President Kabila’s Latest Ploy to Stay in Power
Earlier this year, angry demonstrators filled the streets of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They were outraged by President Joseph Kabila’s attempts to extend his last term as president through a new electoral law that would likely have delayed the November 2016 elections by at least two years. One of the most keenly contested provisions of the law required a national census before elections could take place, a laborious effort that was never budgeted. Kabila responded violently to the protests—his security forces killed around 40 people.
The new law was eventually passed in late January of this year without the census provision, but it appears that Kabila has yet another card to play.
On March 2, he set a 120-day deadline for the implementation of découpage, a constitutional change introduced in 2006 intended to divide Congo’s 11 provinces into 26. The 2006 constitutional change was a milestone in the country’s transition from almost a decade of civil war and was meant to transform Congo into a fully fledged democracy. However, while Kinshasa should have completed découpage by 2010 in accordance with the constitution, the process has not yet even begun. The delay is not surprising given that découpage is one of the most complex processes that the government has had to grapple with since the official end of the war. As a result, it neither budgeted nor designed an execution plan for découpage.
In pursuing découpage now, Kabila can ostensibly hold on to power. In the last few months, a number of his former supporters, such as the political party Union of Federalists and Independent Republicans, defected from the ruling majority. In December 2014, one of his allies, Moïse Katumbi—the powerful governor of Katanga Province and representative of the ruling party in Katanga—publicly opposed Kabila’s quest to extend the presidential term limits and run for a third term. The speech sent shock waves across the business and political scene; although Katumbi was widely believed to harbor his own presidential aspirations, his ties to Kabila were generally seen as essential to his potential ascension.
If implemented, découpage could allow Kabila to marginalize such power brokers and defectors. Katumbi and many others would be replaced once their provinces were dissolved and reconfigured into smaller ones.
At the same time, if logistic, financial, and political reasons prevent the successful implementation of découpage (and that is quite likely), the process may not only help delay the electoral process but also serve as a convenient justification for Kabila to amend the constitution. After all, if the constitution’s call for découpage is no longer practical, Kabila might argue that other conditions—such as the two-term limit—also require amending.