Félix Tshisekedi, of the opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), was declared January 10 the provisionally-elected president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. With a final tally due by January 15, Tshisekedi can look forward to succeeding outgoing President Joseph Kabila roughly January 18 in what will be the Congo’s first democratic and non-violent transfer of presidential power.
Of the vote breakdown, Congo’s independent electoral commission stated that Tshisekedi secured almost 39% of the presidential vote that was held December 30. Runner-up Martin Fayulu, of the Lamuka alliance, was determined to have won roughly 35% of the vote. Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, the candidate running on the incumbent government’s Common Front for Congo platform, came in third place with about 24% of votes cast.
Tshisekedi’s principal tasks in the days ahead will be to temper disappointment as well as expectations as to his victory. While some foreign observers, notably the African Union, expressed satisfaction with the conduct of the election, others, notably France and the Catholic Church, have disputed the validity of the outcome. Fayulu’s party has already stated the outcome was an “electoral coup.”
In Tshisekedi’s favor are an apparently constructive relationship with the outgoing Kabila administration, who has been in power since 2001. Kabila himself succeeded his father, Laurent Kabila, who became Congo’s president in 1997 after leading a successful national rebellion to overthrow then-President Mobutu Sese Seko, following the elder Kabila’s assassination by a bodyguard. Joseph Kabila was subsequently elected president in 2006 and reelected in 2011.
What Kabila and his regime enablers will want from Tshisekedi are guarantees from persecution for possible crimes or malfeasance committed during the Kabila era. Perhaps with foresight, the Kabila-led government passed in 2018 legislation providing for security and political guarantees not only for the outgoing president but senior members of governing institutions. Kabila himself is likely to now serve as Senator-for-life, guaranteeing him immunity from prosecution, though given how Tshisekedi has lauded the soon-to-be ex-president for his conduct and leadership, he can look forward to joining the club of elder statesmen representing African interests nationally, continentally, and globally.
As for Tshisekedi’s policy priorities, given his long-standing experiences as an active participant in and defender of Congo politics, he is not likely to deviate significantly from the style of Kabila’s governance that promoted a resurgent defense of the country’s political and economic interests. The Kabila administration in 2018 had passed significant legislative and regulatory reforms, notably with the new Mining Code, that imposed higher operating costs, to include increased royalty rates and windfall taxes, on foreign mining companies active but hitherto largely autonomous in the Congo. Despite possessing an abundance of natural resources including world-class deposits of cobalt, copper, and coltan, the Congo government and citizenry remain largely impoverished, to which difficult geography and a dispersed and diverse population as well as, to be sure, often-adverse policy choices have contributed to.
Given how, despite the increase in 2018 of political risk operating costs to doing business in the Congo and bluster from foreign mining companies, mineral exports and government revenues significantly rose the same year. Tshisekedi will likely analyze these factors and assert, as Kabila did, that a defense of Congo’s material interests against foreign political and economic manipulation is intolerable. This is not inconsistent with the new government promoting itself as being open for business, however open with the full and historical knowledge, which Tshisekedi and Kabila both possessed, of how Congo governments and the citizenry at times of geopolitical weakness have fallen vulnerable to foreign actors, both political and economic, holding material interests in the country. To this point, Fayulu’s support base among European-based activists and governments put him on a divergent path from Tshisekedi and Kabila’s approach to asserting Congo’s imperatives.
Much diplomatic activity should be expected in the coming days, as Tshisekedi and his Union for Democracy and Social Progress reach out to the Kabila regime, the Fayulu-led opposition, and foreign diplomats and companies president in the country. But should there be in fact confidence held as to the interests and expectations of the outgoing and incoming Congo governments, Tshisekedi can look forward to the country’s judicial, political and security apparatus providing for him to ensure a legal due process resulting in the Congo’s first ever peaceful transfer of presidential power.