Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Who is in the cockpit?

Joseph Kabila has been invisible for the past month. Self-proclaimed president Etienne Tshisekedi will reveal the names of his cabinet any day now. The CENI has postponed the announcement of the legislative results until further notice. No one knows when provincial elections that will lead to the indirect vote for national senators will take place.

Who is running the country during this stalemate? Who has been running it for the past ten years? Joseph Kabila and his allies - in the Congolese tradition of extreme political secrecy – govern by network, not by institutions. Many official figures even at the ministerial level wield far less power than shadow advisors and partners.

Who is in control?

My opinion is we don’t really know. While there are some obvious heavy weights, relations between them are as unclear as who pockets earnings from mineral sales. A coup d’état in this context of political vacuum, grumbling by the military, social frustration and regime isolation really wouldn’t surprise anyone.

The éminence grise of the Kabila presidency is Augustin Katumba Mwanke. He does not hold an official position in the Kabila cabinet but his voice in economic matters is taken seriously. Already close to Kabila père, this Katangais was behind the Congo-China deal. He is very influential in the mining sector.

Adolphe Lumanu from Western Kasai Province, Minister of the Interior and Security, is another Kabila faithful. His appointment as minister followed a term as Kabila’s head of cabinet. Lumanu had the task of announcing the suspension of Numbi following the assassination of Floribert Chebeya in June 2010.

John Numbi had been Kabila’s security boss since 2007, holding the title of General Police Inspector. This native of North Katanga was not sacked but suspended and replaced by the Tutsi general Charles Bisengimana. Very close to the president, Numbi was the architect of some delicate special operations such as the joint Rwanda-Congo military operation in North Kivu and the bloody repression of the Bundu dia Kongo political religious movement in Bas-Congo.

Kabila succeeded in placing a faithful ally as president of the National Assembly to replace Vital Kamerhe. Evariste Boshab, from Western Kasai Province, has proved his loyalty to Kabila as head the president’s party, the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD). Given the composition of the National Assembly with its various political groupings, including loud opposition voices, Boshab’s role requires finesse and a lot of political savvy. His strong support from the all powerful Katumba Mwanke facilitates his role as institutional deal broker.

Another representative of the Katanga establishment is Jean-Claude Masangu Mulongo. Governor of the Central Bank of Congo since 1997, he is one of the country’s leading economists. First appointed by Mzee Kabila, he was confirmed by Joseph. Known as the father of the Congolese franc, Masangu played an important role in reconnecting the Congo with the Bretton Woods institutions.

Katanga Governor Moïse Katumbi is a rather unique actor. Super rich businessman turned politician, Katumbi combines tough business acumen with a populist approach to governing the mineral rich province. Respected and liked by the Katangese, he supported Kabila’s bid for re-election – obviously for the sake of his commercial empire.

Kabila’s twin sister Jeannette seems to have a strong influence over the president, especially with respect to commercial affairs.

Israeli businessman Dan Gettler, active in the mining sector and generous contributor to Kabila’s campaigns, is another personality that merits special mention. He was a key figure in the selling off of state mining assets to private companies at lower-than-value prices.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Church & politics in post-elections Congo

Religion has figured prominently on the Congolese political landscape since the colonial period. About 80% of Congolese claim to be Christian, predominantly Roman Catholic (50%).
The magnitude of the Catholic Church’s economic and social role is demonstrated by its capacity to provide health care and education - even after the collapse of State structures and institutions. It is also a political force: it contributed to destabilizing Mobutu through peaceful marches, sit-ins and demonstrations.
The Catholic Church has proven to be consistent and coherent – unlike, for example, most of Congo’s international partners.
Numerous prayer groups, exorcists, messianic and prophetic churches and evangelists have proliferated since the 1990s, especially in Kinshasa. These movements and individuals are popular not just among the poor: they recruit intensively among members of the political and security establishment. The spiritual leaders of these Christian ‘neo-communities’ are opinion leaders that occupy increasingly important positions of power. Methodist pastor and President of the CENI, Mulanda Ngoy is the most notable example.
Syncretic sects combine Christianity with traditional beliefs and rituals. The most popular of these sects is Kimbanguism, with around 3 million followers. Most non-Christians follow either traditional religions or syncretic sects. Witchcraft and sorcery remain important social realities.
The recent call by Congolese bishops for peaceful protests to be held next week follows an explicit condemnation of the government, referring to ‘treachery, lies and terror’ during the electoral process. Archbishop Laurent Monsengwo described the results as ‘illegitimate’ saying they 'conformed neither to truth nor to justice'.
The Catholic Church network had 30,000 election observers whose asssessment corroborated massive fraude, irregularities and intimidation.
The National Conference of Catholic Bishops (CENCO) in a message entitled ‘The Courage of Truth’ called for the mistakes made in the presidential and parliamentary elections to be ‘corrected’ without however calling for the elections to be annulled. The message also implored security forces to 'disobey unjust orders'.
The bishops challenged the members of the Independent National Electoral Commission to change their practices or resign following the mismanagement of last year's presidential and parliamentary elections.
The Independent National Electoral Commission 'no longer enjoys the confidence of the population', the bishops said, and asked the parliament to review its composition and include members of the civil society for more independence.
While some of the elements in this declaraction are not sufficiently explicit , such as ‘correcting’ mistakes, the message itself is clear. The Church – with the tacit support of the Vatican – has opted to rachet up the pressure on an increasingly vulnerable government.