What if Tshisekedi wins the DR Congo elections?

Author: Asuman Bisiika. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • ...Kigali would rather Tshisekedi doesn’t win. The diplomatic relations between the two countries are at their lowest.

The Democratic Republic of Congo will hold General Elections on December 20, 2023. That is less than three weeks from today. President Felix Antoine Tshilombo wa Tshisekedi is seeking re-election for a second and last term of office. He is challenged by over a dozen candidates. 

However, there are three main challengers namely Martin Fayulu (the man Tshisekedi defeated in the last presidential elections), Moise Katumbi (the former governor of Katanga Province) and Dr Denis Mukwege (Nobel Peace laureate better known for his activism against sexual abuse).
Congolese elections are (and should be) an internal matter for the Congolese. Indeed. But these elections have attracted more interest in the regional capitals than any other elections in the post-Mobutu era.

Museveni had been engaging DR Congo leadership in formal diplomacy. There was what I have always called Museveni’s Congolese Roads and Operation Shujaa. Even the International Court of Justice judgment debt Uganda owed the DR Congo had been leveraged into this new diplomacy. Then M23 happened. At the beginning of this year, I wrote about a WhatsApp group of angry Rwandan refugees. One of its members asked the question: what if President Felix Tshilombo Tshisekedi lost the 2023 presidential elections? I was quick to respond that the right question should be: “what would Mr Museveni not do if President Tshisekedi were to lose the 2023 elections? Most of the members argued that Kigali would not allow Kampala to upstage it in Kinshasa. They (Kigali) would do anything if Kampala intervened in Kinshasa in a manner that reflects regional big brother. And dear readers, that was even before our friends in M23 made their recent resurrection.

When M23 happened, Kampala was ambiguous. For fear that open condemnation of M23 would expose Uganda to a confrontation with the Republic of Rwanda, Mr Museveni deftly chose to hide behind the façade of the East African Community. Knowing that diplomacy in these climes doesn’t work without the men of metal, Mr Museveni rallied the East African Community to raise a force. Good diplomacy (given the circumstances). Yet President Tshisekedi and the entire leadership in Kinshasa had expected open and unequivocal condemnation of the M23 as an expression of support for Kinshasa. That was not to come. Neither has Museveni’s idea to have an East African regional force in DR Congo worked.

Question is: what if President Tshisekedi wins the presidential elections on December 20, 2023? The rumour in Kinshasa is that Operation Shujaa would be reviewed towards UPDF’s exit from Congolese soil. The more outrageous thinking (which by all means is a fringe position) is that the Democratic Republic of Congo would consider exiting the East African Community. Yet Mr Tshisekedi is the best bet for Uganda. In fact Mr Museveni should be praying that Mr Tshisekedi wins. Otherwise the three main challengers are framed by the Congolese as people who would be inclined to seek closer ties elsewhere (far from Museveni).

Museveni’s attempt to seek refuge in the East African Regional diplomacy to handle M23 was unable to sort stuff creating a sense of ambiguity among the Congolese leadership who had expected him to offer open ended support. The deployment of the SADC forces (which was an exclusive initiative of President Tshisekedi outside the East African Community ‘bullies’). This is expected to bolster his holding in the region as a man who is not beholden to any of the bullying warrior presidents of East Africa.

On the other hand, Kigali would rather Tshisekedi doesn’t win. The diplomatic relations between the two countries are at their lowest; blamed on the characters of the two presidents.

Mr Bisiika is the executive editor of the East African Flagpost. [email protected]