Feb 11, 2021 - World

Tshisekedi winning power struggle in Democratic Republic of Congo

An awkward grip: Kabila (L) at Tshisekedi's inauguration in Jan. 2019. Photo: Tony Karumba/AFP via Getty

Félix Tshisekedi has been on a good run.

Driving the news: The president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo took over the chairmanship of the African Union this week. Days earlier, he won a major victory in an ongoing power struggle with his predecessor, Joseph Kabila, by convincing a large swath of parliament to leave Kabila's camp and vote out the speaker, a Kabila ally.

The backstory: Tshisekedi is something of an accidental president. He was declared the winner of the DRC’s December 2018 elections despite independent observers believing another candidate, Martin Fayulu, was the clear winner.

  • Most believed Kabila — who spent 18 years in office and effectively controlled the electoral commission — struck a backroom deal to elevate Tshisekedi while ensuring he'd retain a large slice of power after stepping down.
  • That compact has eroded over time. On Jan. 27, it appeared to crumble entirely.

How it happened: One MP told the Economist that “money circulated” as his fellow parliamentarians were convinced to switch sides, but that they'd been offered even more money to stay put.

  • Many seem to base their calculus on the fact that Tshisekedi has the power to dole out patronage to allies and investigate foes for corruption — making him a better friend to have.
  • Tshisekedi is becoming a more powerful president than many expected, but he has not yet proved a particularly effective one in terms of delivering promised economic and political reforms, per the Economist.

Worth noting: The U.S. and European countries — happy to see the back of Kabila and hoping for some stability — largely ignored the fact that the 2018 election was rigged in Tshisekedi's favor.

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