President Felix Tshisekedi dismantled the governing coalition of his Coalition for Change (CACH) and the Common Front for Congo (FCC). This is a culmination of 16 months of repeated conflict as both camps have accused the other of attempting to consolidate political influence ahead of the 2023 elections, with the courts and electoral commission being a focal point.
Tshisekedi is set to appoint an advisor to find a new majority in the National Assembly, which will be a highly difficult task given the significant minority of seats held by CACH compared to the FCC’s 341 seats out of a total of 500.
Although Tshisekedi has sought domestic and regional support, including from the Congolese security services, ahead of the coalition withdrawal, there remains a heightened potential for the ongoing political uncertainty to manifest as civil unrest and violence.
Travel to Kinshasa and Lubumbashi can continue while adhering to stringent security precautions regarding armed criminal activity and avoiding all large gatherings and protests due to the potential for unrest.
Please be advised
On December 6, President Felix Tshisekedi announced the end of the coalition government between the Common Front for Congo (FCC) and Coalition for Change (CACH). He stated that an advisor would be appointed to decide upon a new majority within the National Assembly and hinted at the possibility that the parliament would be dissolved. He further asked PM Sylvestre Ilunga to resign.
Reports indicate that 279 MPs voted for a motion to dismiss the parliamentary office headed by National Assembly Speaker Jeanine Mabunda on December 8, claiming that she violated Article 139 by not publishing the March 2020 financial report despite it being due in April. FCC and CACH members subsequently clashed inside the Palais du Peuple in Kinshasa, while their supporters were dispersed with tear gas outside.
Reports from December 4 indicate that FCC members accused CACH of corruption and specifically of attempting to bribe FCC officials with between 7,000 to 9,000 USD per member to defect in an effort to get a majority in the National Assembly. Mabunda reportedly asked the Council of Elders within the assembly to open an investigation.
In a meeting with President Tshisekedi and other security leaders, the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC) Chief of Staff reportedly stated that the military is apolitical, with a mission to protect the head of state and the larger population. A video circulating on November 30 showed General Christian Tshiwewe reiterating the apolitical nature of the Republican Guard tasked with protecting the presidency, further stating that he urged members “not to plot against the government by taking part in clandestine meetings”.
Reports indicate that 305 MPs reaffirmed their membership in the FCC coalition on November 30.
In November, President Tshisekedi reportedly met with the Angolan and Congolese presidents to discuss DRC’s political crisis. The FCC denounced the display of Angolan fighter jets over Kinshasa as Tshisekedi’s display of military power. Tshisekedi also sent high-level delegations to strengthen bilateral ties with several regional countries, including Egypt, Rwanda, and South Africa.
The FCC-CACH coalition government was officially launched in August 2019 after President Tshisekedi won the December 2018 presidential elections while former President Joseph Kabila’s FCC achieved a large majority in the National Assembly in the March 2019 parliamentary elections. There have been persistent allegations that Tshisekedi won the presidential election after making a deal with Kabila, who was leaving office after 18 years due to international pressure to respect term limits, though such a deal has not been publicly acknowledged. Through the FCC-CACH coalition, Kabila and the FCC have held significant governing powers under the Tshisekedi administration, including coordinating important appointments within the army and judiciary, as well as various ministries, including the PM.
Due to this system of co-management, the two camps have been continuously in conflict with each other over the past 16 months. Both have accused the other of attempting to increase their influence through government appointments. One example is the FCC’s introduction of a judicial bill in June 2020, which included placing the judiciary under parliamentary supervision and allowing the Minister of Justice to sanction magistrates if proven guilty of conducting offenses. This was criticized by CACH as an attempt to consolidate power ahead of the 2023 elections. The alleged agreement between Tshisekedi and Kabila is believed to stipulate that Tshisekedi would support an FCC candidate in the next elections.
Assessments & Forecast
Persistent conflict between Kabila and Tshisekedi leads to dismantling of coalition government
The FCC-CACH coalition government has been at odds with each other since its conception, with recurring conflict between the two regarding various appointments and other governance disputes. The tensions that finally ended the coalition was triggered by Tshisekedi’s appointment of three Constitutional Court judges to replace Kabila-appointed judges without consulting the FCC. The FCC perceived this move as unconstitutional and an attempt by the president to consolidate his influence over the judiciary ahead of the 2023 presidential elections, which would contradict the alleged agreement to have Tshisekedi support the FCC in the next election. This underscores the influence that Kabila is attempting to wield via the FCC, which was formed in mid-2018 ahead of the repeatedly delayed presidential elections and came to achieve a massive majority within the National Assembly. This majority has created a significant tool for Kabila to remain politically engaged and seek a return to power in 2023.
This build-up of political conflict eventually led to President Tshisekedi announcing the “Sacred Union” consultations in which he discussed the political impasse with various political parties, former PMs, and members of religious and civil society organizations. However, this only exacerbated the rift, as the FCC perceived this as an attempt by Tshisekedi to bribe or coerce members of other political parties, including the FCC, to defect and thus erode the FCC’s parliamentary majority. To this point, Kabila reportedly banned FCC members from participating in the talks without his permission. While Kabila has the support of the FCC, he has struggled to fulfill his promises in providing them with important ministerial positions given the conflicts over power-sharing with CACH and Tshisekedi’s efforts to limit Kabila’s prominence in the administration.
Kabila’s diminishing popularity was also evident through the large-scale unrest in the lead-up to the 2018 elections due to the perception that he was attempting to retain power through the FCC presidential candidate, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, who officially came in third place. Regardless of the rumored agreement between Kabila and Tshisekedi that may have made the latter’s presidency possible, it appears that the public was supportive of a change in leadership. In this context, Tshisekedi has also seen relative popularity in implementing considerable reforms, which contrasts with Kabila’s difficulty in satisfying his promises to the FCC. Consequently, there is the possibility that some FCC members will be willing to realign in support of Tshisekedi. Tshisekedi’s decision to withdraw from the FCC-CACH coalition government may itself be an indication that he believes this potential is there. More broadly, the consultations with many of the country’s stakeholders likely bolstered his confidence to break away from the FCC and attempt to seek a majority of his own.
Tshisekedi likely to struggle to form majority to counter political influence of pro-Kabila camp
Tshisekedi is faced with the task of achieving a new majority in the National Assembly, which is expected to be very difficult. By dismantling the coalition, Tshisekedi has pleased some of his supporters, including among his own party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), who have been critics of the FCC-CACH union from the beginning. Similarly, the other member of CACH, the Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC), has pledged its continued support despite its leader’s imprisonment. However, as of writing, CACH only has 47 seats out of the total 500 seats in the National Assembly, whereas the FCC holds 341. The remaining 112 seats are held by the Lamuka opposition coalition. This may also present a challenge to Tshisekedi given that Lamuka has sporadically protested over its claim that their presidential candidate, Martin Fayulu, had actually won the elections in December 2018.
FORECAST: However, Tshisekedi is likely to convince prominent Lamuka leaders such as Jean-Pierre Bemba of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) and Moise Katumbi of Ensemble – Together for Change. Both had agreed to participate in the consultation talks to support Tshisekedi against Kabila. In this context, there is an increased likelihood that the advisor that Tshisekedi appoints to form the new majority in the National Assembly will be from the Lamuka coalition. At the same time, it remains to be seen if all 112 seats held by Lamuka will be persuaded to join the president. Even if he does manage to gain all 112 seats, the pro-Tshisekedi camp would then stand at 159 seats against the FCC’s 341. Tshisekedi will be forced to persuade FCC members to defect to his side in order to achieve the 251-seat majority that is needed.
Tshisekedi is likely to try to convince the FCC’s second-largest constituent party, the Alliance of Democratic Forces of Congo and Allies (AFDC-A), which holds 41 of the seats in the FCC coalition. The AFDC-A is in the midst of its own internal conflict over its leadership, with Senator Modeste Bahati Lukwebo facing Nene Nkulu Ilunga in court over the party’s presidency. This conflict had begun when Lukwebo refused to withdraw his candidacy to be the President of the Senate in 2019 despite the FCC having chosen another person as its preferred candidate, which led to Lukwebo being removed from the FCC. Lukwebo is considered an ambitious politician who may be willing to strike further agreements with Tshisekedi given his history with the FCC. However, given the dispute within the AFDC-A, it is unclear how many of its members would support Lukwebo and shift allegiances with him.
In any case, Tshisekedi will struggle to put together a majority and mitigate FCC influence, particularly as the FCC has gone on the offensive to push a narrative that Tshisekedi’s actions have been unconstitutional. FORECAST: This political conflict between Tshisekedi and Kabila is expected to hamper proper governance in the coming months and entrench wider political uncertainty. This can already be seen with Tshisekedi’s demand that Kabila ally PM Sylvestre Ilunga resign to allow for the new majority. This also comes alongside the conflict within the National Assembly over the motion to dismiss the office led by Speaker Jeanine Mabunda, another Kabila ally who is accused of violating Article 139 by not pushing a financial report in April. However, it is highly notable that 279 MPs voted for the motion against Mabunda, meaning that FCC deputies were among those who voted against her. While the FCC claims that CACH bribed MPs to support the motion and Mabunda has also initiated an investigation into corruption charges, this is unlikely to explain the entirety of the vote even if it is confirmed. This highlights the possibility that Tshisekedi will be able to pull support from current FCC members and potentially form a majority.
FORECAST: With that said, the political situation can be expected to deteriorate further if Tshisekedi and his advisor are unable to get this majority against Kabila, with PM Ilunga likely to refuse to resign as well. Tshisekedi may have to resort to his threat to announce fresh elections. This is likely to be further condemned by the FCC and others as unconstitutional. Moreover, organizing new elections will likely be a very difficult task for the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), particularly in the mandated 60-day period after the announcement. This was previously difficult for CENI in 2018 and will be further exacerbated by challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the ongoing armed conflict throughout the eastern provinces. Furthermore, if Tshisekedi calls for parliamentary elections, it is likely that the FCC will push for new polls at all levels, including the presidency.
Tshisekedi bolsters regional support amid possibility of political uncertainty devolving into unrest
These developments notably come ahead of President Tshisekedi taking up the African Union (AU) presidency in February 2021. It is possible that he will attempt to achieve some political stability ahead of February and then engage in further maneuvers in February with AU backing. Tshisekedi sent delegations to several African countries in November, including South Africa, Rwanda, and Egypt, to reiterate bilateral cooperation and support. He also met with Angolan President Joao Lourenco, displaying the two countries’ military cooperation in Kinshasa. It is likely these meetings were intended to ensure regional support ahead of finalizing his decision to break away from the FCC. The international support could also bolster his credentials to a domestic audience. Consequently, the FCC denounced various aspects of these meetings as attempts to downgrade the FCC’s influence and bolster his own support base.
It is also notable that before the withdrawal, Tshisekedi met with the heads of national security agencies, during which the FARDC chief of staff claimed to be apolitical and focused on protecting the population. This is illustrative of Tshisekedi’s awareness and acknowledgement of Kabila loyalists remaining within the security services and the potential they would attempt to intervene in politics. These concerns were further exemplified by reports that the head of the Republican Guard was said to order his troops to remain loyal to the presidency. Despite these reported statements in support of Tshisekedi, his perception of the increased threat of pro-Kabila military intervention was underscored when the military was reportedly ordered to leave the Mont-Ngaliema headquarters in Kinshasa, which also contains the presidential residence. Given Kabila’s popularity among the FARDC during his time in office, this concern is likely valid.
FORECAST: At the same time, as the political conflict continues, there is growing potential for this to translate into civil unrest, particularly given the harsh and often inflammatory rhetoric used by both the pro-Kabila and pro-Tshisekedi camps. This has already been seen through two separate clashes between opposing members at the National Assembly in recent days. Given precedent, both coalitions may launch protests as well as organized rallies across the country, particularly in Kinshasa as well as Lubumbashi, which is a Kabila stronghold. These hold the potential to turn unruly and devolve into violence with security forces in the coming weeks.
Ultimately, amid the broader political maneuvering expected, it is possible that President Tshisekedi will enter negotiations with Kabila and the FCC, particularly if Tshisekedi and his advisor are unable to form a majority. However, the recent developments would have illuminated the depth of Tshisekedi’s political and civil society support and thus he would be less likely to capitulate to the FCC on various matters of governance. Instead, he could be expected to seek concessions for a renewed governing coalition, which can include more room for independence by CACH as well as minimize the constant political conflict over every new attempt to implement reforms to CENI and the Constitutional Court. Tshisekedi will also likely seek prominent appointments for his supporters in the Sacred Union consultations. While this scenario may hinder Kabila’s ability to fulfill his own promises to FCC supporters, it is possible that he would agree to the negotiations if Tshisekedi would then agree to back an FCC candidate in the 2023 elections. However, these scenarios remain questionable as the political situation is expected to remain uncertain and relatively unstable over the coming weeks and months.
Travel to Kinshasa and Lubumbashi can continue while adhering to stringent security precautions regarding armed criminal activity.
Avoid nonessential travel to outlying areas of DRC, particularly the Kasai region and the eastern provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu, and Ituri given the high levels of criminality and insecurity caused by armed groups.
As a general security precaution, it is advised to avoid all large public gatherings and protests in DRC given the high potential for unrest and other associated security risks.