D.R. CONGO – Jockeying for position 7th January 2021

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President Félix Tshisekedi and ex-president Joseph Kabila

The struggle between the President and his predecessor overshadows everything, including a possible IMF programme

Politics during 2021 will be dominated by the power struggle between the two official winners – losers, in reality – of the 2018 presidential and parliamentary elections, President Félix Tshisekedi and ex-president Joseph Kabila (AC Vol 60 No 2, Data leak exposes plot to steal presidential vote). The battle intensified during the final month of 2020, when the President formally dissolved the coalition between his political formation, Cap pour le changement (CACH) and Kabila’s Front Commun pour le Congo, and announced his intention to form a new majority in the National Assembly that excludes the FCC. A day before, in an unprecedented move, security forces at Kinshasa’s N’djili airport were said to have prevented Kabila and his entourage from flying to Lubumbashi, where he had been due to meet FCC leaders to discuss their next moves (AC Vol 61 No 25, President nearer to power).

Congo-watchers are now wondering what Kabila will do next. There are indications that the ex-president continues to command the loyalty of senior commanders in the police and armed forces, but it is doubtful he would incite them to mount a coup d’état. It would be widely condemned and any resulting government would be unlikely to survive, causing Kabila long-term political damage.

‘Holy union’
Tshisekedi will meanwhile continue to try to build a new parliamentary majority, which he calls a union sacré (‘holy union’), hoping that enough FCC waverers can be turned, either by material inducement or their uncomfortable realisation that if Kabila’s movements can be so easily restricted, so can theirs. Tshisekedi may pull it off, but the outcome is finely balanced.

If the President manages to build his alliance in parliament, he will – amid considerable fanfare – brush aside the expected angry Kabilist objections that he has not followed due process, and appoint a new prime minister and government. Should the matter come to the Constitutional Court, it seems unlikely that the judges, several of whom were recently appointed by Tshisekedi – a move that the FCC also considers illegal – will rule against the President.

If, however, enough FCC deputies hold firm and Tshisekedi fails in his bid, the President has said that he will dissolve the Assembly and call fresh elections. The FCC insists that this would be unconstitutional unless it came with the backing of the presidents of the National Assembly and Senate, who are both FCC leaders and certain to refuse it. Whether the FCC’s objections will be enough to stop Tshisekedi pressing ahead seems highly doubtful (AC Vol 61 No 22, Stepping back from the brink).

Holding elections would be extremely difficult without donor funding. Donors may think it is better for the FCC-CACH contest to be decided at the polls, instead of through the current manoeuvrings.

The 2021 budget has made it through the National Assembly but must still go to the Senate, where it may now become marooned for a while, because of the political impasse. If this happens, the government will still find ways to get its money this year, but its delicate negotiations for a new lending programme with the IMF may come unstuck. The government desperately needs the money a new programme would release from the Fund and from other donors too, because public sector pay arrears and domestic debt have risen to dangerously high levels (AC Vol 61 No 24, Tshisekedi’s moment of truth).

International copper and cobalt demand should pick up during 2021, as the global economy begins to recover, and with it the metals’ price, Congo-Kinshasa’s export earnings and the government’s tax revenues. An additional factor set to push up the cobalt price in 2021 is the anticipated steep rise in demand for electric vehicles. The state-owned mining company Gécamines is set to launch its much-anticipated subsidiary, Entreprise Générale de Cobalte, with financial backing from Swiss commodities trader Trafigura, which will also be the minerals off-taker, in early 2021. The government intends EGC to be the monopoly buyer of all artisanally mined cobalt but whether it will be able to match the prices offered by existing buyers remains to be seen (AC Vol 61 No 5, Why Africa is key to Green Economics). If the EGC cannot match these buyers’ prices, but tries to enforce its monopoly nonetheless, the certain result will be more minerals fraud and smuggling.

Gold smuggling from the country to its eastern neighbours will remain rife during 2021 (AC Vol 61 No 13, A golden hoard). The capacity of regional gold refiners continues to expand, meaning that their appetite for Congolese product will inevitably grow too. Nearly all this gold will be smuggled out of Congo-K. Also set to rise is industrial gold production, principally from the Kibali mine in Haut Uele province, which is operated by Barrick Gold, which is already one of the biggest gold producers in Africa, producing roughly one million ounces of gold during 2020.

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