Musical chairs in Kinshasa: Who will join the government?

When the music stops at some point in the coming weeks, we should know who will be in the next government, an event that, perhaps, provide the hapless bookend to the election debacle. But that depends on how it unfolds and whether the government includes the opposition and, if so, whether it is a mere figleaf of a real unity government.

At the moment, President Kabila has named former defense minister Charles Mwando Simba as the “informateur,” in charge of figuring out which party has how many seats, whether they consider themselves members of the presidential majority, and what their conditions for joining a government might be. He met with Kabila’s allied parties last week and has been meeting with the opposition since yesterday.

Who wants what? This is not just a battle of interests (although some certainly see it thus), but a philosophical one.

The Catholic church, various western embassies and some opposition parties want to have a national unity government. They consider that Kabila’s election was marred by serious irregularities and that he is therefore facing a crisis of legitimacy. The prime minister must therefore come from the opposition – ideally, Etienne Tshisekedi, who came in second place – and must be according his constitutional prerogative in the management of the government (not like the relatively powerless previous PMs). In other words, this camp has stepped back from asking for the presidential election to be canceled and is now asking for a kind of power-sharing. But there are also shades of difference within this group. I doubt, for example, that the UNC of Vital Kamerhe would accept a power-sharing deal that gave the opposition a few ministries but not the prime ministry. However, the MLC of Jean-Pierre Bemba may bite at such an offer, as may Kengo wa Dondo’s UFC.

Then there is the UDPS, whose leader still insists that he won the presidential elections and that the legislative elections are null and void. The party is deeply split, however, with 38 of their 42 MPs defying their president’s order and participating in the national assembly. That faction, which seems to be led by Samy Badibanga, has now been able to persuade Tshisekedi (and some of his more uncompromising advisers like Valentin Mubake) not to remove them from the party. But they are unlikely to accept any part in a government that shares power with President Kabila. They reportedly did not show up to their meeting with Mwando Simba yesterday.

Finally, there are parties who ran in support of Kabila – the relatively amorphous majorité présidentielle. As far as I understand, here we can find hardliners and softliners, as well. Of course, any opening to the opposition will diminish the number of ministries and vice-ministries (and directorships in state companies) one can hand out to Kabila loyalists. It is therefore not surprising that many seem opposed to granting too many seats to the opposition, in particular the prime ministry.

No one seems to know which way things will go, although Congolese political analysts and embassies in Kinshasa seem to agree on a few points: Evariste Boshab is going to have a hard time shrugging off corruption allegations and the poor showing of his PPRD party in the polls; the PPPD is the new kid on the block, the second strongest member of the presidential coalition, but without much of a figurehead (it is said to have been created by Katuma Mwanke, who died in a plane crash); Pierre Lumbi’s MSR is in a strong position but its leader is an easterner from Maniema. And, most importantly, it is likely that the president will open to the opposition, but unlikely that this will happen in a substantive way – in other words, perhaps a few ministries but not the prime ministry.

We can only wait and see.