Kinois Crystal Balls: Elections, Census, and Constitution

With about two years left until the end of President Kabila’s current mandate, pre-electoral rumblings in Kinshasa, DRC in general, and the outside world have gained extraordinary momentum in the past couple of months. Jason Stearns (on census and on constitution), Manya Riche & Kris Berwouts recently published a couple of very helpful and illuminating analyses on the surrounding issues, which have also been covered on this blog a while ago. Moreover, a couple of recent interviews with key Congolese stakeholders provide additional flavour of the political climate around the questions at stake, for instance UNC’s Vital Kamerhe and UDPS’s Albert Moleka.

A main reason for the prevailing complexity in drawing a clear picture and possible scenarios lies in the high connectivity between the various cornerstones around which these debates are framed. Coupled with uncertainties linked to the characteristics of DRC’s political arena, the following points stand out in the resulting conundrum: constitution, census, local elections, presidential succession, and national security. The following analysis will treat them one by one.


DRC’s current constitution is clear: The Presidential mandate goes five years and is renewable once. After the assassination of his father, Joseph Kabila assumed interim, led the country through the 1+4 transition period and stood successfully for election twice (in 2006 and 2011, notwithstanding controversies attached to these elections). In theory, he would have to step down in 2016. Article 70 states that

Le Président de la République est élu au suffrage universel direct pour un mandat de cinq ans renouvelable une seule fois. À la fin de son mandat, le Président de la République reste en fonction jusqu’à l’installation effective du nouveau Président élu.

However, preceding the 2011 elections, the subsequent article 71 has been altered and the prescribed run-off poll was abolished in favour of a simple majority in the first round. Technically, this helped Kabila secure his victory over Etienne Tshisekedi and Vital Kamerhe. In addition, the incumbent President is supposed to remain acting head of state until new elections have been held – a scenario that may be invoked under certain circumstances. As importantly, (s)he is also entitled to declare the state of emergency. The second key article of the constitution is 220:

La forme républicaine de l’État, le principe du suffrage universel, la forme représentative du Gouvernement, le nombre et la durée des mandats du Président de la République, l’indépendance du Pouvoir judiciaire, le pluralisme politique et syndical, ne peuvent faire l’objet d’aucune révision constitutionnelle. Est formellement interdite toute révision constitutionnelle ayant pour objet ou pour effet de réduire les droits et libertés de la personne, ou de réduire les prérogatives des provinces et des entités territoriales décentralisées.

The said article so far stood at the centre of continuous debate. As early as mid-2013, the first popular and opposition movements took to Kinshasa’s streets under the slogan “ne touche pas à mon 220”. These were followed by vivid media discussions were international commentators and opposition politicians pre-emptively warned the Congolese government to alter the constitution in regards to Presidential term limits or electoral modalities. And in fact, as influential members of Kabila’s entourage have confirmed, the Majorité Présidentielle (MP) had already been developing some workarounds. Modifying the constitution is possible by four different trajectories, in addition to that the advent to the 2011 poll already featured a modification. The key tactics of the governmental layers turned out to be avoiding article 70 – obviously protected by 220 – and instead changing the 22o itself, which funnily is not protected the same way.

However, these attempts have provoked intense discussion within the MP and other political forces considered friendly to the government (basically those who willingly participated in the concertations nationales). For instance, Pierre Lumbi’s MSR, currently the largest coalition partner of Kabila’s PPRD in terms of national assembly seats, opposed any modification. Lumbi himself is also a security advisor to Kabila and reportedly an influential figure in the inner circle. Another heavyweight, Senate speaker Léon Kengo wa Dondo, uttered similar statements. Within PPRD, Evariste Boshab, the party’s secretary-general was among the most vocal pro-modification advocates. Others, such as Aubin Minaku (currently speaker of the national assembly), but also Prime Minister Matata Ponyo Mapon, have remained very silent.

All the while, and in the past three months in particular, a diverse range of actors have stepped up their campaigning against constitutional change. Motivated in part by strong international positioning (e.g. John Kerry’s remarks on that matter), large swaths of Congolese civil society and especially the Catholic church are leading this movement. The ousting of Blaise Compaoré in Burkina Faso provided them with a further push. Attempting to change the constitution of his country after having been in power for almost three decades, Compaoré found himself in an endless motorcade towards Cote d’Ivoire after a week of massive popular uprising. These news have been watched closely by all sorts of actors in Kinshasa.

As a consequence of all this, the constitutional change option has waned from the political arsenal at the time being but with two years left until elections are due, this may not be the final word. On the other side, internal discussions over potential crown princes are likely to heat up again.

Presidential Succession

Joseph Kabila came to power as interim head of state in succession to the late Laurent-Désiré Kabila. Within the past 14 years, he managed to fortify the larger family’s position at the driving seat of power in DRC. His siblings Zoé and Jaynet occupy key functions and mandates, while Olive Lembe – his wife – emerged as influential as his mother Mama Sifa. Both Jaynet and Olive have already been mentioned as potential successors in case Kabila had to step down.

The President himself has been as silent on this matter than on any other aspect relating to his future and his position. An overwhelming number of reports and sources, however, tend to display Kabila as different to the cliché big man and not necesarily cherishing eternal presidency. According to members of his entourage he was even reluctant to take on the job in the first place, while accommodating well later on. Still, his thirst for a third mandate appears to be motivate by the quest to secure his and his family’s security and possession – in particular in Kinshasa and Katanga. Placing his wife or his sister would be a fairly shellproof way to ensure that aim.

Looking across the PPRD hemisphere, other candidates have repeatedly been named as potential sucessors. Most observers believe Boshab is too sharp to be sold to the international community but assembly head Minaku appears more moderate. Still, his fate did not develop as steadily anymore according to certain insiders who believe his networks are not encompassing enough. Prime Minister Matata has found increasing enjoyment in politics ever since he took on his current job and transformed from mere technocrat into a well versed and competent politician. His macro-economic performance is probably the best one a Prime Minister lately had in the country. However, while to some extend protected by Kabila he certainly does not belong to the closest power circles. The latter has been volatile since Katumba Mwanke passed away. Any succession deal under his auspices would probably have had meticulous oversight by the former eminence grise.

Almost myriad other names have been circulating, most prominently Moise Katumbi and Jean-Claude Masangu, as well as a row of other Katangan elites (both northerners and southerners) but this carousel is likely to turn a few more rounds before a clear tendency is observable. Key question for now is whether by then constitutional change has remained a taboo or not – because Kabila staying in power himself may end up being the best compromise between competing flanks of his entourage. Surprisingly, this is also the case for the Katangan establishment. Despite both northerners (including Kabila’s own fief) and southerners disapprove of their president, they remain united by the belief that another President (especially if from a different part of the country) may well be worse of a choice.


Although tightly linked to the whole electoral process for its timing, the planned national census needs to be discussed separately. Exactly three decades ago, the last countrywide population counting exercise was carried out. Now – as decreed by Kabila in mid-October and loosely following up on earlier plans – the project takes shape again. A National Office for the Identification of the Population (ONIP) is being created under the leadership of former Minister of Interior Adolphe Lumamu and tasked with organising that huge project. Technically, this does not have anything to do with Presidential Elections (as Riche and Berwouts have argued) and financially the whole endeavour remains unclear (as Stearns has argued) but a few interesting implications come up.

First of all, it can be argued the census is indispensable to establish correct voter registration for the local elections, which in turn are supposed to happen prior to the Presidential ones. Then, independently from ONIP announced a few weeks ago, the current Minister of Interior Richard Muyej had months before begun sending around GIS teams to travel across wide parts of the country to re-assess the boundaries of electoral circumscriptions (as a footnote – this has already sparked controversy and tensions with customary authorities and local defence groups in the Kivus).

Such technocratic efforts are inevitably Janus-faced: while they increase the potential for more credible bureaucratic and political processes, their cost and logistical challenges likely result in massive delay and, hence, postponement of the elections supposed to build on their outcome. Again, for the Presidential elections these measures are not necessary and those have not been announced anyway at this point, but the calendar for the local elections already appears to be slightly delayed with the census not even started. A scenario in which it could be completed early enough to maintain July or August 2015 as an endpoint for the local elections is hardly realistic.

Local Elections

Under the current constitution of the DRC, such elections have never taken place. As little has the country been de facto decentralised into 26 instead of 11 provinces – another provision stipulated by the current constitution. With decentralisation – in particular in regards to the distribution of state income – still being far away, things have been moving in the field of local elections. A full calendar includes three waves of polls (local, municipal, urban) in at least 1435 circumscriptions as the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) currently estimates. Given a census and the ongoing reassessment of circumscriptions could significantly alter this number, this are even more unclear.

Definitely though, these elections will not only cost a tremendous amount of money (with donor support rather cool at this stage) the Congolese government is unlikely to come up with on its own – they may also emerge as a crucial factor of instability. Bearing in mind, in particular in the eastern parts of the country, how past elections have impacted local security (e.g. Masisi 2011), the prospect of one and a half thousand or more circumscriptions brings a high chance of widespread violent forms of competition. Points of contest will include who is eligible where, who is allowed to vote where etc. This may sound petty, but in territories where colonial brutality and post-colonial liberalism has undermined original forms of social organisation, the notion of elections includes a certain pattern of pyromancy if the bomb noses are ignored.

In the political sphere, local elections are currently mostly discussed as a delay strategy to allow Kabila staying in power for a certain while beyond 2016 without touching the constitution. Seeing these polls in conjunction with the census, there is good chances for the whole process to last at least until 2018. Moreover, many donors have been cajoling and pressuring at the same time for these elections to be held after DRC’s last Presidential ones. Certain voices in the Congolese government started whispering that one should take the international community’s wishes seriously in that point and put a clear priority on local election even if – or especially if – they delay the further electoral calendar.

National Security

As earlier mentioned, the President’s sole prerogative is the state of emergency – an expression of ultimate top-down sovereignty. It is certainly exaggerated to claim the recent military reshuffle was the ultimate preparation to Kabila taking this avenue and mandating Tango Four to crack down on Kinshasa’s entire opposition scene but to some extent strategic predispositions are set for instances of heightened trouble in certain parts of the DRC. Further shocks to the volatile security situation are not to be excluded either. While the Mukungubila episode – as mysterious as it remains up to now – was probably as little a serious coup attempt as the staged coup of February 2011, similar incidents are not impossible. This adds to the lingering dangers of escalation in the Kivus, with Beni standing out as the most intricate and complex example these days. The mostly frozen state of DDR further complicates the situation.








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