Independent Media’s Group Foreign Editor Shannon Ebrahim was given an exclusive interview by the man being touted in the DRC as the new Patrice Lumumba.
Having been to the DRC in the past and met opposition leaders in their homes, I always wished a new Patrice Lumumba would one day emerge - and he has. I have finally met an aspirant Congolese leader who personifies all the values and nationalism that Lumumba espoused - he is the youthful (forty-something) and charismatic Alain Daniel Shekomba. Shekomba has not only captured my imagination, but that of Congo’s youth, and currently sits as the fourth most popular presidential candidate according to local polls.
Shekomba is a man without a party, vying for next month’s December elections as an Independent - but what he has is far more effective than any political party - and that is a movement of young people that want change, and to transform governance from being about “serve me” to being about “send me” - sounds like the Congolese version of Thuma Mina.
The Shekomba wave has a name - the Mission Nouvelles platform - and the political class don’t yet know what has hit them. It is just what the DRC needs at this juncture in its history - a visionary who will put the people of Congo first, and has a plan of how to do it. That is what distinguishes Shekomba from the other opposition candidates - most of whom have spent years enmeshed in DRC politics with little or no program of how to transform a country which is one of the poorest in the world, into one that delivers to its people. Just imagine what can be done when mineral extraction from the DRC is worth US$4 trillion annually.
Shekomba is no stranger to revolutionary politics - he was a student leader at the University of Kinshasa when Laurent Kabila had him arrested. He then went into exile completing his MBA and becoming the CEO of a telecommunications company in Equatorial Guinea. Shekomba had always been shocked as a student that the University of Kinshasa, which boasts a student population of 40,000, had no toilets and students had to bring plastics to relieve themselves.
Two decades later that situation hadn’t changed. So Shekomba, who had become an IT engineer, exported portable toilets to the University of Kinshasa, and developed an App so that students could use their mobile phones to login in and open the toilets and the equivalent of R2 would be charged and go towards the upkeep of the toilets. So simple, yet never done before.
Shekomba announced his candidacy for president in October last year, and wasted no time in challenging the youth of Kinshasa to send him an email if they were interested in joining his new movement Mission Nouvelles. Within two weeks 30,000 emails came through and his email crashed. Young people, which make up 70% of the population of the DRC, identify with him, as he represents a new hope with no ties to the corrupt and stale politics of the existing political establishment. His reach is nationwide, and not confined to any particular region or a tribe. Current political parties in the DRC are for the most part both regional and tribal. Shekomba’s father came from the Kivus in Eastern Congo, and his mother from central Congo in Kasai-Oriental. If anything he sees himself as a Congolese nationalist - free from definitions of tribe or state.
Shekomba’s clearly defined political program is called the 12 Engagements, and among his key priorities is to rid government of corruption, reform the public administration, secure the territory of the DRC and its people, and ensure the equitable distribution of the nation’s resources. He is quick to emphasize that 87% of Congolese live under the poverty line. He believes that the reason the initial opposition alliance collapsed was because opposition parties have failed to define what the problems in the DRC are, or rallied behind a common action plan.
There is a dearth of vision among the current opposition leaders - Moise Katumbi who was prevented from running in the election is the former Governor of Katanga province and best known for having looted the state’s minerals. Jean-Pierre Bemba who was also prevented from running is a former rebel leader, his forces being accused of killing civilians.
Shekomba is free of all those skeletons, and when you talk to him it is all about social justice, the need for strong state intervention, free education and health care for Congolese, and the need to court foreign investment. He supports the state giving licences to private companies in order to improve service delivery and create employment. While he is a socialist at heart, he is also a businessman, and is firmly against nationalisation of any kind.
I was very interested to know which countries he would turn to if he became President, especially considering his priority of professionalising the DRC armed forces in order to empower them to quell the instability in the country, particularly in the East. A lot hinged on his answer given the history of the DRC, but he proved to be as non-aligned as Lumumba had been in reality.
In the context of 2019, Shekomba said he would turn to African states like South Africa to help train the DRC army and make it more effective at keeping the peace. The DRC is faced with a massive challenge of having more than 200 armed groups wreaking havoc in the east of the country. After all it was the South African intervention force in Eastern Congo that had been effective in neutralising the M23 rebel group. MONUSCO has not much to show for its 20 years in the DRC. Shekomba also points out that current DRC army generals are paid the equivalent of US$50 a month, which explains why they do very little to earn their salaries.
Shekomba is a realist when he says that those outside of Africa are never going to intervene to silence the guns in the DRC or die for the Congo. He is right - the Congo has to become self-reliant and take charge of its own destiny. It seems Shekomba has come closer than any other post-independence presidential candidate to articulating such a vision, save for Lumumba. Now it is for SADC to get behind his vision of hope.