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Tshisekedi: What next for Kabila after crushing defeat in DR Congo poll?

Joseph Kabila has invoked everything within his reach to try and cling on to power. On his chessboard, not a single piece has not been moved to protect the Black King. From ‘Maseke ya Meme’ (Sheep’s horn or talisman) — in this case the Horse — to pawns and even recently the Bishops, Kabila has moved every piece but fate.

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KINSHASA | Felix Tshisekedi is president-elect of DR Congo. The Opposition leader won a tightly contested and much-delayed presidential vote to end outgoing President Joseph Kabila’s two-year ping-pong with the country’s top executive seat.

Since his term of office ended in 2016, Kabila has engaged Congolese citizens in a power ping-pong that has seen presidential election postponed at least twice. So will he actually bow in and let the democratic transition take its course?

Sendo Cleaners

He has invoked everything within his reach to try and cling on to power. On his chessboard, not a single piece has not been moved to protect the Black King. From ‘Maseke ya Meme’ (Sheep’s horn or talisman) — in this case the Horse — to pawns and even recently the Bishops, Kabila has moved every piece but fate.

In the early hours of Thursday, the head of DR Congo’s National Electoral Commission (Ceni), Corneille Nangaa, said Tshisekedi had received seven million votes (38.5%) and had been “provisionally declared the elected president.”

This provisional results put him ahead of another opposition candidate, Martin Fayulu, and the ruling coalition’s Emmanuel Shadary.

The vast central African state is so restive it has never seen a democratic transition since Joseph Kasavubu, the first post-independence president, took office in 1960. Kasavubu’s presidency was thrown into turmoil within months.

Since then, there has been Patrice Lumumba, a prime minister who was sacked and assassinated before Mobutu Sese Seko took over in 1965 and ruled with an iron fist until Laurent Desire Kabila ended his stronghold in 1997.

The senior Kabila was assassinated in 2001 and a younger Joseph Kabila, who is stepping down after 18 years in office, took over.

Kabila has always promised to hand over power in a democratic transition, to do what more panel-beaten politicians and warlords before him had failed to do. But living that promise appeared to be a hard ask as his tenure ended.

The ping-pong

Ahead of the end of his tenure in 2016, Kabila attempted to use parliament to scrap the two-term presidential limit to allow him run for re-election. He was met with the fury of the Congolese people who took to the streets of Kinshasa and threatened to force him out of office.

Kabila is not battle-hardened despite living a good years of his formative life in the bush, Shadary beside him. However, he had the nose to smell the fury of his people from the comfort of his presidential palace. He was aware that a musician as famous as Koffi Olomide had bore the brunt of the people in January 2015.

Protesting a parliament vote that stayed elections, the people stormed Koffi’s Grand Mapao motel in Kinshasa and ransacked it. They were looking for a chair Koffi called a “throne” that “belonged to Kabila.” This, from Koffi’s music videos, isn’t one the citizens could forget easily.

Kabila backed down in his dream and kept on backing down under every pressure poked by the Opposition supporters in Kinshasa.

In 2018, he finally ran out of excuses and there appeared few options on the chessboard for him to make a move. The options would see him in a checkmate. He chose to hold for last and went for the jugular, announcing elections for December 2018 to officially declare he was stepping down.

But not before moving his Rooks to capture and deactivate two of the biggest challengers he assumed posed the most threat to his “other dream.”

Former vice-president and International Criminal Court convict Jean-Pierre Bemba was blocked from the December poll. The Congolese constitutional court ruled that he was guilty of a witness tampering conviction at the International Criminal Court.

Kabila and Shadary have come a long way together

Kabila also expunged Moise Katumbi, a wealthy businessman who remains exiled. He was blocked from returning to Kinshasa. Not even attempts to enter through Kigali using Paul Kagame’s newfound ties with Kabila could appease the Congolese strongman.

In capturing Bemba and Katumbi and putting them out of the chessboard, Kabila hoped and believed that his “other dream” of using a proxy to dub the presidential seat on his behalf would be the magical move.

But it was a poisoned chalice from the start. Emmanuel Shadary, a little-known former deputy premier and interior minister, is said by many to have earned the nickname “Back To Back” for his role in putting down a succession of opposition protests in 2017.

The crackdown, which turned deadly, led to him being sanctioned by the European Union.

In putting out Bemba and Katumbi, Kabila thought he had tilted the playground enough for his handpicked loyal follower to score the much-needed poll victory. He believed Felix Tshisekedi was not yet good enough to step in his late father Etienne Tshisekedi’s shoes.

Kabila also believed the likes of Fayulu would not pose enough threat. But the Congolese people were not baying for democratic change by any other name, they wanted to see a totally new face without any attachment to Kabila to it.

The election results were expected out last weekend, by which time Kabila already knew the outcome. The announcement was delayed with Kabila this time moving the Bishops into his castle, literally, for one last ping-pong chess move.

In the mineral-rich and restive vast country, clergies have a large say in politics. By Sunday, Catholic bishops claimed they knew the winner and even had own independent tally of the vote outcome at hand.

Being the cradle for the world’s most on-demand minerals, any smoke in Congo would give the waiting vultures the chance to stomp the country for minerals under the guise of peacekeeping — which they are already doing anyway.

Credit to Kabila for trying to avoid such a scenario. The minerals are being exploited. And will always be. But a peaceful Congo means some vested interests have no excuse to nose into the country. War has always been their biggest excuse.

Kabila charted peaceful transition in the meeting with a delegation from the National Episcopal Conference of the Congo as outside, his loyalists tried one last trump card or what was left of it, casting Felix Tshisekedi out as a fraud who had submitted forged academic documents to the electoral commission.

It was claimed that a diploma in Language and Communication certificate that Tshisekedi had submitted with the Independent National Electoral Commission obtained during 1991 at the Institute of Commercial Careers in Brussels, Belgium, could not be authenticated.

The parties behind the attempt claimed that the Belgian institution had verified and rejected Tshisekedi’s documents saying they have never offered such a course.

But has Kabila now exhausted all his moves as he stares onto the board in a check position? Will he willingly bow his Black King down and allow the will of the people to take its course? Or will he join Fayulu in rejecting the outcome?

Immediately after the electoral commission announcement, Fayulu dismissed the results as having “nothing to do with the truth”.

“The Congolese people will never accept such a fraud,” he told the BBC, adding: “Felix Tshisekedi never got seven million votes. Where did he get them from?”

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