The peregrinations of Congo’s politicians

For the past two weeks, the fate of the Congolese opposition has been played out abroad.

First, there was the trip to Addis Ababa, where the African Union asked Congolese political parties to agree on a code of conduct for elections and to campaign peacefully. This came just days after UDPS and PPRD followers clashed in Kinshasa. The meeting in Addis did not produce any visible outcomes – the UDPS is still the only major opposition party to refuse to sign the code of conduct, while UDPS followers continue to clash with the police in Kinshasa. Le Potentiel, Kinshasa’s biggest daily, dismissed the initiative as “a distraction.”

Then, Tshisekedi – the Sphinx of Limete, as he is called – traveled to Brussels, first to meet with Jean-Pierre Bemba at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. According to the Congolese press, as well as MLC members, Bemba refrained from backing the UDPS leader, preferring to just say that he would “back the joint candidate of the opposition,” and urging the various opposition parties to find such a man.

Then, Tshisekedi went to meet with Kengo wa Dondo – who has just announced his own coalition that is backing him as “their joint candidate for the presidency.” According to people close to Kengo, Tshisekedi gave him a document outlining his main policy plans, then urged him to sign up. Kengo is allegedly not happy with this way of proceeding. “You don’t just hand someone your plan and tell him sign up – that’s no way of negotiating,” one of his associate told Congo Siasa.

Next stop: Washington, DC, where Vital Kamerhe, Mbusa Nyamwisi and Etienne Tshisekedi were all supposed to converge over the past several days. However, Tshisekedi missed meeting with Kamerhe due to a trip to Raleigh, North Carolina, where he met with the large Congolese community. He did, however, reportedly send the same policy document to Kamerhe and urge him to sign up, as well. Kamerhe, predictably, demurred.

Of course, all of these meetings abroad have fueled speculation in Kinshasa about Belgian and American positioning during the elections.

Despite these tensions within the opposition, something does seem to be afoot. For some time now, the main parties have been converging on Tshisekedi as the main candidate. However, the main stumbling block was his’s reluctance to dole out specific positions before the elections – he told the other parties that the main spoils – prime minister, speaker of parliament, president of the senate – would depend on how each party fared in the polls. The other parties – UNC (Kamerhe), UFC (Kengo) and the MLC – insisted on knowing what they would get out of such an alliance.

Now, however, a plan is emerging that might solve that broker a compromise. While details are still fluid – and nothing is certain – under the terms of the deal, Kengo and the MLC would back Tshisekedi for the presidency if he promises that the UDPS would not claim the prime ministry or speaker of the national assembly. Instead, those positions would go to the other two largest opposition constituencies in parliament. That, of course, assumes that the opposition gains a majority in the national assembly.

It is not clear if Kamerhe, who has the most sway in the East of all the opposition parties, is involved in these negotiations. But it would be difficult for him to hold out alone if both Kengo and the MLC join forces with the UDPS.