Congo Siasa

Albert Moleka on democracy in the Congo, Etienne Tshisekedi, and the state of the UDPS

Albert Moleka

Albert Moleka is a leading official in the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS). Between  October 2008 and May 2014, he was first the assistant and spokesman, and later chief of staff and spokesman for Etienne Tshisekedi, the UDPS president. This transcript has been slightly shortened and translated from the original.

Mr. Moleka, the opposition is still worried over the possibility of revising the constitution to allow President Kabila to run for a third term. However, since the events in Burkina Faso it seems that supporters of a revision have taken a step back. How do you interpret this?

There is one thing that people forget: Just after the elections [of 2011], the secretary general of Mr Kabila’s main political party [Evariste Boshab] went to Lubumbashi in Katanga and asked the party representatives of PPRD/Katanga to support Kabila for a third term. That was already in March 2012. And during that time, the Catholic Church had also given its position: that after two terms in power, there was no question of changing Article 220 [which limits the number of presidential terms].

“I think with regard to the constitutional revision, they have retreated and are now opting for a strategy of delaying.”

So after the 2011 elections, the Kabila camp was already thinking about changing the constitution.In addition, the real purpose of the Concerations nationales was to broaden the parliamentary base for Kabila to be able to change the constitution. At the end of this meeting, when you hear the rhetoric of the opposition that took part, for example Kengo wa Dondo’s UFC, you understood that they were not opposed to working for a revision of the constitution since they explicitly agreed to participate in the creation of a new majority-run government.

Currently, we have seen that the vigilance of the Catholic Church in particular made sure that this debate over the constitution has very quickly not only become one of the entire political class, but also a national and popular debate. The Kabila camp approached this debate in clumsy fashion: statements by the collaborators and supporters of Kabila, whether it was the secretary general of the PPRD (Evariste Boshab) or the President of the current National Assembly (Aubin Minaku) clearly gave the impression that they were willing to use force to push through a revision. I also believe that the appointment of a special envoy of the US government and especially the choice of Feingold has greatly helped the Congolese in the sense that Feingold speaks like a US senator, not a diplomat––in other words, he gets straight to the point.

The events in Burkina Faso have certainly also had an impact, because the international community there gave direct support to the popular position. Not forgetting, of course, that the Congolese opposition and the Catholic Church have also remained firm in their positions.

In addition, the government’s famous meeting in Kingakati, where the MSR [major political party member of the presidential majority who requested an open debate on constitutional revision]openly criticized a constitutional revision, revealed cracks and dissent. This is a first. It is also known that some influential leaders in the Kabila camp, including a significant financier of its various parties, have already given firm instructions to their protégés in the presidential majority to refrain from supporting a any revision of the Constitution or otherwise run the risk of not being able to count on them for “school fees or their wives health problems in Europe, etc.”

Does all this mean that the presidential camp will no longer push for a constitutional revision but will instead adopt a strategy of delaying the electoral calendar?

Yes, that is my analysis for the moment, at least. I think eventually they realized that this issue can cause popular protests. As the provinces that are the most opposed to it are Katanga and the Kivus, which some have always claimed to be Kabila’s electoral strongholds, I think with regard to the constitutional revision, they have retreated and are now opting for a strategy of delaying.

The senate and the provincial assemblies have already taken advantage of delays are have gained an additional two years to their terms, so some parliamentarians now say to each other: why do we not take advantage of delays, too? Many of them know that they will not be re-elected. So the Kabila camp relies on these elected officials in their strategy of delaying. Some political leaders also see in it a source of funding for electoral contests to come.

Then you must define the local electoral districts based on groupements. Currently, their number is not yet known. There will be more than 5000. Each groupement should have its administrative court to deal with cases of electoral disputes, so you will need to build the infrastructure (buildings, roads etc …), assign judges and magistrates, and allocate wages and operating costs. There is also the issue of the census, which was also a prerequisite for the 2006 elections. Today we have established the National Office for the Identification of the Population (ONIP) for the census. The contract was given to China’s Huawei, which is now looking for funds ($500 million), as the government has no money.

So we can tell that technically it is impossible [to do all this before the 2016 elections].

What attitude should international partners adopt in relation to this strategy of delays, if it exists? If they do not fund the elections, the government could try to finance without international support, which could undermine the process even more?

This is a very sensitive issue. In the Kabila camp, they tell each other: if the international community does not provide funding, it gives us one more reason to say: Voilà, we don’t have enough money for the elections.

“It will be very difficult, in any case, to organize credible elections with Malu Malu, because he is too attached to Kabila.”

I think the position of the international community is very clear: if we do not publish a comprehensive electoral calendar, there will be no release of funds, no money.

It will be very difficult, in any case, to organize credible elections with Malu Malu, because he is too attached to Kabila. What is important, I think, is that the international community remain consistent in its approach. Technically, the control of the national processing center must be transparent. I think we have seen in the various reports of election observers that the real problems arose at the compilation centers, which was compounded by the opacity of the national processing center, where access by both observers and political parties was firmly rejected by the CENI. If we eliminate the compilation centers and set up the necessary safeguards in the national processing center, then we can hope to see elections with credible results.

The rapporteur of the CENI, who was elected on a UDPS list to parliament, has been relieved by Malu Malu of the supervision of the national processing center, which according to the bylaws of the CENI he is supposed to oversee. This center has come under the supervision of the executive secretariat, headed by Fabien Musoni, whose proximity has Malu Malu is well established.

Let’s change the subject to return to what is happening inside the UDPS. There was a recent statement signed by many UDPS officials denouncing the poor management of some leaders, including the Secretary General Bruno Mavungu and the son of the president of the UDPS, Félix Tshisekedi.

Etienne Tshisekedi fell ill on Tuesday, March 4, 2014. As his chief of staff, when I saw him the next day, I took the decision to suspend all appointments indefinitely because he was very weak. On Thursday, March 13 he called me. I saw he was still very weak. He gave me six names, three from outside the country–Félix Tshilombo Tshisekedi; Claude Kiringa, the representative in Canada; Willy Vangu, the representative of South Africa––and three inside the country: Valentin Mubake, Roger Kakonge, and myself, specifying that I remain his chief of staff and spokesman. He said this is the party’s political leadership. He did not specify who would fulfill which position within this leadership.

“Since [13 March 2014], the senior cadres of the UDPS haven’t seen Etienne Tshisekedi.”

Our work session was interrupted by an incident that I would qualify as a family matter. Since that day, the senior cadres of the UDPS haven’t seen Etienne Tshisekedi.

I think that all UDPS activists long for one thing: to see Etienne Tshisekedi in the flesh speaking freely about the progress of the party and the country. He is our elected President of the Republic, and we must understand that this fuels frustrations that are expressed in various ways. After all, UDPS says it is a champion of democracy and, as such, shouldn’t it apply the principle of freedom of protest and expression to itself?

Is he communicating with you and other party officials?

No, I am not in communication with him. He has been [in Belgium]since August 16 and has not had the opportunity to meet his own representative for Benelux countries or his committee members. His health does not allow it, it seems.

How do you think the party can get out of this crisis? I saw the recent declaration by party members was based on real frustrations; I also see that not all the leaders of the UDPS federations signed the declaration, so there is a real division in the party.

We must first be willing to get out of this crisis. If there is the will to overcome the crisis and prevent the breakup of the UDPS, we must start from two facts: that the president had a vision, that is, there should be a new political leadership––but some of his relatives do not agree on that. This makes it difficult to apply the will of the president.

Second, we must see what has worked relatively well for the UDPS in recent years. In 2011 we saw an executive team capable of mobilizing the basic structures. We should go back to this approach so as not to waste time. There are national issues, issues on which the voice of the UDPS is not being heard.

Do you think the government could try to exacerbate the divisions within the UDPS by trying to co-opt a faction of the party and bringing it into a government of national cohesion?

It is true that Kabila tries to cast a wide net and possibly attract a person whose proximity to Etienne Tshisekedi cannot be doubted. Now, as the formation of this government [of national cohesion]drags on, it makes it more difficult for anyone from the UDPS to enter the government. Then again, if the famous “dialogue” that some are begging for results in the establishment of a government, I fear that there may be some takers even from within Etienne Tshisekedi’s broader entourage.

What will be the reaction of your popular base if the UDPS enters into a government led by Joseph Kabila?

The party will be dislocated from its popular base, that’s for sure.

Will Etienne Tshisekedi not return as the acting party president?

He is a man with whom I worked for six years, including for three years at a distance of 7,000 kilometers. I think people need to remember that in 2010 before returning home, he had given an interview to a Belgian magazine, in which he said: “I return to my country and I will participate in elections … yes this is my last fight, the fight of a lifetime.” Will we push him to put up one fight too many? I would not want that, because he is already more important for Congolese than any president. In the words of Jean Ping in 2011, employees and supporters must ensure that Etienne Tshisekedi enters history through the front door, not backwards.

“Will we push him to put up one fight too many? I would not want that, because he is already more important for Congolese than any president.”

But in the interest of the nation and the party, I pray every day that he can come back, if only to implement this new policy direction that was his vision. At present, any policy direction that is not approved by him will have serious problems of legitimacy.

Is it not a problem for the party that the transition must be guided by Tshisekedi himself? Is not an indication of the personalization of the party?

This is the reality: The real problem is that Etienne Tshisekedi has become larger than the UDPS, in some ways. He is able to mobilize huge crowds, the UDPS is not able to mobilize as many. On the other hand we must understand that he is part of a generation in which the political culture of personalization of power held sway. And did not have the culture of preparing for a succession of power. Tshiskedi thought at the last moment to set up a group that could lead this transition, at least until the party’s congress. Unfortunately, we have not been allowed to go through with his idea.