The jury’s out on DRC’s ‘sacred union’


Having been declared the winner of a contested election in December 2018, President Félix Tshisekedi’s Cap pour le Changement (CACH) sealed a governing alliance with his powerful predecessor, Joseph Kabila’s Front commun pour le Congo (FCC). The arrangement hasn’t worked in the president’s favour. It resulted in pro-Kabila allies occupying two-thirds of cabinet positions and limiting Tshisekedi’s ability to govern.

Tshisekedi announced the dissolution of the alliance on 6 December 2020. When he facilitated a vote of no confidence in prime minister and Kabila ally Sylvestre Ilunga Ilunkamba on 27 January, Tshisekedi took another step in his strategy to reshape parliamentary support in his favour and reduce Kabila’s influence.

He can count on the support of opposition heavyweights Möise Katumbi and Jean-Pierre Bemba, with whom he intends building a new ‘sacred union’ majority. Should he succeed, the president’s room to manoeuvre and prepare for the 2023 elections will increase.

While Tshisekedi has had some early successes, the aims and make-up of the sacred union are still unclear. It’s concerning that the exercise resembles the country’s past power-sharing arrangements, whose record is poor when it comes to delivering democracy, stability and good governance.

Political compromises have stalled governance and security in DRC over the past two decades

Before Ilunkamba’s removal, the dismissal of National Assembly speaker Jeanine Mabunda just a few days after Tshisekedi’s 6 December speech showed the president’s determination to break up the alliance.

He weighed in heavily on all the initiatives that followed to consolidate his power base. This includes appointing a provisional bureau led by Mboso N’kodia Mpwanga to conduct current business until the election of a new speaker in Parliament. Mpwanga is a veteran of Mobutu Sese Seko’s regime, a former FCC member and currently the most senior Member of Parliament (MP) in the National Assembly.

The president has won over 200 of the 367 pro-Kabila MPs, who agreed openly and in writing to support his actions. Mpwanga will probably be rewarded with the National Assembly speaker position.

As he gains the upper hand, the balance of power is swiftly changing in Tshisekedi’s favour. When he appointed Senator Modeste Bahati Lukwebo to serve as the ‘informateur’ charged with identifying members of a new majority in the National Assembly, the formalisation of the process was set in motion. Lukwebo is leader of the Alliance démocratique du Congo et Alliés, and an FCC dissident.

This was the most delicate part of his plan to capture a new majority in Parliament. A constitutional court decision lifting the floor-crossing ban on MPs provided the legal basis for the exercise.

It’s unclear what the new parliamentary majority can achieve in Tshisekedi’s remaining years in office

Lukwebo has just made official the identified new majority composed of 391 MPs. It comprises a wide range of individuals from various political parties. They are all part of the sacred union but lack a shared vision, commitment and focus – apart from weakening Kabila’s control or preserving their positions.

More importantly, it’s not clear what this new majority can achieve in Tshisekedi’s remaining years in office. The content and objectives of the sacred union lack clarity and serious political differences are evident between Tshisekedi and some of his major allies, including Katumbi and Bemba.

Initially Katumbi supporters, and other political actors, raised concerns about the overwhelming presence of FCC members in the sacred union. They fear this might be a strategic move to undermine Tshisekedi from the inside.

Politicians in the DRC are no strangers to opportunism and sabotage, and the presence of hardliners such as Lambert Mende Omalanga, former communications minister, and Ilunkamba, heightened suspicions. The allocation of government positions before the appointment of the new cabinet is also apparently at the root of the disagreements.

This shifting political landscape could see the new majority in Parliament, along with the new prime minister and his cabinet, supporting key legislative reforms ahead of the 2023 elections. And it is anticipated that they will support Tshisekedi’s actions to lift the country out of chronic political crisis and insecurity.

Concerns were raised about the overwhelming presence of FCC members in the sacred union

However, Tshisekedi still holds one of his most feared cards close to his chest – the dissolution of Parliament and a call for early elections. Article 148 of the constitution provides for this, but the option is politically risky and financially challenging.

Repeated political compromises and power-sharing deals have stalled effective governance and security in the DRC over the past two decades. To break that cycle, electoral laws are among the many processes that must be reformed. This is an essential first step to putting citizens at the centre of democracy and giving the political process legitimacy.

A group of 13 personalities (G13) from various political parties and civil society organisations propose reforms that include depoliticising the Independent National Electoral Commission, a presidential election with a possible run-off, and new laws on the financing of electoral processes.

Now that Tshisekedi is likely to garner wide political support, there’s little standing in the way of passing those key legal amendments. But whether the reforms will be inclusive, transparent, fair and comprehensive, or again tailormade to suit the president’s ambitions and so cause another deferred crisis, remains to be seen.

Three years before the end of Tshisekedi’s term in office, a focus is needed on restoring popular legitimacy to political processes and building the DRC’s institutions of governance. This is imperative, not only for peace and stability in the DRC but the entire Great Lakes region.

David Zounmenou, Senior Research Consultant, ISS

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