After a long period of suspense, President Joseph Kabila has decided not to try to revise the DRC’s constitutional two-term limit on his office, agreeing to leave power after the election scheduled for December 23, 2018, two years late. At the same time, President Kabila presented his preferred successor, and who will therefore be the candidate of the “Presidential Majority,” Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.
Kabila’s selection of Shadary was something of a surprise. His name was not on anyone’s list as a possible heir. However, from Kabila’s perspective, Shadary is the logical choice. Highly loyal to Kabila from the very beginning, Shadary has close family ties to the President. He is believed to be a cousin of Kabila’s Mother, Mama Sifa. When Shadary was Kabila’s Minister of the Interior, he did not hesitate to use lethal force whenever organized opposition to Kabila appeared in the Congo, including against unarmed demonstrators. Indeed, Shadary is currently under European Union sanctions for human rights violations because of these abuses. Of significance is the fact that Shadary will retain the confidence of the military – military support was the foundation of Kabila’s hold on power for almost two decades.
Because Shadary is not a political personality known for popular appeal (except in his native Maniema Province,) an opposition candidate should be able to defeat him in the December 23 election. A recent poll found Kabila trailing Moise Katumbi, Felix Tshisekedi, and Jean-Pierre Bemba for the vote. It also found that 62 percent of Congolese do not trust CENI to hold a free and fair election. Shadary will not be able to overcome his mentor’s political decline in the actual vote, but the electoral commission may already be working to overcome this obstacle and ensure his victory.
The opposition has apparently decided to agree on a single candidate to face Shadary in the election. The leading candidates are Jean-Pierre Bemba, Felix Tshisekedi, Moïse Katumbi, Vital Kamerhe, Freddy Matangulu, and Noel Tshiani. Katumbi cannot be a candidate because the government has refused to allow him to reenter the DRC from exile to file his candidacy papers. There are indications that the Kabila regime is trying to find a way to declare Bemba ineligible, mainly because he has not resided in the DRC for one full year prior to the election.
In short, the Government’s determination to make sure that Shadary wins the election, by any available means, is already apparent. We can expect more dishonest actions in the weeks and months to come. The Congolese public, civil society, and the international community must be vigilant, and vigorously denounce and sanction any signs of manipulation by the electoral commission or the Kabila administration.
Shadary’s selection as Kabila’s heir has given rise to a number of conspiracy theories about Kabila’s possible real intentions. The most plausible is similar to the Russian Putin-Medvedev precedent: After the election, Kabila will become a Senator for Life. If he has a majority of the Senators, he will be elected Senate President. After one or two years, Shadary will resign, and Kabila will become interim President of the DRC. Kabila will then run in the ensuing election to replace Shadary.
Kabila’s announcement has been met with general satisfaction and welcoming statements in the US. In New York, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley issued a congratulatory statement while cautioning that the DRC government must now concentrate on making the December 23 election totally free, fair and transparent, with full freedom for the opposition to campaign. Congressman Ed Royce, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, made a similar statement. Clearly, both Rep. Royce and Ambassador Haley recognize the uphill battle for democracy in the DRC. Their statements hint that American officials are likely to watch this election closely.