representation it felt entitled to as the main source of mineral wealth.

During the second Congo war (1998-2003), northern Katanga was heavily militarised by the regime, blocking the Rwanda-supported Rally for Congolese Democracy-Goma (RCD-Goma) from capturing Lubumbashi and the strategically important Kamina military base. During that period, Kyungu, Joseph Kabila John Numbi (a key security adviser) were all involved in channelling support to local armed militia groups (Mai-Mai) set-up to fight Rwanda and its proxies. After his father was assassinated in 2001, and as he turned from winning a war to winning elections, Katanga was an important base for Joseph Kabila. He could count on northern and southern elites, including the popular Kyungu and businessman and political newcomer Moïse Katumbi, a key early ally.

A. The Political Networks

Joseph Kabila is a Lubakat from Tanganyika province. From 2007 until the latest reshuffle in September 2015, all his defence ministers were from northern Katanga, as were the interior and justice ministers from 2012 to 2014. Katangans currently hold eight of 37 ministerial posts, including the strategic and lucrative infrastructure, mines and finance ministries.[fn]“Ordonnance N°15/075 du 25 Septembre 2015, portant réaménagement technique du gouvernement”, Présidence de la République, Kinshasa, 25 September 2015. It appointed the following ministers of Katangan origin: Fridolin Kasweshi Musoka (infrastructure); Henri Yav Muland (finance); Martin Kabwelulu (mines); Aimé Ngoy Mukena (hydrocarbons); Félix Kabange Numbi (health); Baudouin Banza Mukalay (culture, died 14 May 2016); Emile Mota Ndongo Khang (agriculture); and Simplice Ilunga Monga (transport, deputy).Hide Footnote  Powerful Katangans have included Guillaume Samba Kaputo and Augustin Katumba Mwanké (both now deceased), John Numbi and, increasingly, Kalev Mutond.[fn]Katumba Mwanké and Samba Maputo between them ran Kabila’s money, political networks and relations with Rwanda: Gauthier de Villers, Histoire du Politique au Congo-Kinshasa (Louvain-la-Neuve, 2016); “La fin mystérieuse du Richelieu congolais”, Le Soir, 7 August 2007; “Katumba Mwanké, key presidential advisor dies”, Congo Siasa (www.congosiasa.blogspot.com), 12 February 2012; and Crisis Group interview, UN official, Kinshasa, June 2015.Hide Footnote

Numbi, another Lubakat and the head of the Congolese police (PNC) from 2007 to 2010, was forced into a background role in 2010, following allegations that he was involved in the killing of respected human rights activist Floribert Chebeya. Previously in the military, he maintains strong links within the army and the Republican Guard (GR), and a return to a more prominent role is possible.[fn]Numbi was provisionally suspended as head of the PNC in June 2010, shortly after Chebeya was found dead after allegedly having been summoned to meet him. The reason for the suspension was to allow calm organisation of the investigation. Numbi appeared as a witness at the trial that was organised from June 2011. In his statement, he denied having met Chebeya the day of his disappearance. Eight policemen were indicted and five convicted. Numbi was replaced as head of the police on 28 December 2013. See “L’affaire Chebeya, un crime d’état?”, film by Thierry Michel, 2012, which includes footage showing Numbi denying allegations of involvement. Following suspension, he remained involved in military matters in the east and relations with Rwanda. He is reportedly linked to the Bakata Katanga armed group. “Affaire Chebeya: l’ombre du général John Numbi plane sur le procès”, Radio France Internationale (RFI), 27 July 2015. According to multiple sources, Numbi also received several Katanga provincial authority contracts when Katumbi was governor. “John Numbi et Joseph Kabila: le désamour après la lune de miel?”, desc-wondo.org, 3 July 2015; Crisis Group interviews, civil society members, Lubumbashi, May 2015.Hide Footnote  Kalev Mutond, a Ruund from Lualaba, is increasingly prominent as director of the National Intelligence Agency (ANR). His role as the president’s personal envoy in the 2015 national consultations advanced his political profile. His agency is deeply involved in repression of civil society groups, raising the possibility that Katangans in the national government will be increasingly involved in repressing political activity at home, further heightening resentments.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Kinshasa-based diplomats, March 2016. Mutond was the agency’s domestic intelligence wing director from 2007-2011. “RDC: Filimbi, la nouvelle génération de citoyens qui ébranle le pouvoir”, GRIP, 17 August 2015.Hide Footnote  Mutond’s brother, Guibert Paul Yav Tshibal, was Katanga’s deputy governor and briefly acting governor in 2015 after Katumbi’s resignation.[fn]During this short period, Tshibal remained in regular contact with Katumbi. Crisis Group email correspondence, Kinshasa-based diplomat, October 2015. Before becoming deputy governor, Tshibal was a leader of the Ruund (Lualaba) cultural association.Hide Footnote

Katangans dominate the security services, in particular the GR, PNC and ANR.[fn]Kabila’s cousin, General Jean-Claude Kifwa, commander of the third military zone, including former Katanga and Philémon Yav, the Katanga military region commander, are very influential.Hide Footnote  This is also the case for other important state functions, such as the national prosecutor, Flory Kabange Numbi (Lubakat), and the Central Bank governor, Déogracias Mutombo Mwana Nyembo (Luba-Hemba). Kabila’s longstanding cabinet director, Gustave Beya Siku, was replaced in a reshuffle in May 2015 but subsequently appointed ambassador to Angola.[fn]“RDC: un cabinet présidentiel renouvelé pour le président Joseph Kabila”, RFI, 28 May 2015; “Gustave Beya Siku handling oil relations again”, Africa Energy Intelligence, no. 754, 29 September 2015.Hide Footnote  Katangans remain prominent in the presidential cabinet, including Théodore Mugalu, the influential chief of staff at the presidency. Two other prominent actors are Kabila’s twin sister Jaynet and younger brother Zoë. In 2011, both were elected legislators in what is now Tanganyika province, Jaynet as an independent in Kalemie and Zoë on a PPRD ticket in Manono.[fn]“RD Congo: Les gardiens du temple”, Jeune Afrique, 1 February 2015. Mugalu was ambassador to Tanzania and a PPRD MP. “Honorables Kabila, députés à l’Assemblée nationale congolaise”, Jeune Afrique, 14 February 2012.Hide Footnote  Jaynet is also president of the influential “Fondation Laurent Désiré Kabilaand has extensive business interests.[fn]She co-owns the Digital Congo media group and reportedly owns 50 per cent of Keratsu Holding Ltd., a stakeholder with 19.6 per cent of Congo Wireless Network Sprl., which in turn owns 49 per cent of Vodacom Congo. “Congo President’s Twin Has Indirect Stake in Vodacom Unit”, Bloomberg.com, 5 April 2016.Hide Footnote

Though many Katangans hold senior public office, some of the elite are increasingly frustrated with Kabila, blaming him as well as former Governor Katumbi for lack of development in Lubakat-dominated Tanganyika and Haut-Lomami provinces (formerly districts). In previous elections, Kabila obtained massive support from these areas and rewarded elites with key political and administration posts, including in the security services. However, he left out some prominent leaders, such as Jean-Claude Masangu (who aspired to be prime minister). Elites are also aggrieved that he is reaching out to other constituencies to broaden his base, which may threaten the region’s power. Kabila is reportedly aloof in dealing with Katangan elites, which is taken badly in his home province. Paradoxically, while most of the country sees power as concentrated in Katangan hands, Katangan elites, those close to Kabila and those now opposing him, are worried it is slipping from their grasp, especially since the 2011 election and the death of Katumba Mwanké.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Katangan elites, Lubumbashi, May-June 2015, March 2016; Katangan political analyst, Lubumbashi, June 2015.Hide Footnote

B. Economic Troubles

Copper and cobalt production in Haut-Katanga are the bedrock of DRC’s formal economy. In 2014, Katanga accounted for 71 per cent of revenue generated by the extractive sector, which is responsible for 95 per cent of total exports and a very large portion of central government revenues.[fn]“Rapport Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), RDC 2014”, December 2015. Copper alone is 30 per cent of export receipts. “Democratic Republic of Congo; country mining guide”, KPMG Global Mining Institute, 2014. For a comprehensive analysis of Katanga’s economy, see Donation Dibwe Dia Mwembu, Delphin Kaimbi Mpyana and Didier Kilondo Nguya, “Le Katanga: entre croissance économique portée par le secteur minier et un développement en demi-teinte”, Observatoire des Grands Lacs en Afrique, July 2014.Hide Footnote  Copper production grew from 30,000 tons in 2006 to a record one million tons in 2014.[fn]“Statistiques Minières de 2003 à 2012”, Ministère des Mines, DRC, September 2013; “Mining industry annual report 2014”, The Chamber of Business of the DRC (FEC), 2014; “DRC now Africa’s biggest copper producer”, African Business Magazine, 30 May 2014. Copper production, 470,000 tons in 1988, dropped precipitously in the mid-1990s but recovered in the mid-2000s. At these levels, known reserves would last twenty to 30 years. Stefaan Marysse, Claudine Tshimanga, “La Renaissance spectaculaire du secteur minier en RDC, Où va la rente minière?”, in Marysse, Jean Omasombo (eds.), Conjonctures Congolaises 2012 (Tervuren, 2013), p. 40.Hide Footnote  Katanga, which exported 68,069 tons in 2014, also accounts for approximately 55 per cent of the world’s cobalt production.[fn]It has 45 per cent of known reserves. “Mining industry annual report 2014”, op. cit., p. 8.Hide Footnote

However, the drop in commodity prices has affected this spectacular growth. In mid-2015, Glencore’s Kamoto Copper Company (KCC), producing 15 per cent of the country’s copper, suspended operations, causing a $200 million government revenue loss (approximately 4.7 per cent of total revenue).[fn]Total revenue, including grants, was $4.2 billion in 2015.Hide Footnote  In May 2016, the Congolese Chamber of Mines projected a drop in the year’s copper production of 5.9 per cent. Cobalt production is projected to fall by 21.3 per cent, and production of all other minerals is also expected to decline. This seriously affects foreign currency reserves and is puting pressure on the Congolese Franc in a politically tense period.[fn]“DRC Mining Industry, First Quarter 2016”, Federation of Congolese Enterprises (FEC), May 2016, p. 4. Crisis Group interviews, diplomats and civil society, Kinshasa and Lubumbashi, March 2016; Kinshasa, July 2016; “Cost of Glencore unit’s suspension will complicate Congo’s elections”, Reuters, 26 October 2015; “Allocution de son Excellence Monsieur le Premier Ministre à l’occasion de la présentation du projet de loi de finances pour l’exercice 2016 devant l’Assemblée Nationale”, Primature, October 2015. Reflecting the drop in revenue, Prime Minister Matata Ponyo announced on 16 May a 22 per cent budget cut for 2016. The government also reached out to the World Bank and IMF for support. Crisis Group interview, Kinshasa-based diplomat, Kinshasa, March 2016.Hide Footnote  Aside from lower demand, unreliable energy supply and the challenging business climate have further stunted growth.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Lubumbashi-based civil society representative, May 2015; “Interview with Michael Kavanagh on the Congolese economy”, Congo Siasa podcast, 15 May 2015; “Wing and a prayer economics”, Africa Confidential, 23 October 2015; “Congo-K Miners no longer want to deal with SNEL”, Africa Energy Intelligence, 28 July 2015.Hide Footnote

The parastatal Gécamines is central to the Katangan economy. In 1988, it was responsible for 42.9 per cent of government revenue, but Mobutu’s kleptocracy bankrupted it in the mid-1990’s. Restructured, it now has only limited production, partly due to prohibitive costs, but is a minority partner in joint ventures such as the copper and cobalt mine Tenke Fungurumé (TFM). This huge mining investment is reportedly on the brink of being sold to Chinese investors, a sign of China’s ongoing interest in Congo’s minerals, despite the global economic slowdown, which is likely to have geopolitical ramifications.[fn]Marysse, Omasombo, op. cit., pp. 23-29. TFM holds some of the world’s biggest reserves. Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. is the operating partner, holding a 56 per cent interest. Gécamines holds a 20 per cent carried interest (taking a share of profit not proportional to investment level). In June 2016, Freeport outlined plans to sell its share in TFM. “Lundin gets bid extension on Freeport Congo mine stake”, Reuters, 19 July 2016.Hide Footnote

The Africa Progress Panel and Global Witness reported under-valued, secretive Gécamines sales of mining assets to foreign investors around the 2011 election. The former estimated the government should have earned $1.36 billion more from five deals between 2010 and 2015. Global Witness and other sources allege such secretive deals have continued since 2014, including with Chinese investors. Proceeds allegedly function as a parallel source of central government funding, bypassing the scrutiny of parliament and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The government has denied allegations of underselling, insisting that it has published all relevant material, and vigorously defending the deals.[fn]“Equity in Extractives”, Africa Progress Report 2013, Africa Progress Panel, pp. 55-58; “Out of Africa, British offshore secrecy and Congo’s missing $1.5 billion”, Global Witness, May 2016. Crisis Group telephone interview, businessperson, November 2015; interview, diplomat, March 2016. Stefaan Marysse, Claudine Tshimanga, op. cit., pp. 25-29; Mining Minister Martin Kabewelulu stated that “assets were ceded in total transparency”; see “Congo loses out on $1.4 bln as mine assets sold cheap – Annan panel”, Reuters, 10 May 2013. Other parties implicated also fervently deny any wrongdoing.Hide Footnote

Of particular concern has been the $6.2 billion Sicomines deal. Up to mid-2015, the contract funded an estimated $800 million in nationwide infrastructure projects. Another part of the deal is the development of a 240MW hydropower station in Busanga, north of Kolwezi.[fn]La société anonyme Sino-Congolaise des Mines (Sicomines) is a joint venture, set up in 2007, between Gécamines (32 per cent) and three Chinese companies (68 per cent). Gécamines owns the sites. See Johanna Jansson, “The Sicomines agreement revisited: prudent Chinese banks and risk-taking companies”, Review of African Political Economy, vol. 40, no. 135, pp. 152-162, 2013; “Sicomines project to start producing copper before end-2015”, The Economist Intelligence Unit, 22 May 2015; “China’s ‘infrastructure for minerals’ deal gets reality check in Congo”, Reuters, 9 July 2015. “Congo, China partners near deal for $600 million power plant”, Bloomberg, 15 October 2015; “Power shortages threaten launch of Chinese-run copper mine”, Reuters, 28 August 2015.Hide Footnote  Sicomines finally started copper production in November 2015 and in this short period has become the country’s third largest producer. Under the deal, investors are protected from falling copper values, and production is tax exempt.[fn]“DRC Mining Industry, First Quarter 2016”, op. cit., p. 4. This production appears in the statistics but does not represent new revenue for the government. Crisis Group interviews, diplomats and analysts, Kinshasa and Lubumbashi, March 2016. More broadly, Chinese companies own 80 per cent of Katanga’s mineral processing plants, and China buys 90 per cent of its minerals. “Country Report: DRC, 3rd Quarter 2013”, Economist Intelligence Unit, 1 September 2013, p. 14.Hide Footnote  Lack of transparency in allocation and spending of the money adds to the concern, including in Katanga, about the central government’s use of mining sector revenue.[fn]“Congo-K: les mines au cœur des réseaux ethniques”, Africa Mining Intelligence, 26 July 2013; “Ivanhoe rides into the elections”, Africa Confidential, 10 July 2015; “Défis de transparence, de la qualité et du respect des droits humains dans la réalisation des infrastructures du projet Sicomines à Kinshasa”, African Association for the Defence of Human Rights (ASADHO), November 2014. There is no evidence that Sicomines itself was complicit in the misuse of funds that went to public authorities. Gécamines management was not available for comment either on the Sicomines deal or on the alleged under-selling of assets when approached by Crisis Group in Lubumbashi in May 2015.Hide Footnote

As the province’s economy grew after the civil war, its budget exploded, from $21 million in 2006 to $973 million in 2014 and a projected $1 billion-plus for 2015.[fn]“Le projet de budget de la province du Katanga pour 2015 déclaré recevable à l’Assemblée provinciale”, Agence Congolaise de Presse (ACP), 18 December 2014; “Katanga de tous les superlatifs”, Publi-Information, Jeune Afrique, 28 June 2015.Hide Footnote  This is double the budget of Kinshasa, and almost five times that of Congo-Central (the former Bas-Congo), the second wealthiest province. Provinces currently have two sources of funding: provincial taxes and a 40 per cent share of national taxes raised in their territory, which the central government should return to them. The latter should be the largest revenue source; however, the central government has only partially kept its obligation. Nationally, it returned only approximately 14 per cent to provinces in 2014.[fn]“Avec la rétrocession, le Katanga serait plus développé, affirme son ministre des Finances”, Radio Okapi, 15 January 2015. Accurate national and provincial tax revenue figures are difficult to obtain. Katanga’s was estimated at $300 million in 2013. Pierre Englebert and Emmanuel Kasongo Mungongo, “Misguided and Misdiagnosed: the Failure of Decentralisation Reforms in the DR Congo”, African Studies Review, vol. 59, no. 1 (2016), p. 30.Hide Footnote  The failure to return a perceived fair share underlies current tensions. However, with the deepening economic crisis, Kabila has few options, so uses state resources, largely generated in Katanga, to sustain central government patronage.

Despite its riches, large infrastructural and developmental inequality persists in Katanga. The major mining areas in Haut-Katanga and Lualaba (in particular Kolwezi) have relatively good infrastructure, while the northern provinces, in particular isolated Haut-Lomami, are among DRC’s poorest. The poverty rate is above the national average.[fn]In Lualaba, there are also huge disparities between Kolwezi, its main mining district, and other areas. “Rapport des vacances parlementaires du district du Lualaba”, Lubumbashi, 28 May 2014. Crisis Group interviews, local politicians, humanitarians and diplomats, February-July 2015. According to a 2010 study on the découpage, Katanga had the highest tax revenue but Tanganyika and Haut-Lomami would be the least prosperous new provinces. “DRC: The Impact of the ‘Découpage’”, joint study, the European Commission, Belgian Development Cooperation and UN Development Programme (UNDP), March 2010. “Resilience of an African giant”, World Bank, 2012, p. 30; “Plan Quinquennal de développement 2011-2015”, Province du Katanga (undated). According to the latter report (p. 29), the percentage of poor in Katanga is 87.8, against a national average of 71.3 per cent.Hide Footnote  Local elites often use central government failure to transfer revenue to justify lack of investment in northern Katangan development.

Even in the mining belt, large investments and growth have not translated into significant formal employment. Most Katangan miners are artisanal, selling their production to trading posts (comptoirs) in Lubumbashi, Likasi and Kolwezi, mainly owned by Chinese businesses.[fn]Gregory Mtembu-Salter, “Goodwill and Hard Bargains: the DRC, China and India”, South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), March 2012.Hide Footnote  Many live in dire circumstances and are potential recruits for political thuggery, or even insurgency, and involvement in clashes between local and migrant labour.[fn]They often live in a squalor outside urban centres that contrasts with the continuous stream of trucks carrying valuable minerals. There is also concern about the mining industry’s environmental and health impact. Crisis Group interviews, local officials and civil society representatives, Lubumbashi, Kolwezi, May-June 2015. See also “L’Enfer des mines en RDC”, Amnesty International Switzerland, March 2012; and “Artisanal mining in the middle of a city: The Kasulo story in the DRC”, Southern African Resource Watch, 21 October 2015.Hide Footnote  Tensions are likely to rise as the slump in industrial production drives laid-off workers to dig illegally on company-owned concessions. According to the Chamber of Mines, the drop in mineral production has already cost at least 13.000 jobs nationwide.[fn]Often with the collusion of soldiers and policemen. Crisis Group email correspondence, Lubumbashi-based civil society representative, Nairobi, October 2015. “DRC Mining Industry, First Quarter 2016”, op. cit., p. 13.Hide Footnote

This can take on ethnic overtones. The mining economy has for decades drawn in large numbers of migrant labourers, especially from Kasai province. Different communities, migrant and local, have fought for control of land, jobs and political office. Découpage has created new provincial structures that could further inflame these underlying tensions and disrupt investment plans, as examined below.[fn]Crisis Group interview, FEC representative, Lubumbashi, March 2016; “Kolwezi: la suspension des activités de Glencore préjudiciera l’économie”, Radio Okapi, 11 September 2015; “Le Katanga se serre la ceinture … de cuivre”, Jeune Afrique, 20 September 2015.Hide Footnote

Overall, Katanga owes its particular place in Congolese politics to two factors: the Katangan origin of the president and his predecessor and its economic weight. Together these have created distinct political expectations. While many Katangan elites are happy to see one of their own in power in Kinshasa (and would like it to stay that way), they are aggrieved at the perceived failure to return to the region a fair share of the wealth it generates. In addition, within the former province, poorer areas feel disenfranchised by both the central and provincial governments.

III. The Politics of Découpage: The End of “Katanga”

A. Découpage: From Delay to Control

The DRC’s territorial organisation and the relationship between the centre and the decentralised entities has been a major political issue since the early days of independence. The 2006 constitution mandated division of the then eleven provinces into 26 in the découpage process. The intention, which remains popular in many parts of the country, was to bring government structures closer to the people. Part of this deal was to reinforce provinces’ financial autonomy.[fn]Gauthier de Villers, Histoire du politique au Congo-Kinshasa, Les concepts à l’épreuve (Louvain-la-Neuve, 2016); Crisis Group Report, Congo, op. cit.; Jean-Claude Bruneau, “Les nouvelles provinces de la République Démocratique du Congo: construction territorial et ethnicités”, L’Espace Politique, no. 1, 2009. On decentralisation’s financial aspects, see Evariste Mabi Mulumba and Clément Muya, “Décentralisation, gestion des finances publiques et problématique de la fiscalité”, in Jean Omasombo and Paule Bouvier (eds.), Décentralisation et Espaces de Pouvoir (Tervuren, 2014); and “DRC: The Impact”, op. cit. The provinces are expected to financially support local government structures (decentralised territorial entities, ETDs).Hide Footnote  As noted, the constitution permits provinces to levy taxes, and its Article 175 provides, in a process called “retrocession”, that they should receive 40 per cent of locally raised national revenues. It also envisages a “national equalisation fund”, to distribute 10 per cent of national tax revenues to provinces with weak local tax collection.[fn]Congo-Central, Haut-Katanga, Kinshasa and Lualaba provinces are the only provinces that would not receive equalisation fund transfers. Crisis Group interview, government official, Kinshasa, June 2015.Hide Footnote

The reality has not matched the constitutional aspirations. Decentralisation remains more theoretical than real. The national assembly only adopted the equalisation fund bill in November 2015, and the president still has to promulgate it. Retrocession has “hovered between 6 and 10 per cent from 2007 to 2013”,[fn]Pierre Englebert and Emmanuel Kasongo Mungongo, op. cit., p. 12.Hide Footnote  not anywhere near the 40 per cent level. This has been excused by reference to low absorption capacity and concerns about transparency and corruption at provincial level, which while partly justified are also partly due to central government unwillingness to invest in provincial capacity. Additionally, the government has not transferred civil servants and policy control to the provinces. The failure to fully implement retrocession has generated much bitterness, not least in Katanga which is well aware of the amount of resources it generates for the centre.[fn]“Discours de clôture de la Session Ordinaire de Septembre 2015 par l’Honorable Aubin Minaku Ndjalandjoko, Président de l’Assemblée nationale”, Kinshasa, 15 December 2015. Englebert and Mungongo, “Misguided and Misdiagnosed” op. cit., p. 10. Crisis Group interviews, provincial administrators and politicians, Lubumbashi, May, June 2015. Between 2010 and 2014, Katanga reportedly received $44 million of an expected $155 million. “Suivi et évaluation de l’exécution des obligations légales par l’état en RDC: Cas de la rétrocession des recettes minières à la province du Katanga et à ses entités territoriales décentralisées”, Action Against Impunity for Human Rights (ACIDH), Lubumbashi, April 2015.Hide Footnote

During Kabila’s first elected term (2006-2011), the government made incremental progress adopting laws needed to implement découpage and decentralisation. However, it rolled back provincial political autonomy in the 2011 constitutional reform. Decentralisation and découpage reappeared more prominently with adoption of the “Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework Agreement” (PSCF), in February 2013 and during the national consultations organised in September-October that year.[fn]Revision of Articles 197 and 198 allows the central government to intervene directly in the provinces’ political functioning, including to dissolve an assembly and dismiss a governor. The PSCF is an agreement by DRC and its neighbours to implement better national and regional policies, stimulated by the crisis over the Rwandan backed M23 insurgency. Crisis Group commentary, “Lubumbashi Takeover: Governance by Substitution”, 15 April 2013.Hide Footnote  Following a significant reshuffle in December 2014, the government pushed through legislation needed to implement découpage, which became a legal reality in July 2015.[fn]“Discours sur l’état de la nation”, Cabinet du Président de la République, 15 December 2015. Laws 015/004 (28 February 2015) and 015/006 (25 March 2015) fixed the 26 provinces’ borders.Hide Footnote  Six provinces were broken up (Bandundu, Equateur, Kasai-Occidental, Kasai-Oriental, Katanga and Orientale), one renamed (Bas Congo, now Congo-Cen­tral) and four left untouched, producing a total of 26. Katanga was split into Haut-Katanga, Haut-Lomami, Lualaba and Tanganyika provinces. Some new provinces had previously been territorial entities of the colonial state; others were former districts created after independence.

There are widespread concerns about implementation, particularly the lack of financial and material resources for both the transfer of responsibilities and the financial viability of the new provinces, as well as the short timeframe to deal with the issues ahead of the elections and the overall financial viability of many of the entities. There are also border issues and disputed areas, which could catalyse conflict, in particular if long delayed local and provincial elections are finally organised.[fn]“La tribune de Muzito: la RDC, un Etat sans budget”, Le Phare, 6 April 2015. For an overview, see “DRC: The Impact”, op. cit.Hide Footnote

Following the July 2015 change, existing executive authorities (governors and their ministers) initially remained to manage affairs, though with severely weakened authority and unclear legal status, which led to near paralysis in some provincial administrations.[fn]Crisis Group analyst interviews in a former capacity, governor, provincial assembly members and electoral commission staff, Kisangani, October 2015.Hide Footnote  Some provincial assemblies tried to flex muscles; several attempted to seize control of revenue generated in the new provinces, but the national government pushed back.[fn]Crisis Group email correspondence, Kinshasa-based official, August 2015; “RDC: les bureaux provisoires des assemblées provinciales installés dans l’ex-Katanga”, Radio Okapi, 30 July 2015; “Evariste Boshab met en garde contre tout blocage au découpage territorial”, Forum des As, 26 August 2015.Hide Footnote  On 29 September 2015, the interior minister suspended all plenary meetings of the new provincial assemblies created by découpage, leaving the administrations in legal limbo.[fn]“Elections en RDC: les retards s’accumulent”, RFI, 26 August 2015; “Les parlements provinciaux suspendus par Kinshasa”, La Libre Belgique, 3 October 2015. Provincial deputies were elected in 2006. In preparation for the découpage to happen during their first mandate, the future provinces were already used as electoral districts.Hide Footnote

Delays in electing the new governors in the second half of 2015 led the central government to ask the Constitutional Court in September for permission to appoint special commissioners to administer the new provinces, in effect suspending the authority of the governors and assemblies.[fn]“Elections en RDC: les retards s’accumulent”, RFI, 26 August 2015. Crisis Group interview, parliamentary official, Lubumbashi, March 2016; “La Cour Constitutionnelle tranche”, L’Avenir, 9 September 2015; “L’arrêt de la Cour Constitutionnelle en exclusivité et en intégralité”, Le Soft, 14 September 2015; Marcel Wetch’okonda, “Quelques commentaires sur l’arrêt de la Cour Constitutionnelle sur les élections des gouverneurs et vice-gouverneurs”, Congo Siasa, 19 September 2015.Hide Footnote  The president appointed the new commissioners and their deputies on 29 October – all his political allies.[fn]“RDC: Joseph Kabila nomme les commissaires spéciaux de nouvelles provinces démembrées”, Radio Okapi, 29 October 2015. In Katanga, the commissioners were Félicien Katanga Lokunda (Haut-Katanga); Raymond Mande Mutombo (Haut-Lomami); Richard Muyej (Lualaba); and Richard Ngoyi Kitangalaa (Tanganyika).Hide Footnote

Critics suspected that the government always intended this, using a compliant CENI and Constitutional Court to impose commissioners, partly in order to establish initial control over the process and exert greater influence over the deputies responsible for electing the governors. It reportedly also tasked the ANR to follow the dynam­ics in the provincial assemblies. An opposition coalition unsuccessfully challenged the special commissioners’ nomination at the constitutional court, arguing their function had no basis in law and calling on the public to disobey them.[fn]Crisis Group email correspondence, Kinshasa-based official and diplomats, July 2015; Kyungu Wa Kumwanza, head of the Katangan provincial assembly, denounced this: “Kyungu Wa Kumwanza furieux dénonce les intimidations de l’ANR sur les députés”, YouTube, 23 July 2015. Dynamique de l’Opposition Congolaise, Déclaration, 1 November 2015.

The announcement in February 2016 that gubernatorial elections for the 21 new provinces would be held on 26 March came as a surprise.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Kinshasa-based official, March 2016.Hide Footnote  These are indirect, by the existing provincial assembly members elected in 2006. 97 individuals registered as candidates, but 21 were barred for a variety of legal reasons, including many who posed the greatest threat to the majority.[fn]CENI and later the courts accepted the majority’s request to revoke the candidacy of several of its members who had registered as independents, as well as those of several opposition candidates. The request is in a 23 February letter by Aubin Minaku, the majority’s secretary general, to the CENI, on file with Crisis Group. Crisis Group interviews, UN official and diplomats, Lubumbashi, March 2016. For the initial list of candidates, see Annexe à la decision N°006/CENI/BUR/16 du 28/02/2016, 28 February 2016; and for the final list, Communiqué de presse N°008/CENI-RDC/16, 11 March 2016.Hide Footnote  In former Katanga, candidates for the ruling majority, Richard Muyej and Richard Ngoy Kitangala, had only recently been appointed commissioners. The only major candidate linked to the opposition allowed to stand in Katanga was Christian Mwando Nsimba in Tanganyika.[fn]A member of the G7 and very close to Moïse Katumbi.Hide Footnote  Still, the majority remained nervous, and Aubin Minaku, its secretary general, was sent to Lubumbashi two weeks before the vote, to drum up provincial deputies’ support for pro-government candidates. The majority won all four governorships in Katanga.[fn]Crisis Group interview, political leader G7, Lubumbashi, March 2016; “Retour à Kinshasa du Président de l’Assemblé nationale M. Aubin Minaku Djala Djoku”, ACP, 13 March 2016. The new governors are Jean Claude Kazembe in Haut-Katanga (22 of 30 provincial deputy votes), Richard Muyej in Lualaba (22 of 24), Richard Ngoy Kitangala in Tanganyika (sixteen of 24) and Célestin Mbuyu in Haut-Lomami (seventeen of 24).Hide Footnote

In total, the majority succeeded in getting fifteen of its 21 candidates elected in the new provinces. In the former Orientale and Equateur provinces, several independent (often disguised opposition) candidates were elected. One of these, José Makila, Sud-Ubangui governor and Labour Alliance for Development (ATD) party leader, then co-founded the AR coalition supporting Moïse Katumbi in May 2016. Overall the majority achieved its goal but was widely criticised for manipulation. A Catholic Church report was particularly critical of the CENI.[fn]The ATD is an offshoot from the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC). “Election des gouverneurs et vice-gouverneurs: La CENCO dénonce la violation de la liberté et du secret de vote”, La Tempête des Tropiques, 29 April 2016.Hide Footnote

B. Katanga: A Particular Case

In a brief provincial assembly session on 16 July 2015, Katanga province officially ended, though its administration remained to manage affairs until appointment of the special commissioners. Just before the break-up, the central government re-organised several state and parastatal structures, including the security forces, to reflect the new territorial organisation. Other parts of the administration, such as taxation, remain unchanged.[fn]“Ce que Kyungu et Katumbi ont dit le dernier jour du Katanga”, YouTube, 16 July 2015, www.
youtube.com/watch?v=UPt775jOAfE&feature=youtu.be. On 14 July 2015, the president signed decrees adapting the national police and immigration command structures to reflect the new provinces. Crisis Group interview, FEC representative, Lubumbashi, March 2016.Hide Footnote

1. The debate

While the principle of bringing government closer to the people, popular across the country, also has support in Katanga, several of its politicians, mostly in the (new) opposition, and citizens alike have been particularly critical of découpage and fearful of its outcome. The former province has a strong sense of identity derived from its wealth, history (including brief independence) and powerful, ethnic-based “cultural associations” that permeate its political, cultural and economic life.[fn]“Arguments pour le découpage, Honorable Kansabala”, Le Rassembleur Magazine, no. 12 (undated), Lubumbashi. Erik Gobbers, “Ethnic associations in Katanga province, the Democratic Republic of Congo: multi-tier system, shifting identities and the relativity of autochthony”, The Journal of Modern African Studies, vol. 54, no. 2 (2016), pp. 211-236.Hide Footnote  Many worry découpage is intended to break its demographic, economic and political weight and weaken Katangan identity.[fn]This was the opinion of traditional chiefs who met in Lubumbashi, 2-16 December 2006. “Le découpage territorial … oui mais …”, and “Arguments contre le découpage, Monseigneur Fulgence Muteba”, Le Rassembleur Magazine, no. 12, (undated), Lubumbashi. 150,000, including several “notables”, signed a petition to parliament opposing découpage.Hide Footnote  Several prominent people, including then Governor Katumbi and Provincial Assembly Speaker Kyungu, spoke against découpage, threatened to organise petitions to reunify the province and argued for keeping “Katanga” in the names of the new provinces.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, UNAFEC politicians, Lubumbashi May-June 2015; Moïse Katumbi, Brussels, October 2015; “Katanga: Gabriel Kyungu lance une pétition contre le découpage territorial”, Radio Okapi, 12 January 2015; “Présidentielle en RDC, redécoupage: entretien exclusif avec Moïse Katumbi”, RFI, 16 March 2015. In a highly symbolic act, two weeks before the province’s division, the two leaders inaugurated a monument symbolising Katangan identity. “Identité katangaise ou nostalgie du Katanga finissant”, Tout Lubumbashi, 6 July 2015. This echoed earlier acts, such as when Katumbi erected a statue of secessionist leader Moïse Tshombé in Lubumbashi’s main square, also renamed in his honour. “Inauguration à Lubumbashi d’une fontaine à la place Moïse Tshombe”, ACP, 6 June 2010. “Interview with Moïse Katumbi”, Le Rassembleur Magazine, no. 12, (undated), Lubumbashi, pp. 38-39.Hide Footnote

Critics suggested découpage was designed to provoke secessionist sentiment, possibly to provide a pretext for crackdowns or further electoral delays; that it was part of the government’s glissement strategy; and that it was designed to cut the ground under Katumbi’s feet as he emerged as a serious challenger to Kabila. Several noted it considerably increased executive positions, thus scope for patronage, which the central government is determined to control.[fn]For the perceptions of découpage, Crisis Group interviews, Congolese politician, Brussels, October 2015; Katangan elite and Lubumbashi based-analyst, Lubumbashi, May-June 2015; former community leader, Lubumbashi, March 2016. See also the September 2015 G7 letter and Katumbi’s declaration.Hide Footnote  Despite the criticism and fear, the process was implemented without major problems.

2. Kolwezi and Lualaba province

There is considerable support for the current process among elites in the poorer of the new Katangan provinces: Tanganyika, Haut-Lomami and Lualaba, where découpage is seen as important for development. Despite having voted massively for Kabila in 2011, these areas have long been neglected by the central government.[fn]Critics point to the contrast between the extensive farms and imposing villa owned by the president just outside Lubumbashi and the dilapidated state of his home region of Manono, in north Katanga, which was devastated during the 1998-2003 war. Crisis Group interviews Lubumbashi, June-May 2015 and March 2016. An often-heard criticism is “we have been forgotten”. Crisis Group interviews, Katangan elite, Lubumbashi, May-June 2015 and Lubumbashi residents, March 2016. See also Kris Berwouts, “Bateau sans boussole. Le régime Kabila en perte de cohésion”, Observatoire des Grands Lacs en Afrique, November 2014.Hide Footnote  Especially in Lualaba, which now includes the mineral-rich former Kolwezi district, and Tanganyika provinces, many see découpage as an opportunity to assert rights and regain control of “their resources”. In Tanganyika, the civil society platform SOCITANG pushed provincial legislators in 2012 to have their then district become a découpage pilot project, pointing to the supposed gains made by previously created new Congolese provinces.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, civil society representatives, academics, and diplomat, Lubumbashi and Kolwezi, May-June 2015. Société Civile du Tanganika (SOCITANG), memorandum, 17 November 2012; Crisis Group interviews, political party and civil society representatives, Lubumbashi, May-June 2015.Hide Footnote

Kolwezi, the country’s richest mining area, is one of only five districts (of 26 before the 2006 constitution) not to have become a province. As a major mining centre, its place in the new order is very sensitive. Locally, there is tension between those of Katangan origin and immigrant populations (particularly from Kasaï), and between the “indigenous” Sanga and groups from the former Lualaba district, the “Tshota” or “G5” (regrouping the Tshokwe, Rund, Minungu, Ndembo and Luvale communities). A major Sanga frustration is that members of these other communities hold most of the important provincial positions and have better employment opportunities in mining companies.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Lubumbashi, Kolwezi, May-June 2015; Lubumbashi-based analyst, October 2015; “La population de Kolwezi appelée à la paix et à la tolérance”, ACP, 4 June 2013.Hide Footnote

In 2009, the Kolwezi-based Lwanzo Lwa Mikuba cultural association, representing the Sanga, submitted a petition to parliament with 100,000 signatures, requesting a constitutional amendment allowing the district to become a province.[fn]This repeated a call in October 2013: “Kolwezi réclame son statut de province”, La Croisette, 29 October 2013.Hide Footnote  On 8 December 2014, the association organised a protest in Kolwezi in which one person was reportedly killed. A last attempt in parliament, during the discussions on the January 2015 law fixing the future provinces’ borders, also failed. As a second option, instead of being integrated in Lualaba, Lwanzo would have preferred to integrate Kolwezi in Haut-Katanga. This reflects the close ties between this community and the Bemba, which together form the “Espace Sempya-Lwanzo”.[fn]“Treated like criminals, DRC’s race to silence dissent in the run up to elections”, Amnesty International, 2015, p. 15. “Des députés du Katanga désapprouvent le rattachement de Kolwezi à la province de Lualaba”, Radio Okapi, 13 January 2015. Erik Gobbers, op. cit., pp. 229-230.Hide Footnote

The central government has clamped down on these calls for a new province and other elements of dissent. It arrested the Lwanzo leader and former legislator Vano Kalembe Kiboko in Kinshasa in December 2014 and sentenced him to three years in prison for inciting racial hatred and tribalism, after he railed against the Kolwezi’s planned incorporation in Lualaba province at a Lubumbashi press conference.[fn]Kiboko also clearly opposed any change in the constitution allowing a third presidential term. Copy of speech on file with Crisis Group. Crisis Group interview, Congolese opposition legislator, Kinshasa, June 2015; “Kinshasa: l’ex député Vano Kiboko condamné à 3 ans de prison”, Radio Okapi, 16 September 2015. Kiboko was released from prison on 5 May 2016.Hide Footnote

During April-May 2015, several meetings to prepare for creation of the new Lualaba province were organised, including one initiated by the ex-interior minister, later special commissioner and Lualaba governor, Richard Muyej. At a May 2015 forum in Kolwezi community, representatives tried to reach a consensus on maintaining stability in the new province, including by carefully balancing community interests in its government.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, academics and participants in “Forum sur le développement de la Province de Lualaba”, University of Kolwezi, June 2015, www.unikol.ac.cd/?p=454.Hide Footnote

According to several members of the new province’s elite, the priority should be development of infrastructure linking the mining areas in and around Kolwezi more directly to export routes, thus avoiding Lubumbashi. A particular need is to refurbish railways linked to the recently rehabilitated Benguela corridor in Angola.[fn]The “Lobito Corridor” project is included in the “Investments opportunities brief (IOB) Consultative Process: Key findings and recommendations”, ICGLR, Office of the UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, 2015, p. 32. The Congolese side of the railroad is not operational. The recently rehabilitated Angolan section is partially operational. Zambia has started work to connect to the Lobito corridor. Crisis Group interview, businessperson, Brussels, September 2015.Hide Footnote  A second would be to repair the Kolwezi to Solwezi, Zambia road. Plans have come up against regional rivalries within the former province, however, with business elites in Kolwesi and Lubumbashi backing rival road corridors. Simmering disputes over transport links, vitally important given the money to be made from mineral transport, reflect the high stakes involved in delimiting new provinces and hurt the business climate, adding further insecurities to the economic challenges.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, civil society representatives Kolwezi, June 2015; former Governor Katumbi, Accra, November 2015; businessperson, Brussels, September 2015 and FEC official, Lubumbashi, March 2016. For an overview of the first Kolwezi-Solwezi road initiatives, see Jeroen Cuvelier, “The impact of the global financial crisis on mining in Katanga”, op. cit., pp. 17-19; and “Une question d’hégémonie: Du contentieux au sujet de la route Kolwezi-Solwezi”, Fragment 1, September 2009.Hide Footnote

IV. The Region’s Rising Tensions

A. Frustration

There is a growing political dimension to the economic frustrations felt by Katangan elites and population that feeds into tensions with the centre. It is based on the strong belief among elites that, despite their many internal divisions, national power should remain in their hands following November’s electoral deadline. Local elites, especially Lubakat, grumble about receiving too little attention.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Katangan elites, Lubumbashi, May-June 2015. See also “Memo à l’attention des Notables Luba du Katanga”, Lubumbashi, 25 January 2014.Hide Footnote  They say control in Kinshasa would quell or harness dormant but real Katangan separatism.[fn]Crisis Group interview, political leader, Lubumbashi, May 2015.Hide Footnote  With Kabila’s term ending and his popular support declining, fewer of the region’s elites believe that sticking with him and the majority as currently configured will allow them to keep power – though this has not yet reached a point of no return. In past months, the majority has invested considerable attention on the four new provinces.[fn]In the run-up to celebrations of national independence day in Kindu (Maniema) in 2016, Kabila spent several weeks in the ex-province, attending the conference of provincial governors in Lubumbashi and inaugurating several infrastructure projects in his home province, Tanganyika.Hide Footnote  Meanwhile, other provinces want to rebalance politics by transferring power to another region – the east-west cleavage is particularly potent – reflecting the principle of “la géopolitique”, wherein regional quotas and ethnic identity form a crucial part of Congolese politics.

The regime has reached out to provinces and elites beyond Katanga, both to reward them for having voted for Kabila in 2011 and to achieve better geographical balance. Most prominent among these provinces is Maniema, just north of the new Tanganyika province and home to Kabila’s mother, Sifa Mahanya, which twice voted heavily for the president.[fn]Aside from Kabila’s mother, key Maniema actors are Denis Kalume Numbi, General François Olenga, Kabila’s military staff chief, Emmanuel Shadari, PPRD parliamentary group chair, and Pierre Lumbi, Movement for Social Renewal (MSR) party leader and ex-national security adviser.Hide Footnote  It is also Prime Minister Matata Ponyo’s base.

Ponyo is one of three PPRD politicians competing to lead the majority and possibly succeed the president. The other two are Aubin Minaku (Kwilu), the parliament’s speaker and majority’s secretary general, and Evariste Boshab (Kasai-Occidental), deputy prime minister and interior minister. Katangans note that none are from their province but may take some solace from the installation of Henri Mova Sakanyi as PPRD secretary general.[fn]Crisis Group interview, diplomat, Kinshasa, June 2015. Mova Sakanyi was ambassador in Brussels, 2009-2015.Hide Footnote  Though he has a small political base, he has quickly gained prominence and concentrated on refurbishing the PPRD’s machine.

These disputes between Katanga and the centre have played into schisms in the majority over the last year. The G7 group of parties split from the majority after publi­shing letters between February and September 2015 criticising the functioning of the majority and underlining damage done by the ill-prepared, under-resourced découpage. The final letter, sealing the split, called for respect of constitutional deadlines, essentially a demand that Kabila step down in December.[fn]Letters of 22 February, 5 March and 14 September 2015 on file with Crisis Group. Crisis Group interview Congolese politician, Kinshasa, March 2016; “RDC: le G7 se positionne dans l’opposi­tion”, Radio Okapi, 10 October 2015.Hide Footnote  The G7 includes the important Katangan parties UNAFEC, the National Union of Democrats and Federalists (UNADEF) and Avenir du Congo (ACO).[fn]The other parties in the G7 are the MSR, previously the second largest party in the majority; the Alliance for the Renewal of Congo (ARC) (Olivier Kamitatu), the Christian Democratic Party (PDC) (José Endundu) and the Solidarity Movement for Democracy and Development (MSDD) (Christophe Lutundula).Hide Footnote  Except for the weakened PPRD, only a few remaining parties in the majority have a significant following in Katanga, including Union for the Development of Congo (UDCO), now led by Jean-Claude Masangu, and Health Minister Félix Kabange Numbi’s Awakening of Consciousness for Work (ECT).[fn]Six of seven UDCO national legislators are from the old province and eight of the ECT’s ten.Hide Footnote

Hans Hoebeke Interview on CCTV Africa

Crisis Group's Hans Hoebeke talks to CCTV Africa's Fahmida on the situation in DRC, 25 January 2015 CCTV AFRICA

Some of these political frustrations have spilled onto the street. Lubumbashi saw protests in January 2015, and some incidents took place at Katumbi’s court case. These street protests have not reached Kinshasa levels, but they may become a more important factor as the electoral/constitutional crisis unfolds.[fn]A future Crisis Group paper will discuss street protests in DRC and government reactions.Hide Footnote

B. Armed Groups and Possible Violence

Armed groups have recently been active in Katanga, though they do not have overt political platforms, and their generally low-profile operations are not as extensive as those in the Kivus. In some cases, their activities are probably linked to the elite frustrations outlined above and the secessionist sentiments they feed. Many are remnants from the civil war, when the region’s north was partly occupied by RCD-Goma and Rwandan troops, and local self-defence groups were mobilised in reaction.[fn]For more, see Crisis Group Report, Katanga, op. cit.Hide Footnote  Tanganyika province, areas of Haut-Katanga and Haut-Lomami continue to suffer from the activities of some Forces démocratiques pour la libération du Rwanda (FDLR) and Mai Mai Yakutumba, both principally based in the Kivus.[fn]For a comprehensive analysis of Katangan armed groups and conflicts, see Georges Berghezan, “Groupes armés au Katanga, épicentre de multiples conflits”, GRIP, 9 June 2015; Michelle Brown and Michael Boyce, “DR Congo: Katanga in crisis”, Refugees International, 26 June 2014.Hide Footnote  There is also a conflict between the pygmy (Twa) and Bantu (Luba).[fn]For more, see “Nord-Katanga: Crise identitaire sur fond d’émancipation: conflit Bantous-Pygmées”, Le Rassembleur Magazine, no. 10, (undated), Lubumbashi, pp. 35-37; “DRC Congo: Ethnic Militias Attack Civilians in Katanga”, Human Rights Watch, 11 August 2015.Hide Footnote

One network of armed groups with overt links to Katangan identity issues is the Bakata Katanga (“Cut off Katanga” in Swahili), led by Kyungu Mutanga, better known as Gédéon. It claims to defend the region against exploitation by Kinshasa and reportedly has ties with small secessionist organisations.[fn]Gédéon, then leader of Mai Mai Gédéon, surrendered to MONUSCO in 2006 and was arrested. He was sentenced to death in 2009 (the DRC has a moratorium on the death penalty). He escaped in an outbreak of 1,000 prisoners in Lubumbashi in 2011. Crisis Group interview, MONUSCO official, Lubumbashi, June 2015. Groups calling for Katanga’s independence include Coordination pour l’organisation du référendum d’autodétermination du Katanga (CORAK), Congrès des Peuples du Katanga (CPK) and Conseil National de Transition du Katanga (CNTK).Hide Footnote  It is held responsible for most violence in what is known in Katanga as the “death triangle”.[fn]An informally named area that straddles Pweto, Haut-Katanga and Tanganyika provinces, as well as part of Malemba Nkulu in Haut-Lomami province, which suffered particularly badly in the second Congo war (1998-2003).Hide Footnote  It was particularly active in 2013, when, in March, many of its fighters marched into Lubumbashi. It is mainly present in Katanga’s centre but was also reported near Sakania, on the Zambian border.[fn]“Lubumbashi Takeover”, op. cit. Crisis Group interview, MONUSCO official, Lubumbashi, June 2015.Hide Footnote

The Bakata Katanga were allegedly connected to politicians with national prominence, such as oil minister, former defence minister and now Katanga Governor Aimé Ngoy Mukena;[fn]“Rapport sur le procès des crimes graves commis au Nord-Katanga par l’ex-chef milicien Gédéon Kyungu Mutanga”, Association Africaine de Défense des Droits de l’Homme, August 2008; “RDC: une vidéo refait surface et met le ministre des Hydrocarbures dans l’embarras vis-à-vis de Kabila”, Jeune Afrique, 7 December 2015.Hide Footnote  Gabriel Kyungu; ex-CENI head Pasteur Ngoy Mulunda; former Central Bank Governor Jean-Claude Masangu; and, in particular, John Numbi.[fn]UN Group of Experts Report, S/2014/42, 23 January 2014, pp. 15-17; “Katanga: qui se cache derrière les Kata Katanga”, Jeune Afrique, 14 May 2013; on Mulunda’s alleged links, “RDC: les ‘Bakata Katanga’, un nouveau parti politique?”, Afrikarabia.com, 20 August 2015; and “Groupes armés au Katanga, épicentre de multiples conflits”, op. cit., for links of those named to Bakata Katanga.Hide Footnote  Its reported links suggest a continued pattern of politicians using armed groups for leverage; local leaders believe, an observer said, “that Joseph Kabila only understands the language of rebellion”.[fn]Crisis Group email correspondence, civil society actor, Lubumbashi, October 2015.Hide Footnote  The UN group of experts concluded in 2014 that “the tolerance of Numbi’s support [to Bakata Katanga] indicates acquiescence at the highest levels of government”.[fn]“The Kata Katanga movement became active just before the 2011 elections. Several well-placed sources and local leaders in Katanga believe the group serves the interests of political and economic elites at the national and provincial levels. These elites may use Kata Katanga to create instability or, conversely, stability, depending on their needs”. UN Experts, op. cit., p. 16.Hide Footnote

Violence could flare up unexpectedly and exacerbate humanitarian problems. From 2011 to 2014, IDP’s in Katanga rose 900 per cent, to 500,000. This was due to the central government’s lack of attention to security; neglect of the army (FARDC; most resources went to the GR and other elite units); and the political connections of armed groups that delayed decisive action. It was also exacerbated by poor harvests, partly caused by farmers’ displacement and crop failures caused by the El Niño. MONUSCO, with 450 troops in mid-2014 in a province the size of Spain, was also particularly weak. The security challenges were compounded by difficult logistics, due to the lack of infrastructure, the fallout of the economic crisis affecting numerous workers and the dire humanitarian situation.[fn]“DR Congo: Katanga in crisis”, field note, Refugees International, 26 June 2014. Crisis Group commentary, “Lubumbashi Takeover”, op. cit. “Après la guerre, la faim dans le Katanga congolais”, www.irinnews.org, 1 April 2016.Hide Footnote

In mid-2014, MONUSCO and FARDC scaled-up operations against the Bakata Katanga, bringing some security improvement. IDP’s decreased, particularly in Pweto. Kabila also reshuffled command positions within FARDC and the military regions, notably appointing his cousin, Jean-Claude Kifwa, to head the wider south-eastern military zone and Philémon Yav, a former “Katangan Tiger”, as Katanga military region commander.[fn]“Rapport mensuel Protection Monitoring Katanga”, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), January 2015; “RDC: Katanga Rapport hebdomadaire du 29 juillet 2015”, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 29 July 2015. “Reshuffle in the Congolese army – qui bono?”, Christophvogel.net, 28 September 2014. “RDC: Philémon Yav, le Tigre de Kabila”, Jeune Afrique, 7 May 2015. Crisis Group Report, Katanga, op. cit., p. 6.Hide Footnote  Dozens of Bakata Katanga have surrendered, giving up weapons. However, few in Lubumbashi believe the group has been defeated; there is fear some politicians keep it in readiness for possible future need.[fn]Georges Berghezan, “Katanga: le calme avant la tempête?”, GRIP, 15 March 2016. Crisis Group email correspondence, Lubumbashi-based analyst, October 2015.Hide Footnote

These are not the only armed groups that should be a concern. On 30 December 2013, followers of the self-proclaimed prophet Mukungubila (from the same area as Kabila and an unsuccessful candidate in the 2006 election) attacked the state TV station (RTNC), the defence ministry and the national airport, all in Kinshasa.[fn]Around the same time, a group also attacked the airport of Kindu, Maniema province.Hide Footnote  A few hours later, government troops surrounded the group’s compound in a Lubumbashi residential area and attacked after followers were said to have opened fire. Reportedly several hundred followers were killed, most in Lubumbashi.[fn]“Carnage des adeptes du prophète Joseph Mukungubila Mutombo”, Rapport d’enquête, Action Citoyenne pour la Bonne Gouvernance, Centre pour la Justice et la Réconciliation, Humanisme et Droits Humains, Observatoire Congolais pour la Radioactivité, Justicia ASBL, Lubumbashi, 21 January 2014.Hide Footnote

Though the motivation of the attacks is still not entirely clear, they illustrate the potential consequences of unaddressed tensions between Katanga and the centre and between Katangan elites. Many observers believe they were an attempt by Lubakat elite to pressure the president and secure their positions in the government and security forces.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, UN officials, diplomats, Kinshasa, March 2014; Kinshasa, Lubumbashi May, June 2015. Mukungubila published a letter to Kabila on 5 December 2013 attacking his decision to name General Charles Bisengimana Rukira to head the PNC, denouncing Rukira for his supposed Rwandan origins and calling on security services to remove the president. Katumbi expressed support for the president.Hide Footnote  The failure to address the Bakata Katanga, the opaque nature of the Mukungubila affair and recent accusations against politicians of recruiting or harbouring a militia all point to the continued role of unaccountable armed elements in uncertain political times.[fn]“RDC: l’opposant Moïse Katumbi accusé d’avoir recours à des ‘mercenaires’”, RFI, 4 May 2016; “Intégralité de l’entretien du Président Joseph Kabila avec les notables Katangais”, YouTube,
6 January 2015.Hide Footnote

C. Moïse Katumbi’s Collision with the President

Former Katanga Governor Moïse Katumbi makes remarks during a meeting with U.S. government officials in Lubumbashi on 14 July 2015. USAID/Kaukab Jhumra Smith

Moïse Katumbi Chapwe is a Bemba from Kashobwe in Haut-Katanga province. When Mobutu was overthrown in 1997, he went into exile in Zambia, where he was close to the then President Frederick Chiluba and successful in business, especially transport. Joseph Kabila’s adviser, Katumba Mwanké, then Katanga’s governor, facilitated his return and remained a close ally and important intermediary with the president until his death in 2011. Katumbi became a Kabila supporter on his return and was elected Katanga governor in 2007 by the votes of 94 of the 102 members in the new provincial assembly.[fn]“Katanga’s new governor: man with a bold plan”, U.S. embassy Kinshasa cable, as published by wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/07KINSHASA330_a.html. For a comprehensive profile, see Jean Omasombo, Biographie des acteurs de la Troisième République, CEP, Kinshasa, CERDAP, Lubumbashi, and Africa Museum Tervuren (Brussels, 2009). Katumba Mwanké, governor of Katanga, 1998–2001, was from the same region as Katumbi, whom he described as “certainly one of the better hopes our country has today” in his Ma Vérité (Nice, 2013, posthumous), pp. 127-129. Katumbi’s only opponent for the governorship was Pasteur Ngoy Mulunda (Lubakat), later CENI president (2011-2013) who ran the 2011 elections.Hide Footnote  He is an atypical Congolese politician, whose private business fortune, from fisheries, mining and transport, gives him an exceptional degree of independence from the central government.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Kinshasa-based diplomat, June 2015; Lubumbashi, May-June 2015. Companies linked to Katumbi include the trucking firms Hakuna Matata, Muzuri Sana and Habari Kani, the latter a collaboration between Hakuna Matata and TFM. “Millionaire governor gears up for 2016 Congo election bid”, Reuters, 11 August 2015.Hide Footnote

Katumbi is a charismatic populist and generally credited with a good record as governor. He is also chairperson of Lubumbashi’s football team, “Tout Puissant Mazembe”, which is an Africa-wide success, and, like many politicians, has close connections to the media, including two TV stations.[fn]The football club gives him a national profile and puts him at the centre of a web of business interests. He took over from his Belgium-based brother, Raphaël Katebe Katoto, also a businessperson, who was close to the rebel group cum political party the RCD-Goma, which participated in the peace negotiations in the early 2000s before joining the transitional government, and to the UDPS. Omasombo, Biographie, op. cit., pp. 113-115. The team’s vice president is David Malta Forrest, CEO of the Group Forrest International, a major economic actor in Katanga. Nyota TV and TV Mapendo, linked to Katumbi, had their broadcasting licences revoked in January 2016. Close media connections are relatively common for politicians. The presidential family has interests in Digitalcongo, and several other Katangan political leaders own or are close to a TV station. Crisis Group interviews Lubumbashi, May-June 2015 and March 2016.Hide Footnote  These, along with a hands-on style, have made him well-known and popular, in Katanga and beyond. Because the government delayed provincial elections, he was governor for eight years instead of the mandated five. He gained strong support from the province’s elite in this period, including the provincial assembly and particularly its speaker, Gabriel Kyungu.[fn]Crisis Group interview, UNAFEC politician, Lubumbashi, June 2015.Hide Footnote

Some have raised conflict of interest questions regarding his business and political roles, but this has generally failed to tarnish his image, in part because of the perception that “since he is already rich, he won’t steal any more”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Katangan elite, Lubumbashi, May-June 2015. “Ma part c’est combien?: la formule magique du Katanga …”, Le Carnet de Colette Braeckman (blog.lesoir.be), 26 November 2015.Hide Footnote  His tenure coincided with and benefited from the commodity boom, which led to significant infrastructure development in southern Katanga that contrasted, however, with the lack of development elsewhere in the province (see above).

Over the years, the relationship between the charismatic Katumbi and the more introverted Kabila became increasingly difficult. In the run-up to the 2011 elections, a seemingly disillusioned Katumbi announced he would leave politics. His position had come under pressure, as rumours that Zoë Kabila had eyes on the governorship increased and resonated favourably with several prominent northern Katanga Lubakat. But civil society organisations collected a million signatures on a petition imploring Katumbi to stay. A supporting rally a few weeks before the elections also highlighted the strong Katumbi-Kyungu alliance.[fn]“RDC: Moïse Katumbi arrête la politique”, Afrikarabia.com, 17 May 2011. “Les Kabila: de père en fils et de fils en frères? Un Kabila peut-il en cacher deux autres”, Wakati Yetu Wordpress, 21 November 2011. Later Zoë Kabila’s name appeared in particular as possible governor of the new Tanganyika province. “Moise Katumbi Chapwe bat campagne pour le Président Joseph Kabila Kabange”, ACP, 1 November 2011. MONUSCO document, dated 5 November 2011, in possession of Crisis Group.Hide Footnote

Tensions between Katangan leaders and the president escalated dramatically in late 2014 when Katumbi, Kyungu and Jean-Claude Muyambo separately took strong public positions against any constitutional amendment that would allow Kabila to stand for a third term. Muyambo was subsequently imprisoned, officially for an unrelated matter. The strongest political signal came from a Katumbi speech on 23 December 2014 in Lubumbashi in which he asked, “will we accept a third penalty?” – a clear message to Kabila, who was visiting Katanga at the time.[fn]“Fronde commune”, Jeune Afrique, 28 June 2015. Muyambo, formerly a Katumbi foe, was president of the Bemba association Sempya (2003-2005), humanitarian affairs minister (2007-2008) and president of the Lubumbashi Bar Association. In September 2007, he founded the Congolese Solidarity for Democracy and Development party (SCODE). For more, see Crisis Group Report, Congo, op. cit.; “DR Congo: Deadly Crackdown on Protests Halt Unlawful Shootings, Arrests”, Human Rights Watch, 24 January 2015. Muyambo was imprisoned in January 2015 and is still in jail. “Discours complet de Kyungu, Moise Katumbi et l’arrivée de Muyambo ce matin”, YouTube, 23 December 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=RazvlD9TFv8; “Le grand retour de Moïse Katumbi à Lubumbashi”, Le Carnet de Colette Braeckman, 23 December 2014.Hide Footnote

Kabila reacted during a meeting with the Katangan elite in January 2015, from which Katumbi, Kyungu and Muyambo were absent. Concerning découpage, he argued that opponents had not used all available legal avenues and that the provincial assembly Kyungu headed had not taken a position. He also criticised Kyungu and Katumbi for the province’s lack of social development. Days later, RG units raided the office of JUNAFEC, the youth wing of Kyungu’s party. Kabila also replaced leading customs and tax administration officials in the province to break Katumbi’s network. Muyambo responded, “… it is too late: Katanga is no longer with him [Kabila]”.[fn]“Joseph Kabila réussit son grand oral”, Le Rassembleur Magazine, January 2015, pp. 6-7; “Intégralité de l’entretien du Président Joseph Kabila avec les notables Katangais”, YouTube, 6 January 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHAPBLFk8EA. “La garde présidentielle au siège de l’UNAFEC à la Kenya”, www.katanganews.net, 9 January 2015. In that period, some 40 JUNAFEC members were arrested. “RDC: ce que Joseph Kabila a dit aux Katangais”, Jeune Afrique, 5 January 2015 (Crisis Group translation).Hide Footnote  Katumbi remained with the PPRD, but his distance from Kabila was now obvious.[fn]“Fin de la visite de travail du Premier ministre au Katanga”, ACP, 15 January 2015; “Le gouvernement ordonne le remplacement des responsables de la DGDA au Katanga”, Radio Okapi, 13 January 2015. “Présidentielle en RDC, redécoupage: entretien exclusive avec Moïse Katumbi”, RFI, 16 March 2015; “Congrès du PPRD à la FIKIN: Katumbi son absence a été très remarquée du début à la fin”, C-News, 19 May 2015.Hide Footnote

Further signs of deteriorating relations came in summer 2015. In June, the government reportedly transferred a general file on corruption to the national prosecutor with suggestions that it implicated Katumbi. This was later denied by the prosecutor, and the president appears to have backed away from levelling corruption allegations for now.[fn]“Kabila clouts Katumbi”, Africa Confidential, 7 August 2015; “Jean Kenge: En rire ou en pleurer?”, Congoresearchgroup.org, 16 July 2015; “RDC: le parquet a reçu une dénonciation, pas une plainte de Joseph Kabila contre des individus”, Radio Okapi, 3 July 2015. “Corruption Moise Katumbi amené devant la justice par Luzolo Bambi”, YouTube, 25 June 2015, https://www.youtube.com/
watch?v=bI5hQ9l6w28.Hide Footnote
 In August 2015, Huit Mulongo, his former chief of cabinet, announced creation of a new platform, the Neo-Conakat, to preserve and promote Katumbi’s ideas.[fn]“Création à Lubumbashi d’une plate-forme dénommée Neo-CONAKAT”, ACP, 16 August 2015. Huit Mulongo, leader of the “Conscience républicaine pour la démocratie et le développement”, spoke out against a constitutional amendment on 28 October 2014. “Huit Mulongo: ‘La révision de la constitution n’est pas opportune’”, Radio Okapi, 28 October 2014.Hide Footnote  Its reference to Moïse Tshombe’s CONAKAT, which fought for Katangan independence, was remarkable.

Preparing for his new position as a Kabila opponent and with one eye on future elections, Katumbi reached out to international actors and other opposition politicians, including Kamerhe and Tshisekedi.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Congolese politician, Brussels, October 2015. Katumbi reportedly hired a U.S. law firm to facilitate discussions with U.S. policymakers about the 2016 DRC elections. “Millionaire governor gears up”, op. cit.Hide Footnote  Later, he joined the opposition platform “Citizen Front 2016” and took centre stage when he suggested opposition-wide primaries to choose a single opposition candidate. The idea was resisted by other opposition parties, fearful of his wealth and influence. They focused more on guaranteeing credible elections than who would contest them.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, civil society leader and opposition politician, Brussels, February 2016. “Elections – RD Congo – Vital Kamerhe: ‘Nous allons bousculer le pouvoir de Kabila’”, Le Point Afrique, 8 April 2016; “RDC: Katumbi face au défi de la candidature unique”, Afrikarabia.com, 31 March 2016.Hide Footnote  Since he left the majority, Katumbi has been close to the G7, and several other groups and parties have rallied to him. In May 2016, a new group, the AR, emerged, consisting of a dozen smaller parties, including Mayombo’s SCODE and several affiliated to people close to Katumbi.[fn]Including the National Party for Democracy and Development (PND), for which Katumbi’s brother, Abraham Kitanika Soriano, is a candidate for future provincial elections and the Conservateurs de la nature et démocrates (CONADE), a new party led by the brother of Katumbi’s political adviser, Salomon Idi Kalonda Della.Hide Footnote  He has also been underlining his links to the Catholic Church and received public support from Monseigneur Fulgence Muteba, bishop of Kilwa-Kasenga, his north Haut-Katanga birthplace.[fn]“Mgr. Fulgence Muteba commente la démission de Moïse Katumbi”, Radio Okapi, 7 October 2015. See also “Loi de programmation: des réactions de rejet”, Forum des As, 5 March 2015.Hide Footnote

On 30 March 2016, the G7 formally asked Katumbi to be a presidential candidate.[fn]Tweet by @G7_RDC, 30 March 2016.Hide Footnote  Realising that his attempt to inspire broader opposition unity had not worked, Katumbi declared his desire to stand on 4 May. On the same day, Justice Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba announced an investigation into Katumbi for allegedly employing mercenaries.

On 8-9 June, some 100 Congolese opposition politicians and civil society representatives met in Genval, Belgium. Katumbi was absent, but several close advisers and his brother, Katebe Katoto, attended. The meeting, convened by Tshisekedi, led to creation of the “Rassemblement”, led by Tshisekedi, in close partnership with Katebe Katoto. It allows Katumbi to operate in close association to the historic opposition leader.[fn]Crisis Group email correspondence with diplomatic sources, Nairobi, June 2016; Crisis Group interviews, Congolese analyst, Kinshasa July 2016.Hide Footnote

The defections of Katumbi and the G7 have considerably weakened the majority in Katanga and especially Lubumbashi, where it has never had to contend with serious opposition. The government’s reaction has included suppressing public events by opposition groups, closing public space and shutting down media. In early April, the army paraded tanks and armoured vehicles in Lubumbashi.[fn]“RDC: l’opposition harcelée et muselée au Katanga”, Afrikarabia.com, 1 February 2016. “Troops and heavy weaponry deployment highlights increased civil unrest, war risk in DRC’s Katanga region”, IHS Jane’s Country Risk Daily Report, 15 April 2016.Hide Footnote  The government reportedly blocked Katumbi’s plane from using the city’s airport, pushed members of the G7 and officials close to Katumbi out of administrative positions and intimidated others.[fn]Such as the mayor of Likasi, a Scode member. “Communiqué N°012/JUS/2015 by Justicia Asbl”, 28 October 2015. Another interesting example was a 12 October 2015 letter by the ANR’s Haut-Katanga provincial director to the acting governor requesting he no longer invite UNAFEC and other G7 members to provincial security council meetings, on file with Crisis Group.Hide Footnote  The central government and PPRD have also reinvigorated attempts to retain support in Katanga, including by encouraging new parties, or factions within existing parties. This included an attempt by the government in early 2016 to hijack the UNAFEC party. However Kyungu was able to produce court documents on 5 February that confirmed his leadership of the party.[fn]Tweets by @AmbHenriMova, PPRD secretary general, 18-20 October 2015. This campaign included issuing new membership cards to PPRD ministers and deputies. “UNAFEC: la destitution de Gabriel Kyungu qualifiée de non statutaire”, Radio Okapi, 25 September 2015; another example of interference in the internal affairs of parties was when the interior minister recognised Patrick Bologna, a legislator close to the government, as national president of the ACO, whose leader is Danny Banza. Legal document, dated 5 February 2016, referring to court proceedings dated 10 July 2015, confirming Kyungu as the president of the UNAFEC party, on file with Crisis Group.Hide Footnote  The risk of escalation with UNAFEC remains high.

Both Kabila and Katumbi are mobilising and broadening their support. Kabila’s Katanga base seems concentrated with the Lunda-Ruund (Lualaba) and the Lubakat elite, in particular those from Malemba Nkulu. Katumbi is best established in Haut-Katanga and Kolwezi, but also has important allies in Tanganyika (Mwando Nsimba and the UNADEF), as well as some Lubakat allies, in particular Kyungu. His outreach to other Lubakat leaders seems not to have worked so far, and it remains to be seen how much découpage will reconfigure the political allegiances and dynamics between elites and the general population.[fn]Lualaba leaders from Lunda-Ruund include Diemu Chikez, Richard Mujey and Kalev Mutond. Crisis Group email correspondence, Katangan analyst, August 2015.Hide Footnote

Demonstrations and violence escalated in April and May 2016, when the government accused Katumbi of endangering national security. He was injured in a protest outside the Lubumbashi courthouse and eventually flew abroad for medical treatment, an avoidance of all-out confrontation that may have suited both sides. He was subsequently convicted in a civil dispute over ownership of property, but the ruling and three-year prison sentence can be challenged, because he was convicted in absentia.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Congolese lawyer, Kinshasa, July 2016. “RDC: l’opposant Katumbi condamné à 3 ans de prison pour un conflit immobilier”, Radio Okapi, 22 June 2016. The presiding judge later said she came under political pressure to deliver this verdict; “RD Congo: une juge de Lubumbashi affirme avoir subi des pressions pour faire condamner Katumbi”, Le Congolais, 27 July 2016.Hide Footnote  Nevertheless, the government has strong cards to play and is likely to continue to bring legal cases to keep him on the defensive.

The population of Katanga and other opposition parties have stayed quiet through this round of confrontation, but no one thinks the problems have been resolved. Katumbi does not have old links to armed groups, so the high level of political tension is not linked to the outbreaks of armed violence described above, though some of his allies, in particular UNAFEC, could be involved in street clashes. But relations between government and opposition are vital indicators of the health of the political system and thus of the country’s fragile stability.

V. The Way Ahead: Repairing Kinshasa-Katanga Relations

The fundamental breakdown of trust between Kinshasa and many Katangan elite and ordinary citizens reflects countrywide discontent with the regime as it tries to delay elections in ever more inventive ways. It also reveals very Katangan concerns about identity, power and entitlement. The confusion around découpage and electoral delays appears intentional. Necessary legislation for the effective functioning and budgetary survival of the new provinces has stalled. In October 2015, the government froze transfer of national tax revenue to the provinces and other decentralised entities and announced an audit of all provincial budgets, which may take a long time and create further crises. All this adds to a growing feeling that decentralisation gains and Katangan identity more widely are under attack.

The breakdown in trust and rising tensions risk triggering violent escalation. The concerns are at local, provincial and national levels. The most significant danger arises when the various tensions feed off each other, as appears to have happened with the 2013 Mukungubila incident that triggered violence in both Kinshasa and Katanga. An indication that the government is worried about such dynamics is the increased military presence in Haut-Katanga and Lualaba provinces. Particularly telling are the deployment of armoured vehicles near Lubumbashi and reinforcements in Kolwezi.

As the electoral deadline looms, government and opposition are increasingly focused on their fight to take or retain power and adopting a zero-sum approach. Real dialogue and government commitment not to manipulate the constitution for political purposes would contribute to de-escalating tensions across the country.

This situation is hardly promising for solving problems at local level, but it makes finding a way forward ever more important. Officials and elites at the local level have an interest in sustainable, credible structures to deal with the many community tensions that will arise from découpage, including disputes over “non-native” rights and political and economic arguments between new provinces. These are most likely when local and provincial elections are organised. Responsible leadership is needed from cultural and community leaders and authorities. At the least, national authorities must allow space for local reconciliation initiatives and not take actions that might exacerbate problems. Politicians on all sides must desist from politicising identity to shore up support bases.

The approaching elections necessitate further local action to deal with armed groups. Use of such groups to further political ambitions continues, in Katanga as well as the worse affected Kivus, despite fourteen years of official peace. However, while there has been some serious violence in Katanga over the last five years, and there is reason to believe the armed groups remain a threat, the frequency and intensity of incidents do not yet indicate an explosive situation. Where possible, disarmament and demobilisation should be carried out, though this needs to be carefully considered and done case by case, so as to not inflame tensions or create perceptions that some communities are being unfairly treated. Ultimately, dealing with armed groups in Katanga, as elsewhere in the country, is a political issue, and steps should be taken to discourage politicians from manipulating them for their purposes, includ­ing through monitoring and exposing their activities.

The UN, through MONUSCO, has an important role. Its presence in Katanga, though limited, is being beefed-up to deal with a possible upsurge in violence if political tensions continue to rise. While there are limits to what it can do when national forces confront their own citizens, MONUSCO should continue reinforcing its police component in urban centres, to help with monitoring Congolese police and military in case of urban unrest and to provide security for political officers and human rights monitors.[fn]Planning is underway at MONUSCO to boost early-warning capacity for election-related violence by creating mobile teams to monitor human rights and political issues in Lubumbashi (in addition to Kinshasa and Goma). The Mission is reviewing its military and police deployments in areas at high risk of election-related violence and enhancing its ability to protect UN personnel in urban centres, including Lubumbashi, by developing evacuation plans and deploying helicopters and armoured personnel carriers. “Report of the Secretary-General on [MONUSCO]”, UNSC S/
2016/579, 28 June 2016.Hide Footnote
 Operations by the FARDC against armed groups should be supported in line with experiences elsewhere in the country.

Rising political tensions in Katanga and the country at large coincide with a slump in the mineral export dependent economy. Major export prices are not expected to increase in the near future, leaving little margin to raise revenue other than by tackling corruption and increasing efficiency, but as political competition is patronage based, there is an ever more desperate fight over a shrinking cake.

The resulting drop in the budget, cut 22 per cent in 2016 to little over $7 billion, will considerably affect the national government’s capacity to maintain the previously inadequate levels of funding to the provinces. It also dispels hope of quickly operationalising the equalisation fund, so the disparities between provinces will remain. Nowhere are the problems as stark as in former Katanga, whose new landlocked provinces of Tanganyika and Haut-Lamami are among DRC’s poorest, while Haut Katanga and Lualaba are among the richest.[fn]Government expenditure in 2015 was $4.5 billion, including a $300 million deficit. Crisis Group interview, development official, Kinshasa, March 2016. “DRC: The Impact”, op. cit.Hide Footnote  The details are beyond this report’s scope, but initiatives on agriculture, energy supply, infrastructure and diversification to alleviate the immediate impact and remedy structural economic and developmental problems are vitally important to lower political resentment and prevent or slow armed groups’ recruitment.

After ten years of tentative decentralisation, which at least shifted some power to provincial assemblies and administrations, recent moves by Kinshasa have reversed the trend. Foreshadowing its probable approach in national elections, the majority has deployed all means at its disposal to ensure that nearly all provincial authorities are subject to its command. This adds to Kinshasa’s dominant position when handing out largesse in the provinces, which, even when done through Katangan politicians and officials, can fuel local resentments.

It is vital that the government makes the province-centre financial relationship far more transparent. While provincial administrations’ absorption capacity may prevent the full immediate application of constitutional and legal decentralisation provisions, progress is important so that provinces are eventually able to receive entitled resources. This should be in conjunction with a financial monitoring mechanism, so that decentralisation does not simply equate to decentralisation of corruption. The national audit office (Cour des Comptes) is mandated to take this role but is largely neutered by the president’s office. A more empowered audit office, with better civil society monitoring of financial flows, could help defuse province-centre tensions. Again, the national political climate does not currently lend itself to such progress, but these issues should not be ignored if a better balance is to be found.

It is no exaggeration that electoral preparations and the government’s actions to stay in power are fundamental threats to national cohesion and stability. Katanga, because of regime ties and its disproportionate economic weight, is one of the key battlegrounds, along with major urban centres such as Kinshasa, Goma and Kisangani. The lack of effective development, in particular in its north, and competing individual ambitions have pushed the Katangan elite into a dangerously polarised position. With resources distributed along patronage networks, it is determined to either keep a grip on central power (a determination potentially at odds with national democracy) or keep more resources at the provincial level. There is a danger that politicians will increasingly play the separatist card, expressed initially by desire to “reunify” in order to pressure the centre. Support for Katangan identity is not inherently illegitimate, and prospect of a strong separatist movement is currently remote, but the risk is that politicians will mobilise armed groups and networks to manipulate separatist sentiment for their political ends.

Katumbi’s declared presidential candidacy further escalated tensions from the provincial to national level. Several provincial political leaders have rallied to his camp, but Kabila retains strong Lubakat support, as well as a base in the new Lualaba province. Whether Katumbi and Kabila will ever contest an election head to head depends on future turns in the unfolding political drama, but if events since Katumbi announced his candidacy are an indication, the battle would be hard fought. Even now, the confrontation is likely to raise tensions, not just between province and centre, which are connected by multiple overlapping networks, but also by shifting elite alliances.

VI. Conclusion

To move the electoral, financial and political issues forward constructively and put in place transitional arrangements for the now inevitable delay of the November 2016 polls requires a minimum of trust between the main parties, a more coherent opposition and a step away from winner takes all politics.[fn]Moncrieff, “The reluctance of Joseph Kabila to cede power”, op. cit.Hide Footnote  Genuine, credible dialogue is needed, which should include but not be limited to a formal national dialogue. As elsewhere in the vast country, the risks of unpredictable deterioration and renewed violence are real in Katanga. Now is the time to head them off.

The UN and Congo’s other regional and wider international partners need to take the risks more seriously and use their shrinking leverage more effectively. MONU­SCO should reinforce its police and human rights monitoring in Katanga; donors should consider more support for local bodies that monitor activities of both state security forces and armed groups. Though the government will try hard to keep the international community out of its relations with the new provinces, mediation efforts to bring the main parties in political disputes together should keep the subject on the table. The stakes are high, as the progress achieved in DRC since 2006 could quickly evaporate, and the country, still hosting the UN’s largest peacekeeping mission, could descend into a new, deep crisis reminiscent of the late 1990’s.

Nairobi/Brussels, 3 August 2016[fn]Crisis Group receives financial support from a wide range of governments, foundations and private sources. For more information, please see Our Supporters. For a full print version of this report with a list of supporters, please apply to brussels@crisisgroup.org.Hide Footnote

President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Joseph Kabila, holds a press conference for the first time in five years on January 26, 2018 in Kinshasa. THOMAS NICOLON / AFP
Report 259 / Africa

Electoral Poker in DR Congo

Elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been postponed since December 2016, but now seem to be slated for the end of the year. All parties should work to ensure credible polls, the best hope for a peaceful transfer of power.

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What’s new? After repeated delays, President Joseph Kabila’s government in the Democratic Republic of Congo has made progress over the past few months toward organising elections for 23 December 2018. But there are still important concerns about the transparency and quality of the polls.

Why does it matter? While there are still numerous uncertainties, prospects for elections this year have improved – mostly due to increased pressure on the president from African leaders. This provides an opportunity for renewed regional and international engagement to help push toward a more credible vote in December and a peaceful transfer of power.

What should be done? Regional and international actors should push for the confidence-building measures in the 2016 Saint Sylvester agreement, focusing on steps to help level the playing field and improve trust in electoral preparations. The ruling majority and the opposition should participate constructively in the process and refrain from incendiary tactics and language.

Executive Summary

President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) may be preparing to hold long-postponed elections at the end of 2018. Until recently, Kabila appeared more likely to keep delaying. But official statements, including by the president himself, and steps taken by the Congolese electoral commission (CENI), suggest his calculations may be changing. Elections present several challenges for the regime, first and foremost that of selecting a successor Kabila trusts. But overall his regime is operating from a position of relative strength: it retains firm control of the state and electoral machinery and the opposition remains split. The apparent move toward a vote requires Kabila’s opponents and international actors to quickly adapt. African, Western and other governments should push for a few critical reforms that would make for more credible polls, build confidence in key aspects of electoral preparations and level the playing field.

Signs abound that the regime is seriously contemplating elections. In November 2017, the CENI published a new electoral calendar, foreseeing a vote at the end of 2018. The following month, Kabila approved a new electoral law. In January 2018, the CENI announced the end of voter registration – a milestone in electoral preparations. Kabila’s plans remain unclear, perhaps even in his own mind. He may proceed toward a vote, which would mean choosing a dauphin to replace him and hoping that he can pull strings behind the scenes as head of the ruling party, or at least protect his family interests. But picking a successor could provoke splits – and possibly even violent contestation – among Kabila’s allies. Alternatively, he may revert to further delays; insecurity might provide a pretext. For now, however, preparations for a December vote appear to be underway.

Electoral preparations thus far exclude important elements of the Saint Sylvester deal struck between the government and its opponents.

This poses dilemmas for the Congolese opposition, civil society and international actors. Electoral preparations thus far exclude important elements of the Saint Sylvester deal struck between the government and its opponents on 31 December 2016, which set out steps for a democratic transition of power. Opposition parties are starting to prepare for the campaign, but are divided and face an uphill battle. Some of their leaders, facing legal charges, remain in exile; others struggle to gain traction among a population frustrated with the entire political class. At this point, domestic pressure for reform comes essentially from civil society organisations affiliated with the Catholic Church.

If the shift in pace of electoral preparations requires international actors to adjust quickly, it also presents an opportunity. African and Western powers agree that President Kabila should not seek a third term; indeed, the African Union (AU) and leaders of the sub-regional body, the South African Development Community (SADC), have redoubled diplomatic efforts, seemingly to convey that message to Kabila and push him toward an election which he does not contest. They and Western governments might be able to forge similar consensus on, and then push hard for, a handful of important steps that Congolese authorities could take to help level the playing field and improve prospects for a more credible vote, even if full implementation of the Saint Sylvester deal now appears unlikely. Among these steps:

  • The government should allow all candidates to run unless clear and legally justified obstacles exist; charges that do not meet those criteria should be dropped well ahead of the deadline for registering as a candidate.
     
  • The government, having declared it will pay for elections, should, together with the CENI, provide details of that funding, in case foreign support is required to plug deficits. Donors should prepare to engage also in the funding of the CENI if so required, and not limit their engagement to accompanying measures led by civil society.
     
  • The government also should refrain from violence against protesters and, as the election approaches, allow opposition parties to campaign freely. It should implement the recommendations of the 10 March report of the Joint Commission of Inquiry, composed of representatives of the human rights, justice and security ministries as well as civil society, examining bloodshed at recent protests, including by lifting the general ban on meetings and peaceful public protests and by taking measures to restrict the use of the army and Republican Guard in maintaining and restoring public order.
     
  • The government should ensure the security of all political actors and prevent the intimidation of opposition candidates and supporters by political party militants. Like all Congolese political actors, it should make firm commitments to avoid inflammatory or ethnically divisive rhetoric, perhaps in a code of conduct.
     
  • The CENI should continue to consult the opposition and civil society on key preparations, particularly an audit of the voter register and procedures for the use of new voting machines, while allowing their representatives the opportunity to verify those aspects of election preparations; its recent meetings along these lines are a positive first step.
     
  • The CENI also should reach swift agreement on the role of the joint international expert team with those bodies that have deployed experts on the team – the UN, African Union (AU), European Union (EU), Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the International Organisation of La Francophonie (OIF). The experts should be embedded in the CENI and continuously assess and build a shared understanding among those organisations on what progress has been made. They also should keep a close watch on the voter register audit and testing of the new voting machines.

For their part, opposition leaders, who appear to be gearing up for the election, should prepare to campaign across the country. For now, an opposition boycott appears unlikely, especially if the regime fulfils some of the measures outlined above. Even without such reform, shunning the vote would likely prove ineffective, particularly as breakaway opposition factions would participate in any case. A boycott would risk giving whatever regime is elected a freer hand.

The UN mission in the DRC, known as MONUSCO, should increase its human rights monitoring. Along with Kinshasa-based diplomats and the envoys that frequently visit, it should continue to denounce any repression of opposition and civil society groups. Those organisations likely to observe the vote – notably the SADC, AU and EU – should prepare to send exploratory missions to determine minimum conditions under which observers would deploy. The Congolese government should extend invitations to those organisations and bodies that express an intent to observe and have a meaningful role in support of the electoral process.

Western and African powers alike should signal to the government – to both President Kabila and any apparent successor – that broad international acceptance and the benefits that might flow from that depend on an open and transparent process. Regular public meetings and statements, including at the UN Security Council, will be important to demonstrate cohesion, while disagreements should be kept away from the spotlight. The Security Council, whose 27 March renewal of MONUSCO’s mandate focused on its support for the electoral process, should remain closely engaged with the AU and its Peace and Security Council as well as the SADC and other relevant regional bodies. It should also regularly assess the state of electoral preparations, using the CENI’s electoral calendar as a key reference. Regular high-level meetings or visits to the DRC at crucial moments – such as when candidates must register – would help demonstrate international resolve and interest.

Despite the obvious challenges and uncertainty, elections this year in the DRC are now a real possibility. All foreign actors involved should push for a vote that is as credible as possible, limits the further fragmentation of Congolese society and improves prospects for a peaceful transfer of power.

Nairobi/Brussels, 4 April 2018

I. Introduction

On 5 November 2017 the Congolese election commission, the CENI, published its long-awaited electoral calendar, setting 23 December 2018 as the date for presidential, legislative and provincial elections. This was broadly welcomed with just some reservations.[fn]Foreign governments welcomed the new electoral calendar while continuing to support confidence-building and opening of political space provided for in the Saint Sylvester agreement. Domestic political opposition was split; at first some opposition leaders called for Kabila to step down in favour of a transitional government, but since most have started to prepare for the elections. “RDC : l’opposition en ordre dispersée face au nouveau calendrier électoral”, RFI, 8 November 2017; and “Felix Tshisekedi dresse un bilan désastreux de la mise en œuvre de l’accord de la Saint Sylvestre”, Radio Okapi, 22 January 2018. The Catholic Church’s episcopal body, CENCO, continued to advocate for full implementation of the Saint Sylvester deal which it brokered, and deplored the calendar’s publication without the opposition’s consent. “Déclaration de la conférence épiscopale nationale du Congo”, CENCO, Kinshasa, 17 February 2018Hide Footnote Since then the CENI and the government have taken other steps that suggest genuine progress toward elections. These measures initially caught diplomats, opposition politicians and civil society off guard.[fn]In Crisis Group’s most recent report on the DRC, Africa Report N°257, Time for Concerted Action in DR Congo, 4 December 2017, we warned of the regime’s capacity to wrong-foot Congolese and international actors. But we did not at that time see elections in 2018 as a realistic scenario.Hide Footnote While all had been lobbying for elections, few expected the Congolese government to set serious preparations in motion.

Thus far, the move toward elections appears positive, but it raises new risks, related to the unfair conditions for the vote, and potential struggles among Kabila’s allies over who assumes his mantle. This report, based on fieldwork in Congolese provinces throughout 2017 and early 2018, research in the capital Kinshasa in February and March 2018, and policy discussions in Addis Ababa and New York, updates Crisis Group’s December 2017 report, Time for Concerted Action in DR Congo and lays out steps that international and Congolese actors can take to increase prospects for elections that are as credible as possible and to avoid a dangerous unravelling.

II. An Election Train Now on the Rails

Following the CENI’s announcement of the electoral calendar, further developments indicate serious preparations for elections, including new electoral legislation, the completion of the voter register, introduction of new voting technology, and talks between the CENI and opposition parties. Despite some scepticism about the process, most parties are now taking steps to keep up with the CENI calendar.

A. A New Electoral Law

The new elections law, which President Kabila signed on 24 December 2017, includes provisions that are likely to reduce the huge number of candidates who ran for office in 2011. These include electoral thresholds (minimum shares of the total vote that parties must win to qualify for seats in the national and provincial legislatures).[fn]In constituencies with more than one seat, the law provides that parties must get at least 1 per cent of votes nationwide to qualify for parliamentary seats and 3 per cent of votes in a given province to qualify for seats in that provincial assembly. The measure favours bigger parties and broad regroupings of parties; it excludes most, if not all, independent candidates from parliament.Hide Footnote The law also quadruples the non-reimbursable deposit for national assembly candidates to $1,000 and almost doubles that for presidential candidates from $54,000 to $100,000.

The law should thus address a genuine challenge that arose in the 2006 and 2011 elections, namely the proliferation of political parties (currently more than 600) and candidates, which led to a 55-page ballot in Kinshasa in 2011.[fn]The CENI has long made the case for change: its president, Corneille Nangaa, presented a comprehensive analysis of the political effects of the system during the 2016 dialogue facilitated by the African Union. “RDC : Contribution de la Commission Électorale Nationale Indépendante (CENI), Dialogue Politique National Inclusif en RDC”, Kinshasa, 6 September 2016.Hide Footnote While the previous system brought the benefit of inclusion, the profusion of candidates representing many parties resulted in a fragmented parliament and left larger parties under-represented. According to CENI estimates, the new threshold – while low compared with those of many other countries – would in effect exclude all but 23 of the 148 parties currently represented in parliament.[fn]The government had first proposed a 3 per cent threshold at the national level; during the legislative process this was reduced to 1 per cent. “Herding cats: Congo’s new electoral law”, Congo Research Group, 19 December 2017. For comparison of electoral thresholds elsewhere, see www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/?pdf=CDL-PI(2015)022-e, which illustrates thresholds across Europe.Hide Footnote

These measures could begin to cure some of the Congolese political system’s structural flaws. Not only could they reduce fragmentation in the legislature but also, by decreasing the number of smaller parties, they should narrow opportunities for larger parties to bring new MPs into their parliamentary groups through financial inducements – a practice that had the effect of creating a gap between legislative political alignments and the popular vote. The reforms already are leading majority and opposition parties to form new electoral coalitions in order to cross the threshold. Only larger parties such as President Kabila’s People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD) and the wing of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) led by Felix Tshisekedi will be able to stand on their own.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Congolese politicians, Kinshasa, February-March 2018. In 2011, the PPRD was the only party with MPs representing all of the country’s provinces (at that time there were eleven).Hide Footnote

The law has left opposition parties scrambling to establish new electoral alliances in the few months that remain for submitting candidate lists.[fn]Candidate lists for the provincial elections need to be finalised and registered at the latest on 8 July, and for the presidential and legislative elections by 8 August.Hide Footnote It will also create winners and losers within the ruling coalition known as the Alliance of the Presidential Majority (hereafter “the Majority”). Indeed, members of some parties affiliated with the Majority, such as the Unified Lumumbist Party (PALU), have criticised both the threshold and the increased deposit, as have smaller opposition parties. A group of MPs has challenged both measures in the Constitutional Court.[fn]Crisis Group interview, opposition MP, Kinshasa, March 2018. “Adolphe Muzito : ‘Caution électorale et financement des partis politiques, qui doit à qui ?’”, zoom-eco.net, 3 February 2018; “RDC : la loi électorale contestée devant la Cour Constitutionnelle”, RFI, 16 January 2018. Late March, the Constitutional Court organised a hearing with the CENI President. “Innovations de la Loi électorale, Corneille Nangaa Yobeluo a la Cour Constitutionnelle”, CENI.cd, 27 March 2018. “RDC: La Cour Constitutionnelle rejette les trois requêtes en inconstitutionnalité de la loi électorale”, actualite.cd, 30 March 2018. Hide Footnote On 30 March, the Court rejected these challenges.

Overall, though, the Majority is better equipped to cope with these challenges than its rivals.[fn]Crisis Group interview, opposition MP, Kinshasa, March 2018.Hide Footnote In the past it has fragmented the political landscape into small parties which are easier to co-opt. Some within the PPRD, the biggest party in the Majority, explicitly make the case that the new system will work in its favour, especially as the opposition is so ill prepared.[fn]Crisis Group interview, PPRD official, March 2018. “Exclusif – Réforme électorale en RDC : un enregistrement sonore révèle la stratégie du parti de Kabila”, Jeune Afrique, 25 November 2017.Hide Footnote

B. Voting Machines

The CENI’s introduction of new voting technology has stirred more controversy. The electoral body envisages using voting machines that print paper ballots in situ. This change is in principle a response to logistical challenges encountered during previous elections, particularly the lengthy ballots needed in some areas (though higher deposits for candidates should contribute to shorter ballots). However, the opposition and some foreign governments, in particular the U.S., have criticised the introduction of voting machines for political, technical and financial reasons.

To begin, the CENI is introducing the machines at a moment when confidence
in its impartiality is low. Some opposition representatives and Western diplomats at the UN have warned that the machines could contribute to fraud, and have raised concerns about voter confidentiality.[fn]Some opposition parties have introduced questions to the CENI regarding the machines, while others outright oppose their use. Crisis Group interviews, opposition party representatives, Kinshasa, February-March 2018. The U.S. and several other UN Security Council members have raised concerns. “U.S. warns Congo against electronic voting for delayed election”, Reuters, 12 February 2018; “UN Security Council should act on Congo”, Human Rights Watch, 12 February 2018.Hide Footnote The African Union (AU) and African countries have been more forgiving, with some African diplomats stating that, while they would not use such a system in their own countries, they believe this to be an issue where the CENI and Congolese political parties should find common ground.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, African diplomats, Kinshasa, February-March 2018, Addis Ababa, March 2018.Hide Footnote The Catholic Church has called for national and international certification of the machines.

Although the CENI is testing prototypes that are reportedly more reliable, using novel technology potentially poses a risk given poor infrastructure and a lack of reliable electricity.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, civil society representatives and Kinshasa-based diplomats, March 2018.Hide Footnote Nor is it clear that all machines can be delivered on time. There are also major concerns about the financial transparency of the procurement contract, which could further undermine confidence in the process.[fn]Congolese civil society and Western observers are also worried about the lack of financial transparency in the large contract involved in the purchase of the machines. The contract for purchasing the 105,149 machines is valued at $157.7 million, a third of the budget foreseen for this year.Hide Footnote The controversy over voting machines comes late, and preparation time is short. Identifying and contracting suppliers for ballot papers and boxes, were those needed, would take time; a rapid decision on the exact use of the machines is therefore vital. As the CENI leadership seems intent on proceeding with their use, a conceivable compromise could be to deploy machines in a limited number of constituencies that enjoy more developed infrastructure – preferably based on criteria agreed between the electoral stakeholders and national and international observers.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, CENI president, MONUSCO official and Kinshasa-based diplomats, Kinshasa, February-March 2018.Hide Footnote

C. The Voter List

On 31 January, CENI president Corneille Nangaa declared voter registration finalised after a seventeen-month operation. Electoral authorities report that more than 46 million potential voters registered (well above the 41 million expected).[fn]Compared to 25 million in 2006 and 32 million in 2011. Congolese living abroad will be enrolled between 1 July and 28 September 2018.Hide Footnote Between now and mid-April, the CENI is due to clean up the register by removing duplicates and ineligible voters. Next, parliament must consider a law allocating seats to constituencies, based on registration figures. The completion of a complex and expensive voter registration exercise is a significant step toward holding elections. The exercise was almost entirely funded by the government, with considerable logistical support from the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO).

Only the Catholic Church has conducted a nationwide, on-the-ground examination of registration. It found some irregularities such as the registration of minors and areas where voters paid officials or policemen to be enrolled.[fn]“Révision du fichier électoral : la CENCO note des irrégularités”, Radio Okapi, 21 November 2017. Crisis Group interviews, clergy engaged in voter registration observation, Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, Kisangani and Goma, various months 2017.Hide Footnote The opposition did not systematically observe the process, despite a general lack of trust in the impartiality of the CENI. Indeed, some have raised questions, citing high enrolment in Majority strongholds.[fn]“Enrôlement des électeurs en RDC : le Rassemblement doute des chiffres de la CENI”, RFI, 31 August 2017.Hide Footnote Overall, despite these problems, the voting registration was reasonably successful. Still, an external audit of the register, which the CENI plans for May, will be vital to bolster confidence.

D. Lack of Clarity on the Budget

While the voter registration was apparently adequately resourced, it remains unclear exactly how much and which parts of the elections budget the government will be able to fund. In December, the CENI estimated the costs of provincial, parliamentary and presidential elections at $432 million.[fn]The budget is confidential. “Exclusif – Machines à voter, parapluies, véhicules … Les détails du budget électoral en RDC”, Jeune Afrique, 21 December 2017.Hide Footnote The biggest-ticket item is the $157.7 million planned purchase of the 105,149 voting machines.[fn]Voter machines, with the relevant lists of candidates uploaded, are supposed to be rolled out to all 90,000 polling stations (one each). The machine will record and print each vote on a paper ballot for a manual count (hence it will be a semi-electronic vote).Hide Footnote Elections are earmarked as a priority in the government’s 2018 budget, passed on 24 December 2017, amounting to nearly 10 per cent of its projected overall spending.[fn]“Annexe explicative d’analyse des prévisions des dépenses du projet de loi des finances 2018”, Document N°5, Ministère du Budget, November 2017. A total of 966 billion Congolese francs (including 72 billion Congolese francs in logistical support from MONUSCO) figures in the budget. Government spending and the budget are opaque.Hide Footnote

Despite statements by officials, and even Kabila himself, declaring that the government will fund the entire process (while relying on important logistical support from MONUSCO), there are serious concerns, chiefly among Western donors, about the government’s ability to do so.[fn]“Que faire pour financer les élections en RDC”, Radio Okapi, 20 November 2017. On 30 November 2017 (respecting the date in the electoral calendar), MONUSCO presented its logistics support plan to the CENI. “RDC : élections, l’État a débloque 30 millions USD en Janvier 2018 !”, zoom-eco.net, 21 February 2018; “Élections 2018 : La RDC est-elle capable de financer seule le processus électoral ?”, La Transparence, Observatoire de la Dépense Publique (ODEP), January-February 2018.Hide Footnote  Thus far, the CENI asserts there are no funding shortfalls.[fn]Crisis Group interview, CENI president, Kinshasa, March 2018Hide Footnote  In private meetings between Congolese officials and international diplomats, the former have indicated that the government would accept financial support, provided no strings were attached. Talks between the CENI and the UN Development Programme on a basket fund,  “Le Projet d'Appui au Cycle Electoral au Congo” (PACEC), through which donors would support civic education, electoral monitors and other parts of the support to the process, have been difficult as the CENI thus far has refused to sign the funding document. The CENI reportedly sees donor demands regarding financial transparency as overly onerous given the low amount of funding they are liable to contribute. The CENI also does not wish to agree on funding earmarked for civil society organisations.[fn]Crisis Group interview, CENI president, Kinshasa, March 2018.Hide Footnote While there seems little chance of fully resolving the fractious debate between CENI and Western donors, the latter should be prepared to fill gaps as much as they can to enhance the polls’ credibility.

E. Confidence-building Measures

Congolese authorities have initiated small confidence-building measures, some of which were called for in the Saint Sylvester agreement. Nangaa, the CENI president, has called for an inclusive election and noted that “no one should be left at the side of the road”.[fn]“Point de presse de son excellence monsieur le président de la commission électorale indépendante”, CENI, Kinshasa, 31 January 2018.Hide Footnote On 20 January, the CENI launched its national voter education campaign, and has held sessions to inform political parties of its work, reinforcing the impression of progress.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, political party representatives, CENI president, Kinshasa, February-March 2018.Hide Footnote Throughout February and March, opposition parties attended electoral commission briefings on cleaning up the voter register and on the new voting machines. Encouragingly the UDPS/Tshisekedi, which had not yet confirmed its willingness to participate in elections, sent a delegation.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, CENI president and political party representatives, Kinshasa, February-March 2018.Hide Footnote

The 10 March publication by the Congolese human rights minister of a Joint Commission of Inquiry report on human rights violations, perpetrated during the 31 December and 21 January protests organised by the lay association affiliated to the Catholic Church, was an important initiative.[fn]As the opposition was unable to organise protest, a movement led by a newly established lay organisation, the Lay Coordination Committee (CLC) associated with the Catholic Church, managed to capture national and international imagination with three protests (31 December, 21 January and 25 February), all violently repressed by the security forces.Hide Footnote The report has numerous positive recommendations, including lifting the ban on meetings and public protest as elections approach, and insists on strict guidelines regarding the deployment of security forces in situations other than war and riots. Alongside the Congolese government and civil society, the commission included a representative of the AU liaison office to the DRC.[fn]“Rapport Synthèse de la Commission d’enquête mixte 3121 : Enquête sur les violations et atteintes relatives aux droits de l’homme en lien avec les manifestations du 31 décembre 2017 et 21 janvier 2018”, Ministère des Droits Humains, RDC, Kinshasa, 10 March 2018.Hide Footnote

While the [Saint Sylvester] agreement calls for release of political prisoners, 90 remain in detention.

Significantly, in early March, the speaker of parliament, Aubin Minaku, announced that parliament would soon discuss the replacement of the CENI rapporteur, Jean-Pierre Kalamba, who nominally represents the UPDS in the commission, but whom Tshisekedi’s party does not consider a legitimate representative. Kalamba’s replacement could be an important concession to the UDPS/Tshisekedi, fulfilling a step outlined in the Saint Sylvester deal toward reforming the CENI.[fn]Crisis Group interview, senior UDPS official, Kinshasa, March 2018. “CENI : le remplacement de Jean-Pierre Kalamba sera discutée lors de la prochaine session parlementaire”, Radio Okapi, 2 March 2018. The opposition nominates four of the thirteen members of the CENI, two of whom have seats in the six-person bureau. The UDPS has the rapporteur’s slot and the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) the deputy quaestor’s. In June 2017, the MLC invoked the Saint Sylvester agreement and replaced its representative. A similar request from the UDPS/Tshisekedi had previously failed due to disputes over recognition of various wings of the party. The other two opposition representatives in the CENI, representing the Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC) and the Parliamentary Group of the Liberals, Democrats, Christians and Socialists (GPLDS), have not been challenged by their parties. Crisis Group interviews, political party representatives, Kinshasa, March 2018.Hide Footnote This is particularly important as a more extensive restructuring of the electoral authority, including replacing its president as some opposition leaders want, would take time given the complexity of the nomination process, and bring uncertain gains.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, opposition party representatives, diplomats and Catholic Church officials, Kinshasa, February-March 2018.Hide Footnote

Overall, however, the implementation of Saint Sylvester remains slow and incomplete. While the agreement calls for release of political prisoners, 90 remain in detention, including the highest-profile figures, such as Jean-Claude Muyambo, an ally of the prominent opposition leader and former governor of Katanga province Moïse Katumbi. Of the recent releases, only Huit Mulongo, Katumbi’s former head of cabinet, is an active politician – the others are militia members. Katumbi himself, who was sentenced in absentia on charges of illegal sale of a property and is still facing an investigation for alleged recruitment of mercenaries, remains in exile in Belgium. He has said the accusations are politically motivated. It is unclear whether he will be allowed to contest the election.

In short, the balance sheet remains mixed. Congolese authorities have overcome important hurdles in election preparations. But key technical questions – notably concerning funding for the polls and how the voting machines will work in practice – remain unanswered. More importantly, the playing field is still skewed and space for the opposition limited. These problems raise the prospect of a vote that might be reasonably well organised but would be neither fair nor credible.

III. The Regime Maintains the Initiative

The regime in DRC has over recent years been able to dictate the pace of events and take advantage of a weak opposition and an incoherent international response.[fn]Crisis Group Report, Time for Concerted Action in DR Congo, op. cit.Hide Footnote But the growing humanitarian crisis and repression in Kinshasa have contributed to renewed international and, in particular, regional pressure to hold elections on the CENI calendar, which has most likely influenced recent moves toward a vote.[fn]Crisis Group interview, diplomat, Kinshasa, March 2018.Hide Footnote That said, the regime remains largely in control. While maintaining a strong sovereignty-focused discourse, including by lashing out against some in the international community (in particular Belgium) it has moved forward on election preparations, likely hoping to press home its remaining advantages.[fn]“Crise dans les relations entre la Belgique et la RDC”, Radio Okapi, 12 February 2018.Hide Footnote

Particularly revealing was a rare press conference by President Kabila at the end of January 2018, on the 17th anniversary of his presidency.[fn]“Le processus électoral est irréversible en RDC : Voici le texte complet du point de presse du Chef de l’État Joseph Kabila”, Digitalcongo, 31 January 2018. Kabila is an introvert. He speaks in public at most a few times per year, in addresses to parliament.Hide Footnote After defending his legacy in familiar terms, namely claiming credit for stability and constitutional rule, Kabila insisted the elections would be Congolese-led and funded. He noted that “the process is too costly” and “may have to be revised”, but that any major reform would have to wait for subsequent elections. When asked if he would contest the forthcoming vote, he again referred to the constitution, which limits the president to two terms.[fn]The quote, “the constitution had never been violated and would be respected in all its provisions”, from an earlier speech in 2016, remains prominently displayed on the presidency’s website. Crisis Group translation from the French, “n’ayant jamais été violée, la Constitution sera respectée dans toutes ses dispositions”, Presidency (www.presidentrdc.cd).Hide Footnote While Kabila did not rule out seeking a third term, his answer was the closest he has come to acknowledging that his failed attempts to change the constitution in 2015 appear, at least for now, to have blocked that route for him to stay in power.

Overall, [Kabila's] message to foreign powers was clear: elections are solely a matter for the Congolese.

Kabila also detailed election preparations, including work remaining. He chastised the opposition and the Catholic Church for offering no ideas, stating he “remained open to suggestions to speed it all up”. Overall, his message to foreign powers was clear: elections are solely a matter for the Congolese. He also criticised MONUSCO. Much as he had done shortly ahead of the contested 2011 elections, he called for “clarity on the [UN’s] exit”, and “strict respect of the Status of Forces Agreement”.[fn]“Le processus électoral est irréversible en RDC”, op. cit.Hide Footnote Reinforcing the message that Kabila will not stand in elections, a few days later, Alain Atundu, the Majority’s spokesperson, declared that its candidate would be made known at “the strategic” moment.[fn]For more on the Katangese dimension of Congolese politics, see Crisis Group Africa Report N°239, Katanga: Tensions in DRC’s Mineral Heartland, 3 August 2016.Hide Footnote

More concrete developments suggest the Majority is preparing for the campaign. As early as January 2017, it created an electoral coordination cell, and subsequently set up several new provincial coordination structures. More recently, its secretary-general, Aubin Minaku, stepped up meetings with several parties in the ruling coalition, apparently to plan its campaign. In March 2018, during a gathering in Kinshasa, Minaku rolled out the slogan, “the MP, we win or we win”. The plan is to divide the Majority into sixteen to twenty electoral groups, all designed so that each would likely meet the new electoral thresholds.[fn]“A l’approche des élections : Minaku mobilise les partis membres de la MP”, Digitalcongo.net, 5 March 2018. Crisis Group interviews, Majority members, Kinshasa, February-March 2018.Hide Footnote

Kabila’s PPRD, by far the largest party in the Majority and in parliament, has embarked on an internal restructuring. On 22 January, it adopted new statutes conferring on Kabila a formal role as the party’s “originator” and allowing him to directly appoint the party’s vice-president. He will become the PPRD president once he leaves office.[fn]“RDC : en pleine crise politique, Joseph Kabila refonde son parti”, Jeune Afrique, 26 January 2018. Crisis Group interview, senior PPRD official, Kinshasa, March 2018.Hide Footnote Late in February 2018, in preparation for elections, the party’s leaders also changed its day-to-day management. Outgoing executive secretary Mova Sakanyi switched places with Ramazani Shadari, previously deputy prime minister and interior minister.[fn]On 29 May 2017, Shadari was sanctioned by the EU for planning, directing or committing serious human rights violations.Hide Footnote Shadari had been head of the PPRD parliamentary bloc, and is considered a better campaigner than his predecessor. In addition, the new party leadership has indicated that it will reorganise its youth wing, which is seen as out of its control, factionalised and often too aggressive.[fn]The youth wing had gained notoriety intimidating protesters on 25 February. Crisis Group interview, PPRD official, Kinshasa, March 2018.Hide Footnote

The Majority-led revisions to the electoral law and a PPRD machine that appears well funded and organised at the national, provincial and local levels give the sense of a party prepared for the campaign. The regime enjoys other advantages. Its war chest dwarfs those of most opponents. It has near total control of the security forces, and a strong footing in the CENI and the Constitutional Court, which arbitrates electoral disputes for the presidential and legislative elections. It also controls most provincial governments. In January and February, Kabila appointed new territorial administrators and mayors, mainly from the PPRD, with a wide remit in public security over areas that double as electoral constituencies.[fn]“Entités territoriales décentralisées. RDC : Kabila nomme les AT et ATA !”, La Prospérité, 23 January 2018, “Le président de la République signe trois ordonnances”, Agence Congolaise de Presse, 4 February 2018. Crisis Group interviews, Congolese politicians, Kinshasa, February- March 2018. These appointments left some in the Majority frustrated. Crisis Group interviews, Congolese politicians, Kinshasa, February-March 2018.Hide Footnote Through all of these levers, the regime can dictate the timing of the electoral process and calibrate how much political space it allows the opposition in different parts of the country.

Identifying and forging consensus on [Kabila's] successor remains an enormous challenge

Despite its advantages, the ruling alliance still faces major obstacles. The largest is to anoint a successor to President Kabila, which increasingly seems to be the plan. Given the stakes involved, any move in this regard – even speculation or jostling related to it – could cause infighting within the Majority or Kabila’s circle. Reorganisation within the PPRD is already creating pressure related to positioning for new posts. Unless Kabila and his allies can maintain stability in the informal networks (or “parallel state”) permeating the government and economic spheres that he and his family already control, including the security forces, competition related to the succession could unleash centrifugal forces and even violent contestation. Identifying and forging consensus on a successor remains an enormous challenge. Beyond those names that are frequently cited by Congolese observers or the media, a surprise candidate cannot be ruled out.[fn]The two individuals most often cited as dauphin are former Prime Minister Matata Ponyo (Maniema Province, East) and Speaker of Parliament Aubin Minaku (Kwilu Province, West). Both are PPRD members and have detractors as well as supporters. For a broader overview of potential names, see “RDC : en quête du dauphin ideal”, Jeune Afrique, 18 March 2018.Hide Footnote

The reforms and political preparations offer a glimpse into a regime strategy that would see Joseph Kabila step down but exercise a degree of control behind the scenes as PPRD president – in the Majority’s realistic expectation of remaining the biggest bloc in parliament. This manoeuvre, a variant of the “Putin-Medvedev scenario” (so named after the arrangement Russian President Vladimir Putin used to circumvent term limits between 2008 and 2012), would see a more stable ruling party/coalition with Kabila at the helm.[fn]The extended Kabila family retains strong networks in the country’s economic and security sectors. Their investments indicate they want to stay in the country.Hide Footnote Constitutionally, Kabila is guaranteed a seat in the Senate. His balancing of interests in the “parallel state”, which includes numerous figures from his home province of Katanga, could hold things together sufficiently that he feels his interests are secure. But no guarantee will be watertight, and the possibility of the ruling party or Kabila’s immediate circle fracturing before or after the election remains.[fn]For more on the Katangese dimension of Congolese politics, see Crisis Group Africa Report N°239, Katanga: Tensions in DRC’s Mineral Heartland, 3 August 2016.Hide Footnote

Despite misgivings, the president’s camp seems to have determined that, for now, elections appear the least risky option. The most likely alternative would be further delay, which could be facilitated by co-opting some members of the fractured opposition.[fn]Mistrust is rife among the wheeling and dealing politicians of Kinshasa.Hide Footnote But this could lead to an irreversible decline in the Majority’s electoral prospects, due to international isolation, popular anger and its own internal fissures. A continued stalemate could also present the risk of a coup or violent unrest that slips out of regime control.

Were polls significantly delayed, the regime might be tempted to try a further option, that of changing the constitution to allow Kabila to seek a third term. Yet this approach would be risky; it has met stiff domestic opposition in the past. It would be particularly controversial among foreign powers, including African leaders, and would leave the regime further isolated.[fn]

IV. The Opposition: A Scramble to Reorganise

The possibility of elections this year has shaken opposition parties. Since mid-2017, the main opposition coalition, the Rassemblement, had promoted the ill-defined idea of a transition without Kabila. But the opposition now appears to be preparing to campaign despite the deficiencies in implementing the Saint Sylvester agreement. Since late February there has been a flurry of activity, with smaller parties rushing to form larger groups to ensure they can garner sufficient votes to meet new electoral thresholds and qualify for seats in the future national and provincial assemblies.

This repositioning is fragmenting the Rassemblement. The Group of Seven (G7), the Alternative for the Republic (Alternance pour la République), and several other small parties are backing Moïse Katumbi, while the UDPS/Tshisekedi is going its own way.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Congolese opposition leaders, Kinshasa, February-March 2018.Hide Footnote Katumbi’s supporters met in South Africa from 9 to 12 March 2018 and formed a new coalition, Together for Change (Ensemble pour le Changement).

Other major parties such as the Union for the Congolese Nation (Union pour la nation congolaise, UNC) of Vital Kamerhe and the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (Mouvement de Libération du Congo, MLC) led by Ève Bazaiba have announced that they will work together during the campaign, though details of what that entails are not yet clear.[fn]“MLC et UNC vont aborder les élections au sein d’une même plateforme électorale”, Actualite.cd, 9 March 2018.Hide Footnote More broadly, at the time of writing it is uncertain where opposition consultations and reconfiguration will lead. That said, the creation of coalitions of around ten parties is likely to be the norm. Some new alliances could even transcend the divide between the opposition and the Majority.[fn]For example, representatives of the PALU (affiliated to the majority) had also been included in talks between the MLC and the UNC, although it quickly led to their exclusion from the party. Crisis Group social media conversation, Congolese politician, March 2018.Hide Footnote

Four questions are likely to shape opposition dynamics. The first relates to the future of the UDPS as a political force. The DRC’s historically largest opposition party was weakened by the death of its founding father Étienne Tshisekedi in January 2017, and has had its reputation damaged by discrete talks with the government over power sharing in 2017. A party conference on 31 March elected Felix Tshisekedi as party leader and the party’s candidate for the forthcoming presidential election. The  organisation of the conference was challenged by the UDPS/Tshibala, one of the party’s dissident wings.[fn]

“RDC : un an après le décès d’Etienne Tshisekedi, que devient l’UDPS”, RFI, 1 February 2018.
 

Hide Footnote In 2017, the regime had encouraged this split, especially by nominating UPDS dissident Bruno Tshibala as prime minister. The unexpected reports that the UDPS/Tshisekedi – the original party, not Tshibala’s splinter – will be allowed to name a new CENI representative and its contacts with the CENI are signs of a possible thaw in relations with the government. In this context, the UDPS’s participation in a new government, were one formed, cannot be excluded.[fn]“RDC : le directeur de cabinet du Premier ministre démissionne”, RFI, 9 March 2018.Hide Footnote

The second question is whether Moïse Katumbi will be allowed to return to the DRC free from threat of prosecution and entitled to contest the election.[fn]For more on the case, see Crisis Group Report, Katanga: Tensions in DRC’s Mineral Heartland, op. cit., pp. 24-25.Hide Footnote He currently is revitalising his political base and enjoys grassroots support, including among youth networks and backers of his football club Tout-Puissant Mazembe. He has confirmed his intention to run for the presidency, and his wealth and political ambition help draw in backers. But he remains in exile, and his prolonged absence from the country may erode his support base.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Congolese opposition politicians, Kinshasa, February-March 2018.Hide Footnote The most recent challenge to his political future has come in revelations concerning his alleged acquisition of another nationality, which the justice minister has reportedly said would mean him having to reapply for Congolese nationality in order to contest elections.[fn]“RDC: Moïse Katumbi a bel et bien eu la nationalité italienne pendant 17 ans”, Jeune Afrique, 22 March 2018. In response to these reports, the Congolese public prosecutor has launched a further investigation into Katumbi, now for the use of false documents. This procedure is denounced by his supporters – it also has not been used against other politicians who have exercised positions of responsibility while having another nationality. “RDC : une information judiciaire ouverte contre Katumbi, son entourage dénonce une « réaction excessive » ”, Jeune Afrique, 28 March 2018Hide Footnote Several major traditional chiefs of his home province Haut-Katanga recently denounced government manoeuvres and argued that Katumbi is Congolese. This points to the potentially inflammatory nature of the nationality issue.[fn]“Déclaration des chefs coutumiers des chefferies et des groupements du Haut-Katanga”, Lubumbashi, 17 March 2018 (document in Crisis Group’s possession). If not resolved by the authorities, this opposition between the “traditional” recognition of Katumbi and the “legal” status could become explosive. Crisis Group email correspondence, Lubumbashi- and Kinshasa-based analysts, March 2018Hide Footnote

Without a united ticket, the opposition likely will struggle against a candidate that enjoys the ruling party’s and Kabila’s backing.

A third question is whether realignments among opposition parties can counter divisions within the opposition overall. Thus far, they have not. Some opposition politicians are calling for a single presidential candidate to challenge Kabila’s likely dauphin. But, short of Katumbi being blocked from running, little suggests that either he or Felix Tshisekedi – the two top opposition leaders – will make way for the other. Without a united ticket, the opposition likely will struggle against a candidate that enjoys the ruling party’s and Kabila’s backing.[fn]

“Présidentielle en RDC : l’UDPS ne soutiendra pas la candidature de Moise Katumbi”, RFI, 14 March 2018.
 

Hide Footnote

The last question is whether the government will continue to encourage breakaway factions of opposition parties. This so-called doubling of political parties reduces the time and resources parties have to engage with the population and confuses the choices available to voters. On 26 March, as stipulated by the electoral calendar, the government transferred the list of legally recognised political parties and party coalitions to the CENI, which will use it to register candidates. The Saint Sylvester agreement’s follow-up committee recently advised the government to acknowledge the opposition leadership of most parties concerned, as opposed to their regime-affiliated wing.[fn]“Partis politiques : Gabriel Kyungu salue « un grand pas vers une véritable décrispation » ”, Radio Okapi, 22 March 2018.Hide Footnote While the government reportedly followed this advice for some parties, it did not adjudicate on the UDPS or the Social Movement for Renewal (MSR) – leaving the question to the CENI and the courts.[fn]Crisis Group social media correspondence, Kinshasa-based civil society members, March 2018. “Inclusivité de la liste de partis et regroupements politiques : Mova s’acquitte”, laprosperiteonline.net, 26 March 2018.Hide Footnote

Some insurgent opposition leaders, notably former rebel and government minister Mbusa Nyamwisi and former militia leader and army officer John Tshibangu, are encouraging the opposition to take up arms as the only means of removing the regime. Thus far their efforts have gone nowhere, due to their limited support base, scant appetite in opposition ranks for such a strategy and lack of international support. Shortly after giving Kabila a 45-day deadline to leave power, Tshibangu was arrested in Tanzania and quickly extradited to Kinshasa in February 2018.

V. Mounting Regional Pressure

The acceleration of election preparations has been generally welcomed by foreign powers. Some Western governments, in particular the U.S. and Belgium, remain critical of Kinshasa’s tactics and push for more transparency. Others are less outspoken. However, differences aside, there is broad recognition that concrete and regular follow-up of progress is needed. On 12 January, the U.S. chaired an informal UN Security Council meeting on the DRC electoral process, which also heard a briefing by the CENI.[fn]The meeting was held according to the “Arria formula”, by which a member or members of the Security Council informally convene the Council to hear the views of individuals, organisations or institutions on matters within its competenceHide Footnote Following this meeting, the Council intends to hold regular meetings on the DRC between now and the vote.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, diplomats, New York, Addis Ababa, March 2018.Hide Footnote In its resolution 2409 (2018), adopted on 27 March, the Security Council requested written updates on political and technical progress toward 23 December elections every 30 days. The DRC crisis likewise features increasingly prominently in talks between African leaders and Western powers, including during a February visit by the French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, to Angola.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Kinshasa-based diplomat, March 2018.Hide Footnote

DRC’s neighbours and regional organisations have been most active. The AU, Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) have stepped up engagement, as have a number of regional capitals. On 14 February, Kinshasa hosted a tripartite meeting with Angolan president João Laurenço and President Sassou Nguesso of Congo-Brazzaville, representing, respectively, the SADC and ICGLR.[fn]Angola is the current chair of the SADC Organ on Politics and Security. Zambia is the incoming chair and will take over later in 2018. The February meeting was a follow-up to a tripartite meeting organised in Brazzaville on 9 December 2017. The next meeting will be held in Luanda, Angola in the course of April. Crisis Group interview, regional diplomat, Kinshasa, February 2018Hide Footnote On 17 February, President Kabila visited Zambia for talks with President Edgar Lungu. Upon return to Kinshasa he met another Angolan emissary, foreign minister Manuel Augusto Domingos. On 22 February, Gabonese president Ali Bongo visited Kinshasa, and was followed by new Zimbabwean president Emmerson Mnangagwa on 27 February. It is likely that the new South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, will visit, while the AU and the UN are planning a joint visit from AU Commission chairperson Moussa Faki and UN Secretary-General António Guterres. The UN Security Council is also planning to visit.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, UN diplomats, New York, March 2018.Hide Footnote

The clearest signal that southern African leaders’ patience with Kabila is wearing thin was the silence that followed a strongly worded 26 February 2018 statement from Botswana’s foreign ministry.

While this succession of meetings between Kabila and regional leaders have been private, and public statements kept to a minimum, all indications point toward strong regional pressure on the DRC’s president to respect the CENI’s electoral calendar and stand down. Angola, arguably the African state with the most leverage in the DRC, has been privately critical of electoral delays for some time and halted its military cooperation in 2017. Tensions with Luanda are rattling nerves in Congolese security circles, as Angolans have long been well embedded in the DRC security system, and are seen as highly influential.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Kinshasa-based diplomats, Congolese politician, February-March 2018.Hide Footnote

The clearest signal that southern African leaders’ patience with Kabila is wearing thin was the silence that followed a strongly worded 26 February 2018 statement from Botswana’s foreign ministry. The statement admonished Kabila for attempting to stay in power and called for stronger international pressure to persuade him to step down. While Botswana is not a major player, this pronouncement, on the eve of Botswanan president Ian Khama’s departure from office in late March 2018, may have said out loud what others in the region are thinking or saying behind closed doors.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Kinshasa-based diplomat, March 2018. “Press Release: Refusal by Some Leaders to Hand over Power”, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Republic of Botswana, 26 February 2018.Hide Footnote

Southern African governments also are frustrated with Kabila’s failure to cooperate with their recent elections-related initiatives. The DRC government has ignored South African and SADC offers of technical support that followed upon the December 2017 visit of SADC officials and elections experts. It has been slow to engage with the SADC’s plan to open a liaison office. Thus far Kabila has refused to meet the newly nominated SADC envoy to the DRC, former Namibian president Hifikepunye Pohamba.[fn]Southern African and in particular South African support was critical in respecting the electoral deadline in 2011. “SADC Electoral Advisory and Electoral Commissions Forum of SADC Countries Conduct a Joint Electoral Assessment Mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo”, SADC, press release, 7 December 2017. The 2011 mission followed several earlier SADC trips. On 3 February, the SADC’s executive secretary, Stergomena Lawrence Tax, visited Kinshasa to discuss these issues. “Namibia: DRC govt snubs SADC peace envoy”, Agence de Presse Africaine (Windhoek),15 November 2017; Crisis Group interviews, regional diplomats, Kinshasa, February-March 2018. For more on the regional involvement, see Crisis Group Report, Time for Concerted Action in DR Congo, op. citHide Footnote In order to demonstrate their continued involvement, despite Kabila’s reluctance to engage, SADC ambassadors met with the CENI in early March. During its latest ministerial meeting in South Africa, the SADC said it was waiting for Kinshasa’s invitation to send an electoral observation mission.[fn]“SADC prepares for Zimbabwe, DRC elections”, www.iol.co.za, 27 March 2018.Hide Footnote

As SADC leaders appear to have nudged President Kabila toward elections, the presidents of countries to the DRC’s east – Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi – seem less directly involved. All three have manipulated their own constitutions to stay in power, and so have little incentive or credibility to encourage respect for term limits, despite their security concerns vis-à-vis borders with the DRC, which have been aggravated by the uncertainty about Kabila’s departure.[fn]See Crisis Group Report, Time for Concerted Action in DR Congo, op. citHide Footnote In December 2017, a deadly attack on the UN attributed to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an armed group originating in Uganda, heightened regional security concerns. Uganda has since bolstered its forces in the border area and launched attacks on ADF camps on the Congolese side.[fn]“UPDF attacks ADF rebel hideouts in Congo”, New Vision, 22 December 2017. The ADF insurgency in Beni had already prompted an outflow of Congolese refugees to Uganda. More recently, separate fighting in Ituri province led tens of thousands of additional Congolese refugees to cross into Uganda. “What’s happening in Ituri?”, Congo Research Group, guest blog by Thijs van Laer, congoresearchgroup.org, 5 March 2018.Hide Footnote

The AU has established an effective but currently under-resourced liaison office in Kinshasa and is engaged in discrete diplomacy with the Congolese political actors and regional leaders. In its latest statement on the DRC, the AU Peace and Security Council stressed its support for the implementation of the Saint Sylvester agreement and called for the region and the wider international community to provide technical, logistical and financial support for elections.[fn]PSC/PR/BR.(DCCLVIII), AU Peace and Security Council, 758th meeting, press statement, 14 March 2018. Crisis Group interviews, AU officials, diplomats, Kinshasa, Addis Ababa and New York, February-March 2018.Hide Footnote

VI. Priorities for Government and International Actors

The technical progress toward elections confronts foreign powers with hard choices. If they back elections they risk supporting an unsatisfactory process, while refusal to engage would risk further delays for which they might shoulder the blame. Likewise, if they try to leverage their support for the electoral process, the regime could revert to its previous delaying tactics. Having weakened the opposition, the regime is calling everyone’s bluff in a game of “heads we win, tails you lose”.

Nonetheless, the recent progress is the result of considerable international and especially African pressure, and the wisest course of action is to continue to push for a vote in full respect of the calendar. There is now a broad international consensus that the current electoral calendar must be respected and Kabila barred from seeking a third term. Congolese political parties on both sides are clearly in preparation mode. This should provide a renewed basis for more active and coherent international engagement in the immediate future.

All international actors should cautiously welcome recent signs of progress toward elections.

Conditions for an open, transparent election, in which all parties can freely campaign, do not yet exist and continued international engagement will be needed to improve prospects. As a first requirement, international actors should overcome, or at least reduce, any differences among them on what would constitute minimum standards for free and fair elections in the DRC. Strong pressure on the regime to allow all prominent opposition candidates to run should be an important agreed element. But at present, different approaches from those most lenient to the government to those most critical, embolden both the regime and opposition to take maximalist positions and to avoid compromise.[fn]See Crisis Group Report, Time for Concerted Action in DR Congo, op. cit., pp. 24-27.Hide Footnote

Whether African lobbying of Kabila can translate into unified pressure for reform remains uncertain. What is clear is that a sham vote would leave any ensuing government without the requisite legitimacy to tackle the DRC’s multiple challenges, and would thus serve the region ill. All international actors should cautiously welcome recent signs of progress toward elections. Influential African and Western powers ought to lead a robust diplomatic push in favour of a handful of key reforms that would build confidence in the process itself, while moving toward a more level playing field. Such pressure should be accompanied by offers of broad recognition and potentially additional support for a government elected in a reasonably open vote.

A. Critical Steps to Prepare for Elections

Several key measures could improve prospects for a cleaner vote. First, the CENI should make critical aspects of its election preparations more transparent – notably the upcoming audit of the voter register. That inspection should take place in consultation with opposition and civil society representatives, as well as international experts.

CENI transparency ought to extend to plans for the voting machines, which likely will require a swift compromise among the electoral authority, the opposition and, if funding is required, donors. Simply pressing the CENI to abandon the use of the voting machines is unlikely to work and last-minute changes could prove destabilising. Given that conditions in parts of the country could complicate the functioning of voting machines, one possible compromise would be to use them exclusively in some urban areas, where in any case longer candidate lists make them more useful. The new system must be tested rigorously and transparently – with opposition and civil society representatives and international experts present – to build trust in its use. Together with the Congolese government, the CENI also needs to be more transparent about its budgeting for the elections, so that donors can prepare to fill any gaps.

The government and CENI also urgently need to agree on the role of the joint team of election experts from the UN, AU, SADC, Organisation Internationale de La Francophonie (OIF) and EU.[fn]This team was deployed based on an agreement during the 2017 UN General Assembly.Hide Footnote Optimally, this group would be embedded in the CENI not only to provide technical support but also to assess preparations and build a shared understanding of progress among the organisations represented. It should also help to reboot the dialogue between the CENI and the donors in more constructive terms.

Initiatives to evaluate progress toward elections in regular meetings in the UN Security Council, supported by monthly reporting from MONUSCO, should continue. This will help keep the Security Council focused and at a minimum can contribute to a common understanding of the issues. As MONUSCO is of crucial importance to the logistics of the elections and will have an important budget to that end, the meetings will also allow the Council to apply pressure in case of severe slippage. Meanwhile, the SADC, AU, EU and any other bodies planning to observe the elections should open negotiations now with the government to establish the conditions under which teams would deploy; any missions that do so should include long-term observers. The government should start by extending invitations to those bodies.

B. Levelling the Playing Field

International actors also should focus on measures to help level the playing field and improve relations between the government and opposition. There are some grounds for cautious optimism, namely the Joint Commission of Inquiry that investigated the violence around protests in December and January.

In this context, the government should:

  • Release political prisoners, in line with its commitment in the Saint Sylvester deal.
     
  • Clarify the lawfulness and validity of legal proceedings against opposition politicians, or simply drop charges, most of which are politically motivated. As those facing charges cannot contest elections, their cases should be resolved well ahead of the deadline for candidates to register. The main opposition candidates should be allowed to run[fn]The exclusion of leading candidates has been a major contributing factor of destabilisation in countries such as Côte d’Ivoire.Hide Footnote
     
  • Implement the recommendations of the recent joint investigation into the December and January violence. This should include lifting the general ban on meetings and peaceful public protests as well as measures that restrict the use of the army and Republican Guard in maintaining and restoring public order.

In sending a list of political parties to the CENI without resolving all outstanding issues concerning doubling of parties, the government has respected the deadline but transferred the responsibility for issues still confronting several major parties, in particular the UDPS and MSR, to the CENI and the courts. The political parties concerned, the CNSA and the CENI, should convene to resolve the issues as soon as possible. Prime Minister Tshibala and his UDPS should not interfere in the internal organisation of the UDPS/Tshisekedi.

For their part, opposition parties ought to engage with the CENI on outstanding issues of concern and prepare their constituents for a campaign that engages the population at all levels. There are, of course, serious qualms about the electoral environment. But, overall, participating in the elections – as most opposition parties appear to be preparing to do – appears a wiser course than boycotting them, all the more so if the regime offers some compromises. A boycott would not halt the elections but would risk producing a government enjoying fewer checks on its authority.

International actors should encourage talks between the Majority and opposition parties with a view to devising an electoral code of conduct. This code should entail pledges by political leaders on all sides to condemn violence, avoid inflammatory rhetoric and refrain from politicising ethnicity. The recent protest by Katangese traditional chiefs concerning Moïse Katumbi’s citizenship provides further proof of the importance of these identity issues. Many Congolese in rural areas affected by years or decades of conflict fear the use of hate speech or outbreaks of ethnically oriented violence, often orchestrated by politicians; many urban residents associate political parties most closely with their violent youth wings. This climate makes measures to ease tensions in advance of the polling particularly important. Based on the current situation, but also the electoral cartography and experiences from 2006 and 2011, MONUSCO will need to work continuously on a comprehensive conflict assessment and contingency planning.

Talks between President Kabila’s camp and opposition leaders might also aim for some wider understanding on the transition, and how to protect some of the interests of losing parties. This could include the future of the president, his close allies and his family.

Congolese and international actors can take other steps to build on the apparent momentum toward elections. The Protestant Church and Congolese Islamic Committee, which until recently appeared more sympathetic to the government, have supported recent protests, potentially aligning both bodies more closely with the Catholic Church. A joint statement by heads of the different denominations in support of the elections, and pledging that their respective hierarchies will follow the campaign and elections preparations closely, would help build confidence.[fn]The country’s inter-church Integrity and Electoral Mediation Committee remains hung up on past disagreements, so joint statements would have to be hammered out directly. Crisis Group interviews, representatives of Catholic and Protestant Churches, Kinshasa, March 2018.Hide Footnote

In addition, regional governments, the SADC and AU should follow up their diplomatic engagement with joint messages as well as regular high-level visits and meetings. As candidate registration begins in June/July, a planned joint visit by the UN Secretary-General and the chairperson of the AU Commission would be useful in maintaining pressure and showing support to Congolese actors working towards elections.

VII. Conclusion

Elections this year in the DRC are now a real possibility. While scepticism as to the government’s intentions is certainly warranted, a critical but constructive approach by international actors stands the greatest chance of nudging President Kabila and the DRC toward an orderly transfer of power. Recent diplomatic efforts by regional leaders, which may have partly motivated Kabila’s apparent move toward elections, could provide a base for renewed African and Western pressure to hold Congolese authorities to the timeline and take steps to make the vote more credible. Further delays, a botched vote or balloting widely viewed as unfair would risk entrenching a regime with too narrow a base and too little popular legitimacy to tackle the enormous challenges the DRC faces. This outcome would fuel further instability in the country and region. There is still a long way to go, and there are many questions surrounding the polling. But Congolese authorities have taken some positive steps over the past few months. International and regional actors should seize this opportunity to push hard for a peaceful transition.

Nairobi/Brussels, 4 April 2018

Appendix A: Map of DR Congo

Map of DR Congo International Crisis Group/KO/October 2016. Based on UN map No. 4007 Rev.11 (May 2016)

Appendix B: Acronyms

ADF: Allied Democratic Forces

CENI: Independent National Electoral Commission

CNSA: National Council for Monitoring the Agreement and the Electoral Process

GPLDS: Parliamentary Group of Liberals, Democrats, Christians and Socialists

MLC: Movement for the Liberation of the Congo

MSR: Social Movement for Renewal

MONUSCO: UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC

OIF: Organisation internationale de la Francophonie

PALU: Unified Lumumbist Party

PPRD: People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy

SADC: Southern African Development Community

UDPS: Union for Democracy and Social Progress

UNC: Union for the Congolese Nation