Congo Siasa

Quo Vadis, Vital?

Many Congolese believe that Vital Kamerhe will be Kabila’s main opponent for the 2011 elections. But does he have the guts for it?

Kabila’s detractors in Kinshasa are frustrated that he still hasn’t officially declared his candidacy – even though the polls are still over a year away. Some were also outraged when he appeared on the podium with Kabila during the independence day celebrations on June 30th. A picture of the two together was the cause of much debate.

But there have been two developments that might reassure his supporters.

First, he met with MLC opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba in his jail cell at the International Criminal Court in the The Hague a few weeks ago. According to members of the MLC, Bemba told Kamerhe that he would support him for the 2011 elections if Bemba is not out of jail by then. If this is true, it will be a boon for Kamerhe, who is from South Kivu and – although he spend much of his time growing up in Bandundu and Kinshasa – is seen by many Congolese as an easterner. One is left wondering what MLC officials make of this, especially those who want to be MLC candidate for elections in 2011 (Francois Mwamba, the head of the party, for example).

Secondly, according to several sources close to Kamerhe, he will be holding his first opposition meeting in Brazzaville next month. He is trying to persuade people close to Kabila to defect and join him. He has received some support from Kivutians and people from the Kasai who are disappointed with Kabila’s performance. The Kivutians are mostly upset about the ongoing violence in their region – Kabila had campaigned as the bringer of peace for the 2006 elections – while the Kasaians feel marginalized and impoverished despite the great diamond wealth in their provinces. It is telling that Kabilas’ trip around the country this month focused on these two regions, perceived to be electoral battlegrounds for the 2011 elections.

Congolese from all over the world will be travelling to Brazzaville for the meeting, but I doubt many of Kabila’s allies will come. It is too early for most to pick sides and throw their lot in with Kamerhe, who is still a bit of a wild card. Many doubt whether he has the guts or endurance to go the distance. He will inevitably have to face persecution and those who rally to his side risk losing economic assets and lucrative positions if Kamerhe loses.