Expectations are high for the DRC’s new president.
Felix Antoine Tshisekedi was inaugurated Jan. 24 following former President Joseph Kabila’s surprise decision to recognize his election and surrender power. Tshisekedi ran on promises to curtail corruption, establish democratic institutions and a credible judicial system, increase foreign investment, end violence in the east, and reduce poverty – promises that many DRC citizens appear to have taken seriously. Massive political, structural, and economic obstacles stand in the way of these goals and high expectations among the populace mean that Tshisekedi will likely face immediate backlash for any failures, missteps, or even just stalls in progress. Supporters of the new president have high expectations regarding the future of the country, and Tshisekedi is under pressure to deliver immediately.
Tshisekedi’s most immediate problem is that the national and provincial legislatures are dominated by Kabila’s allies. As a result, the new president will be forced to negotiate with leaders from the previous administration whose policies citizens now explicitly expect him to buck. Three months into his presidency, Tshisekedi has yet to form a government but is also avoiding making any unilateral decisions that could upset Kabila’s allies. Ultimately, enthusiasm for Tshisekedi’s presidency could begin to evaporate and give way to widespread resentment if his reform efforts stall.
Tshisekedi’s Political and Institutional Reform Challenges
Just weeks after Tshisekedi was sworn in Jan. 24, the Common Front for Congo (FCC) - an alliance of several prominent political parties - pledged allegiance and reaffirmed their loyalty to former President Joseph Kabila, who they say is their moral leader. The FCC has demanded Tshisekedi appoint one of its members as the country's prime minister. In the meantime, cabinet positions remain filled by members of Kabila’s administration. Kabila will likely continue to influence the FCC and the country's politics as a whole. Tshisekedi has sought to assure his supporters that he will be the one governing, even if he forms a coalition with the FCC, but he will likely be forced to accommodate the FCC on a range of issues. The FCC’s majority in the National Assembly and Senate gives it control over the approval of the prime minister, cabinet ministers, and all bills. As a result, the FCC can easily block Tshisekedi’s political agenda in the event of a dispute.
Can Tshisekedi Meet Expectations for Change?
Tshisekedi has pledged to end rampant corruption, reduce armed violence in the volatile eastern provinces, establish new democratic institutions, build a friendly business environment, and improve the lives of citizens. Since taking office, Tshisekedi has used presidential orders to release political prisoners, close illegal prisons, and fire unpopular ministers left over from Kabila’s government. These actions have been popular among the president’s supporters and avoided showdowns with the legislature, but Tshisekedi is unlikely to be able to meet his supporters’ expectations in the long run without passing legislation through the FCC-controlled National Assembly.
The structural challenges facing Tshisekedi’s campaign promises are huge. Petty corruption and graft are endemic throughout the country. Bribery is common and has become an intrinsic part of DRC government and society in the wake of systemically unpaid public wages. The DRC’s economy is deeply rooted in a vicious cycle where graft motivated by poverty stymies efforts to alleviate poverty. The country’s eastern provinces remain largely lawless and armed violence in those areas could continue to pose significant security threats to anyone operating there in the short-to-medium term.
Potential Risks to Operations
Planning is essential to avoid and overcome organizational risks associated with the new rule. A change in government can have an impact on continuity as the new government replaces previous policies. Understanding all potential risks and how they will affect your business is essential to ensuring the security of your organization, and the safety & well-being of your people. It’s important to understand how a change in government will affect your risk profile, including disruption to supply chains, risk of financial loss, and harm to employees and/or contractors.
Tshisekedi’s ability to bring about the change that the Congolese people and the international community will heavily depend on how he works with his rivals controlling the legislature. Tshisekedi may not be able to deliver results that satisfy voters if Kabila’s allies deliberately block his agenda. If the president is unable to improve the security situation in the east, reduce rampant corruption, or implement democratic reforms, dissatisfied voters will likely begin to withdraw their support. Some may take to the streets in the capital and other major cities, including the leader’s strongholds of Kinshasa, Mbuji-Mayi, and Kananga. Any demonstrations that may materialize could be political in nature and are unlikely to target foreign nationals or interests.
If your organization has operations in DRC, the following is advised:
- Avoid any political protest and areas with a heavy security presence; even peaceful protests can spontaneously result in clashes between security forces and protesters.
- If unrest erupts nearby, leave the area immediately and seek shelter in a non-governmental building such as a hotel.
- Avoid traveling at night in any part of the DRC
- Avoid conflict areas in the volatile eastern regions; if operating in these areas is unavoidable, obtain updated information on security conditions, especially in North Kivu, South Kivu, and Ituri Provinces, before driving outside larger population centers.
- Travel in guarded convoys during daylight hours, and carry communications equipment for emergency use, particularly if moving through identifiable conflict zones.
- Register and maintain contact with your diplomatic mission.
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