DR Congo: UDPS, the presidential party, in turmoil

Nothing is going right within Felix Tshisekedi’s party: the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS). And this has been going on for many months. Considered the beacon of opposition in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the party co-founded in hiding by the late Étienne Tshisekedi finds itself in the midst of the storm because of the non-application of certain provisions provided for in the party statutes after the election of Félix Tshisekedi as head of the country in January 2019. It is article 26 of the text which governs the internal life of the party which is called into question by its highest executives. At the heart of all quarrels and political negotiations: Jean-Marc Kabund-a-Kabund.

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Article “26”, at the heart of a clan war

It all begins just after the proclamation of Félix Tshisekedi by the National and Independent Electoral Commission (Ceni) as the winner of the December 2018 elections. In accordance with article 96 of the country’s current constitution which prohibits the head of state from exercising the functions of leader of a political party, Félix Tshisekedi was forced to resign from the presidency of the UDPS, inherited from his late father and emblematic opponent Étienne Tshisekedi who died in February 2017. Two days before his swearing in, Félix Tshisekedi therefore signed a special mandate to appoint Jean-Marc Kabund, then secretary general of the party to preside over this party, “for the purpose of ensuring his interim until the end of her unavailability”.

However, for the record, the statutes of this party, written in the 1980s in the context of a dictatorship under the Mobutu era and modified by Étienne Tshisekedi in 2013, provide, in its article 26, that in case of “resignation , definitive impediment, expiration of mandate or prohibition to exercise of the president of the party, a directory assumes its interim for a period not exceeding 30 days, during which it is held to convene an extraordinary session of the Congress with a view to the election of a new president of the party ”. For some caciques of the party, the “impediment” of Félix Tshisekedi is indeed definitive since his mandate at the head of the UDPS would have expired before the end of his mandate as head of state.

“I have always said that it was President Félix Tshisekedi who opened the breach, and this is what even explains his accomplice silence today,” said Jean Kalala, activist of the UDPS.

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The “legalists” facing the “usurpers or putschists”

From this confrontation emerged two main currents which clash within the UDPS, the “legalists” and the “usurpers”. On the one hand, the “legalist” current embodied by Victor Wakenda and Jacquemin Shabani, respectively president of the Party Democratic Convention (CDP) and president of the Permanent Electoral Commission (CEP). They consider themselves to be on the side of legality and the law, and are therefore supposed, according to the spirit and the letter of the party statutes, to direct the famous directory alongside the secretary general.

On the other hand, the current says of “usurpers”, embodied by the powerful president of the party Jean-Marc Kabund and his loyal interim secretary general Augustin Kabuya. This latter current enjoys significant support from activists because of the firmness shown by this history of the party towards the regime of former outgoing President Joseph Kabila.

The Kabund and Kabuya duo criticize legalists for misinterpreting the text: “Those who brandish article 26 may be out of ignorance. This article is indicated in a very specific context, impediment of the president or disappearance. However, at the current stage, the Head of State is not prevented decisively. We cannot take what the congress had given him, ”ruled Augustin Kabuya, in front of a crowd of activists during a political morning in Kinshasa.

This position is widely supported by some party activists. “For the time being, the UDPS does not need to tear itself apart on its own texts, but it needs to organize itself, to establish itself rather than thinking about the organization of another congress, budget-consuming be it, after that of March 30, 2018 which led to the election of Félix Tshisekedi as president of the party, thus succeeding his deceased father, “analyzes Hervé Kabeya, motorcyclist and supporter of the party.

Moreover, Christian Mutombo, lawyer and close to the party, does not share this reading of the facts. According to this lawyer, the implementation of article 26 in its entirety would help the party to set an example with regard to its attachment to democracy and the rule of law for which it fought for almost a quarter century: “The statutes of the UDPS had not, of course, provided for an alternative in the event that the president of the UDPS was elected”, he confides.

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The showdown continues in the National Assembly

This long and compromising showdown between the two tendencies crossed the internal framework of the party to head towards the institutions of the State. The divisions observed recently after the shattering dismissal of the president of the party, Jean-Marc Kabund, as the first vice-president of the National Assembly, have once again brought the great political party into disrepute.

A small retrospective look to explain the reasons for the shattering dismissal of the first vice-president of the Congolese National Assembly is worth its weight in gold. Indeed, on March 24, President Félix Tshisekedi declared a state of health emergency to limit the spread of Covid 19. According to the President of the Senate, Alexis Tambwe, this state of emergency should be regularized by the holding of a congress (National Assembly and Senate). In the process, the vice-president of the Assembly and also president of the UDPS, on a disputed note by Félix Tshisekedi, immediately went to the wall to castigate the organization of this assembly, citing its cost of 7 million dollars.

Allegations that struck the sensitivity of his colleague Jean-Jacques Mamba, elected from Kinshasa on the list of the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo by Jean-Pierre Bemba. The latter demanded explanations from Jean-Marc Kabund, then launched a petition which resulted in the dismissal of the latter from his post as Vice-President of the National Assembly, by 289 deputies out of the 315 present at the meeting restless from May 25.

“This passage in force from the FCC [Front commun pour le Congo, de Joseph Kabila, NDLR] is proof that the plot was hatched and goes beyond my dismissal. As a real tshisekedist, I leave this post with my head held high and without compromise, ”reacted the concerned on Twitter. Indeed, with this dismissal, the Congolese president loses a major asset at the office of a room dominated by the Common Front for the Congo, the Joseph Kabila coalition with which he shares power.

Since then, a war of succession has been opened to designate a successor. In a declaration made public on May 28 in Kinshasa, the UDPS and its secretary general Augustin Kabuya “deemed it inappropriate to nominate another candidate from among the national deputies elected from his list, to replace Jean-Marc Kabund as first vice -president of the National Assembly ”. Consequently, adds the press release, the UDPS warns that any elected member on his list, who violates this aforementioned resolution will be considered as having deliberately left the party.

Taking the opposite view, the executive board of the party composed of the tandem Wakenda and Shabani (the legalists, Editor’s note) took note of Kabund’s resignation from this post and invited the UDPS and allied parliamentary group to make “proposals concrete, objective and transparent and balanced ”to replace Jean-Marc Kabund. They also pointed out that this “highly strategic position is rightfully the UDPS” and “can in no way be lost by the party following reactions inspired by emotion”.

This position was strongly reinforced by the reaction of the respectful professor of law and UDPS deputy André Mbata, who thinks that the “post of the vice-president of the National Assembly is reserved for the UDPS, not for any individual who takes himself like a providential man. ” Continuing, Professor Mbata recalled that “the deputies of the UDPS remain loyal to the party and to the President of the Republic, but cannot in any case comply with the putschists”.

Some currently do not hesitate to point the finger at the accomplice silence of Félix Tshisekedi. The latter is invited to break his silence to re-mobilize the troops for the next general election. The opponent Moïse Katumbi got involved in his last media intervention by recalling that the “balance sheet for 2019-2023 is a balance sheet of the UDPS and not of the coalition”. At this pace, informed observers predict the decadence, at best, the fall, of the UDPS, as was the case of the united Lumbist party, Palu, of the late patriarch Antoine Gizenga, who had also allied with Kabila in the same context as the UDPS.

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