Kabila in Katanga- Reading between the lines

For around two weeks now, Congolese political news has been dominated by the return to Lubumbashi of Governor Moïse Katumbi on 23 December 2014, alongside various interpretations of his metaphor-rich speech in front of an immense crowd at the Place Moïse Tshombe. It is now widely understood that Katumbi opposes a third term in office for Kabila and also has the support of the president of the Provincial Assembly Kyungu wa Kumwanza, who himself campaigns against the territorial division outlined in the 2006 constitution.

President Kabila, compelled to react to the turmoil faced by his majority at the centre of his electoral heartland, addressed a meeting of the political elite of Katanga on 5 January 2015, and called on leaders to rally together and preserve the unity of Katanga. However, neither the governor nor the president of the Provincial Assembly was present.

The main points of his speech

The most noteworthy points in the President’s speech were, firstly his silence on a possible candidature for 2016, secondly his wish to go through with the territorial division and thirdly his desire to keep working until the final day of his term. He also made a point of reminding leaders that he is just as much a Katangan as they are, and that the province, although rich, is not superior to others. Furthermore, he refused to respond personally to either individual comments or political polemics. However, a more detailed analysis of his proposal reveals that he did respond indirectly to both the governor and president of the Provincial Assembly.

What he said and what went unnoticed

From the 30th minute of the speech (link below), President Kabila reminds the provincial authorities of Katanga that they do not have a different statute to other provinces and that they have a duty to represent and respond to the central government as well as territorial bodies. Then in the 32nd minute he recommends that those who disagree with the central government resign. He sends a warning to those who might be tempted to use their position to start a trial of strength with the central government, reminding them that he gave them their authority and so they are accountable to him not the other way around.

President Kabila then goes further, mentioning questions of security at the heart of the province and actually threatening those who aim to divide the populations of Katanga (36:45’). He makes a commitment, from the 37th minute, to deal with those who want to destabilise the province, and to destroy all militia operating in Katanga.

The final veiled reference against Governor Katumbi is an economic one (53:40). The president talks about the numerous lorries transporting minerals that he sees when travelling to Likasi, Kolwezi or Kasumbalesa. It’s difficult not to make the link with the Governor’s transport company which enjoys, according to some, a kind of monopoly of minerals transportation in Katanga.

In a speech which was aimed at keeping the peace, Joseph Kabila nonetheless hints at points which could be considered useful angles of attack if Katumbi were to decide to officially distance himself from the majority. The State authority, the superiority of central government, as well as economic sanctions could be used against Moïse Katumbi if required.

An open confrontation between Katangans?

Opinion is currently divided. It is impossible to confirm whether or not President Kabila and Governor Katumbi are still on speaking terms. In public, however, the latter is keeping a certain distance from the former. For instance: Katumbi’s noticeable absence not only from the meeting on 5 January 2015, but also from his own farm when Kabila stopped there on New Year’s Day. It’s hard to believe that he had not been informed of this visit by the protocol.

What will be the political position of the Governor of Katanga in the medium term? Will he continue to keep one foot in the majority and the other outside or will he cross the point of no return? If Moïse Katumbi decides to officially break away from the majority in the coming weeks, the situation in Katanga will be more than tense. It is quite probable that the authorities, who would not accept having an opponent at the head of this strategic province, will try to remove him from his position as governor. We could refer to the examples of Vital Kamerhe in the National Assembly in 2009 or the election in Kinshasa in 2007 of a governor from the majority by a provincial assembly dominated by the opposition.

In the case of a split, it would also be difficult for a governor, turned opponent, but still legally answerable to the interior minister, to freely and fully perform his functions for two years.

Will Moïse Katumbi risk losing his position as governor and all the advantages associated with it? The difficulty for the majority, however, would be to get rid of the popular Moïse Katumbi who demonstrated his strength two weeks ago and who appears to have a large number of supporters in the Katangan political class. Who would follow him if he broke away from the majority and who would stay loyal to President Kabila? One thing is certain, Katanga would be divided.

Will we witness a divorce between Moïse Katumbi and Joseph Kabila over the coming weeks? I don’t think so. Neither one has any interest in such a confrontation. President Kabila would not risk turning his back on a part of Katanga when he has other burning issues to deal with. Furthermore, his attitude since his arrival in Katanga has been rather conciliatory.

As far as Governor Katumbi is concerned, he also has no interest in creating permanent conflict with a president of the Republic who still enjoys all the powers of his position and who, until it has been proved otherwise, controls the army. The position taken by the Governor of Katanga over the last couple of weeks has allowed him to put some pressure on a president who may not yet have made his decision for 2016, whilst at the same time positioning himself within the heart of the majority as a potential successor.

Joseph Kabila’s speech to leaders in Katanga https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMTsQwB8rIU 

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