2011: Election year in the Congo

Elections will trump everything else in Congolese politics in 2011. Joseph Kabila will have to fight for his survival. He is vulnerable in much of the country, even in his Kivutian heartland. The fight will be all the more difficult if his main challengers – Tshisekedi, Bemba (or whoever he endorses) and Kamerhe – are able to forge an alliance, as they appear to be trying to do.

Two things happened in the first days of 2011 that will have an impact on this dynamic. First and foremost, the parliament has begin to discuss a possible change to the electoral code that would get rid of the a presidential run-off election. This means that whoever wins a plurality of the vote in the first round would win, meaning that Kabila would not have to face a Tshisekedi-Bemba-Kamerhe alliance, but would merely have to get more votes than each of them alone. He could possibly – depending on the wording of the law – win with 30% of the vote, for example.

The second development has been the promotion of 14,280 officers and NCOs in the Congolese army – a huge number of promotions for an army of around 160,000 soldiers. Pundits in Kinshasa are linking this to the elections, of course, suggesting that the president wants to maintain the loyalty of his officer corps at this critical juncture.

In particular, analysts point to the integration of CNDP troops in the Kivus – CNDP officers have long grumbled about the fact that their ranks (there had been serious rank inflation under the CNDP regime) had not been confirmed, as they had demanded during the peace negotiations. According to one high-ranking Congolese army source, 8 CNDP officers have been promoted/confirmed to be full colonels, including Innocent Gahizi, Innocent Kabundi, Claude Mucho, Sultani Makenga, Faustin Muhindo and Baudouin Ngaruye. This is, however, fewer than the 18 that had been agreed upon during negotiations with Kinshasa high command six months ago.

Why is this important? The CNDP has wide-ranging influence in the Kivus due to their deployment for Kimia II and Amani Leo operations, and they can stir up trouble, intimidate political parties and secure economic interests. In short, they are a force to be reckoned with. Already, there were rumors that Vital Kamerhe benefited from CNDP protection during a visit to Goma a few weeks ago (they say that they are being smeared by Kabila’s security services).