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Diplomatic divisions in Kinshasa

Is the New Years’ Eve deal dead? In the final hours of 2016, the Catholic bishops had brokered an agreement between the Congolese opposition and President Kabila’s negotiators, forging a unity government led by the opposition and an oversight committee (the Comité nationale pour de suivi de l’accord, CNSA) also led by the opposition. It was applauded by everybody––Congolese churches, the United Nations, the African Union, and so forth. Finally, we had consensus between the opposition and the government that could take the country forward toward elections.

Politics quickly gutted and plucked that bird before it could set flight. Bon appétit.

For months, implementation of the deal faltered over three disagreements: how the new prime minister would be named, the divvying up of positions within the unity government, and the role of the Catholic Church going forward. Then President Kabila decided to cut the Gordian knot and name Bruno Tshibala, a defector from the UDPS party, as prime minister. Most of the main opposition parties––the UDPS, MLC, G7, and the remaining Dynamique de l’opposition––all denounced this move and called for further protests. But Kabila’s move also produced its desired effect. Prominent members of the opposition defected, including Olengankoy, Lumbala, Mubake, and Tshibala.

So what should the international community do? The United Nations Security Council had strongly endorsed the New Year’s Eve deal and said:

Calls on all stakeholders in the DRC…to swiftly implement the 31 December 2016 agreement, in good faith and in all its components, and to redouble their efforts towards a speedy conclusion of the ongoing talks on the “arrangements particuliers”, in order to urgently nominate a Prime Minister presented by the Rassemblement, as per the agreement, to put in place the Conseil national de suivi de l’accord (CNSA) and to fully implement confidence-building measures, in order to proceed without further delay to the preparation of the presidential and legislative elections due to take place before the end of 2017.

Pretty clear? Not so much. While the Belgian and French government said that Tshibala’s nomination was a clear violation of the deal (and the US agreed, although in milder terms), MONUSCO merely “took note” of the nomination and urged all parties to work together. Later, after meeting with Tshibala, MONUSCO chief Maman Sidikou said he would “do everything we should to support him.” The representative of the African Union was blunter: “We submit to this sovereign choice of the President of the Republic. And, as an African Union, we will work alongside Bruno Tshibala to bring about the cardinal objectives, in particular the elections.” Théodore Obiang, the president of Equatorial Guinea and the chairman of the Economic Community of Central African States, opined along the same lines.

So was the PM supposed to be the choice of the Rassemblement or of President Kabila? The text is relatively clear: The PM is presented by the Rassemblement and named by President Kabila. Tshibala was indeed proposed by a dissident fringe of the Rassemblement, but he clearly did not have the backing of a majority of that body.

The head of MONUSCO has since been sharply criticized by the opposition (the one that did not join the government), civil society leaders, and the press. Unfounded rumors have begun to accuse him of corruption and bias. In response, Sidikou has reached out to the opposition, apparently clarifying his position and patching up his relations with part of the opposition. The question, however, remains: will part of the opposition now be left behind as the Tshibala government takes off, backed by part of the diplomatic community, or will those same diplomats put the breaks on and demand yet another round of negotiations?