Congo Siasa

With friends likes these, who needs enemies?

The main opposition party in the Congo, the Mouvement de liberation du Congo (MLC), has been going through some serious internal rows in the past weeks. Although their leader Jean-Pierre Bemba won 42% of the votes nationally in 2006 and a majority in five provinces (Kinshasa, Bas-Congo, Equateur, Kasai Oriental and Kasai Occidental), the only had a governor elected in one of those provinces, Equateur. Governors are elected by provincial assemblies, and the MLC’s poor showing these polls was due to both serious corruption by Kabila’s ruling coalition, as well as the MLC’s internal weakness.

Now the governorship in their last remaining province of Equateur is creating troubles. After Jose Makila was impeached earlier this year, a new election was organized. Instead, however, of presenting just one candidate, five different candidates from the MLC put up their names for the elections of vice-governor and governor (2 as MLC members and 3 as independents, but they never left the party). This caused on outcry amongst some MLC members, who said that the party has to nominate a candidate and that the other candidates had to be expelled from the party. Finally, the provincial tribunal annulled the “independent” candidatures.

The problem did not, however, end there. The quarrel led to even deeper divisions within the MLC leadership in Kinshasa – the two highest ranking leaders, Francois Mwamba and Thomas Luhaka, were accused by some colleagues of mismanagement (the two deny having gotten involved in the Equateur saga). Neither Mwamba and Luhaka are from Equateur, where the MLC has its strongest base, and some Equateurians think they are not representative of the party. Mwamba has begun to receive death threats and vicious accusations. A petition has appeared on the internet, signed by an unknown Diaspora group called MPDC, asking for Luhaka to replace Mwamba. The two MLC leaders see this as a ploy to put them against each other and have ignored it so far.

But this is not the first time the MLC has been riven by internal strife. Their popularity in 2006 elections was due to Jean-Pierre Bemba. Now that he is locked up the The Hague, pending trial at the International Criminal Court, the party has become headless. Bemba continues to issue orders to his party members via mobile phone from his jail cell, and still controls the purse strings of the party. “Until Bemba’s fate is decided, the party will be adrift,” an MLC leader told me a few days ago.

This plays into Joseph Kabila’s re-election strategy for 2011. He may not be very popular in much of the country, but if there is no credible opponent, he may win by default.