Shannon Ebrahim

One has to wonder whether the people of the DRC will ever control their own destiny. Their leaders are forever being played like puppets, their strings manipulated by powers far removed from the reality of the people on the ground. One president after another has been captured by the lure of great wealth, and the one who would have actually delivered the nation’s wealth to the people was assassinated by foreign forces in 1961 - that being the legendary Patrice Lumumba.
This being an election year in the DRC is no exception. The various puppet masters are out in full force, working behind the scenes to manipulate the outcome.

There is no question that most want the incumbent, President Joseph Kabila, out. The question is, will it be through the barrel of a gun, or will he go quietly into the night, taking his riches with him? It is said that since taking power he has amassed for his family hundreds of millions of dollars.

So who exactly are these puppet masters and what are their agendas?

The arch manipulator appears to be Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who also seconds as the chairperson of the African Union.

For Rwanda it is all about ensuring access to the lucrative and strategic resources of the eastern DRC, as well as preventing a threat to Kagame’s regime from emanating across the border. To protect Rwanda’s national interests, Kagame sees the need to control whoever governs the DRC.

Kagame is using his position as AU chair to try to convince other African leaders that Moïse Katumbi is the most credible opposition leader to rule the DRC. Katumbi is a wealthy businessman and former governor of the mineral-rich Katanga province of the DRC, who has been in self-imposed exile in Belgium since 2016. Katumbi, however, remains unpopular with the Congolese people and is perceived as a puppet of Kagame, just as Kabila had been perceived previously.

What is becoming increasingly apparent is that Rwanda may intend to intervene militarily in the DRC, under the cover of an armed rebellion, if Kabila insists on standing for a third term. Katumbi allegedly met with Kagame in Davos in January this year to discuss a plan to seize power in Kinshasa if necessary.

According to various reports, ex-M23 officers are being mobilised for a potential military expedition in the DRC, with efforts at recruitment in Congolese refugee camps in Rwanda.

It just so happens that Katumbi’s father-in-law is an outspoken opponent of Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza - the arch nemesis of Kagame. Katumbi’s father-in-law has been active in the exiled Burundian opposition group Forces Républicaines Burundais, created in March in Kigali, allegedly with backing from Rwandan military intelligence.

As if the web of intrigue isn’t complicated enough, enter the presidents of Angola and France, who are pulling their own strings in this grand performance.

French President Emmanuel Macron is working in tandem on this issue with both Kagame and Angolan President João Lourenço. Last month, after a visit to Paris by Lourenco, Macron went as far as to say, “France supports the initiative taken by the president of the African Union, in strict concert with the president of Angola”.

Earlier in May, the Angolan interior minister had travelled to Kigali, much to the chagrin of Kabila, and Lourenco has subsequently said that elections in the DRC were a priority, and Kabila should not stand again.

Among the other contenders for political power in this year’s elections are former vice-president and warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba, expected back in the country now he has been acquitted of war crimes charges in The Hague.

There is also Félix Tshisekedi, the leader of the largest opposition party.

Katumbi is strategically calling for a union of opposition parties, seeking to join forces with both Bemba and Tshisekedi to unseat Kabila’s ruling party.

Currently Katumbi is being tried in absentia in Kinshasa for recruiting and arming mercenaries, but even at the risk of being arrested, Katumbi plans to return to Kinshasa in late July to register for the elections in December.

It seems he has been emboldened by the support of his foreign backers.

What is wholly lost in all this posturing is any talk of an ideological platform or tangible election manifesto of what any of these potential leaders really plan to do to improve the lives of the people of the Congo. The Congolese people remain some of the poorest on the African continent despite the country’s immense mineral wealth.

What does this case study actually tell us? Does it suggest that without powerful and resourceful foreign backers, no aspirant and visionary leader in the DRC will ever make it?

* Shannon Ebrahim is the group foreign editor

The Sunday Independent