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Where we stand after December 19

Here is a summary of events today, based on reporting from across the country. You can find other excellent summaries by Christophe Rigaud and Sonia Rolley. Also see Ida Sawyer’s insightful blog on preparations for the 19th here.

Contrary to the reporting in some news outlets, the 19th stopped being the main focal point for protests several days ago, when some social movements started calling for villes mortes (stay-at-home days) on the 19th and then protests beginning the 20th. Surprisingly, after building December 19th into a symbolic day for months, the opposition did not explicitly call for protests either on the 19th or 20th. Felix Tshisekedi, son of opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, said that he didn’t want to give the government the excuse of violently cracking down on protests. In private, opposition leaders said it was also due to pressure from diplomats in Kinshasa and the Catholic Church to avoid violence––if that is true, that strikes me as one of the most important take-aways, as the diplomatic community would be urging the population not to use the only remaining pressure that it has on Kabila. Others still have whispered that a deal was hashed out in last-minute diplomacy between Catholic bishops and President Kabila, which the opposition did not want to jeopardize. My best guess is that if there is no significant protest tomorrow––and there very well could be––Kabila will have concluded that he does not face a threat from the streets.

The main events today:

  • 41 arrests of activists in Goma, 28 in Kinshasa, and 5 in Bukavu today––including the prominent opposition leader Frank Diongo;
  • Minor armed groups attacks in Butembo, where Mai-Mai attacked the prison, and in Nyabiondo, where the APCLS clashed with government troops;
  • Heavy military and police presence in all major cities, with roadblocks on main roads and roundabouts;
  • The ville morte was relatively well observed in parts of Kinshasa, although many shops did open. Goma was even more deserted, while in Kalemie, and Mbandaka it was mostly business as usual;
  • Shortly before midnight, as planned, commotion broke out in Kinshasa and Lubumbashi as opposition activists marked the end of Kabila’s constitutional mandate by blowing whistles (hundreds of thousands had reportedly been distributed) and honking horns;
  • Riot police sprayed demonstrators with tear gas in the early hours of December 20th––as the moment of publication the situation was very fluid;
  • In an effort to give the impression that the political process is moving forward, and after over a month of waiting, a new government was announced at five minutes before midnight and read out on national television. Its main characteristics:
    • It’s an obvious effort to shore up the October 18 deal between the government and the opposition
    • It’s a sprawling mess, in which over a dozen minor opposition parties (and one large one, Vital Kamerhe’s UNC) get minor ministries (the exceptions are the UNC’s Pierre Kangudia, who is budget minister; and MLC-defector Jean Lucien Bussa, who minister of planning);
    • In general, they tried to reward defectors from major opposition parties: Amy Ambatombe (ex-UDPS) is minister of post and telecommunications, Justin Bitakwira (ex-UNC) is minister of parliament affairs, Marcel Ilunga (ex-UNAFEC) is minister of industry, Patrick Mayombe (former moderator of the main opposition coalition) is minister of agriculture; and there are three MLC defectors (Thomas Luhaka, Jean-Lucien Bussa, and José Makila) who left their party in recent years;
    • The ruling majorité présidentielle coalition gets most important ministries: Defense, foreign affairs, interior, mining, state-run companies, oil, justice, information, and finances.

But all of this is just an update: no real conclusions can be drawn before we see what tomorrow brings.