Congo's Opposition Coalescing to Stop Kabila From Extending Rule

  • Control Risks expects `increasingly erratic decision-making'
  • Proxy battle underway in copper-rich Lualaba province

Opposition parties in the Democratic Republic of Congo are coalescing around a campaign to stop what they describe as President Joseph Kabila’s intention to extend his 14-year rule in Africa’s biggest copper-producing nation.

Moise Katumbi, the former governor of the copper-rich Katanga province, quit the president’s People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy last week, signaling he may run against Kabila in a vote scheduled for November 2016. His resignation was welcomed by opposition leader Vital Kamerhe and came days after a group of politicians known as the G7 were banished from the ruling Presidential Majority for criticizing the president in an open letter.

“Investors will have to brace themselves for increasingly erratic decision-making as Kabila tries to figure out who’s loyal to him and who isn’t,” Christoph Wille, senior analyst at London-based Control Risks, said in an e-mailed response to questions.

Congo, the world’s largest source of cobalt, is preparing to hold six elections covering local governor to senatorial ballots over the next year that will culminate in the vote for a new president. Opposition groups say the packed election program is designed to fail and allow Kabila to extend his presidency beyond a second term, which the constitution stipulates should be his final one. Kabila hasn’t said whether he’ll run, while government spokesman Lambert Mende said in February that Kabila “will end his mandate” next year. He declined to comment about the elections when contacted on Monday.

Bypassing Constitution

In his resignation statement, Katumbi criticized efforts by the government “to bypass the constitution with delays, vagueness and illegibility of the electoral cycle.” Those comments chimed with the G7 group of leaders, including former Planning Minister Olivier Kamitatu, who were dismissed from their government posts after expressing doubts about Kabila’s commitment to stand down.

The dismissals and resignations have weakened Kabila, who “finds himself in a precarious position at the head of an increasingly fragile ruling coalition,” said Anais de Meulder, Africa analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, a Bath, U.K.-based global risk adviser.

MAP: Democratic Republic of Congo
MAP: Democratic Republic of Congo

Kabila, 44, has led Congo since 2001. His government is trying to rebuild an economy shattered by decades of kleptocratic rule under former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and Africa’s deadliest civil war that ended in 2003. The International Monetary Fund expects Congo’s economy to grow about 9.2 percent this year, one of the fastest rates in the world.

‘Unsurprising’ Exit

Kamerhe, who won 8 percent of the vote in presidential elections in 2011, voiced his public support for Katumbi’s decision in a written statement published on his Twitter account. Government spokesman Mende on Oct. 1 dismissed the resignation as “unsurprising,” and said it would have no impact as the governor had left a post that “no longer exists.”

In July, the government divided Congo’s 11 provinces into 26, enforcing an outstanding provision in the 2006 constitution. Katanga province, the source of most of Congo’s copper and cobalt, was divided into four new regions: Haut-Katanga, Lualaba, Haut-Lomami and Tanganyika. In the absence of newly elected provincial leadership, Katumbi’s position as governor of the former province of Katanga has been unclear.

Election Delays

New governors had been scheduled to be elected on Tuesday. Mende said that instead, the government will appoint “special administrators” to manage the new provinces until new provincial assemblies are elected and new gubernatorial elections can be held. The votes for provincial assemblies are currently scheduled for Oct. 25.

Those elections may also be delayed and the interim solution may lead to destabilizing power battles in Congo’s main copper-producing region, said Wille at Control Risks. Mining companies including Baar, Switzerland-based Glencore Plc, Phoenix, Arizona-based Freeport McMoRan Inc. and Johannesburg-based AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. operate in the central African nation.

“Once new interim administrators are appointed, investors will increasingly be impacted by local power-struggles played out between Kabila and Katumbi loyalists,” he said.

The new province of Lualaba, which resulted from the break up of Katanga, is now the biggest source of Congo’s copper. The region’s mines have brought job-seekers from across the country, some of whom may feel be targeted by the ethnic communities that dominate the region, including the Yeke, Ndembo, Sanga and Lunda.

“There is already a proxy battle under way for control of Lualaba between Kabila and Katumbi which threatens to inflame ethnic and political tensions,” Philippe de Pontet, Africa head at New York-based advisory firm Eurasia Group, said in an e-mailed note to clients on Oct. 2. “Mining companies could be caught in the political crossfire.”

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