The CENI dispute marks a new peak in tensions for the coalition government, an uneasy alliance between Tshisekedi, Kabila and several smaller parties formed after the December 2018 election, which has shown increasing signs of discord in recent months.
The breadth of opposition to it – including supporters of Tshisekedi, the opposition Lamuka coalition, the Lay Coordination Committee of the Congolese Catholic Church, and other civil society groups – reveals how serious those fractures have become.
“We’ve seen over the past year and a half that there have been tensions in the ruling coalition,” said Nelleke van de Walle, deputy project director of Central Africa for the International Crisis Group.
“Tshisekedi has been forced to cooperate with Kabila’s Common Front for Congo (FCC) coalition and they have been in a standoff ever since.”
In the first year of his presidency, Tshisekedi struggled to push through policies due to push back from the FCC, according to van de Walle, including the complicated appointment of the prime minister, which took four months to agree, and frustrated attempts to make changes at the state mining company, Gecamines.
But Tshisekedi’s State of the Union address in December 2019, in which he promised “2020 will be the year of action”, signaled a more combative tone.
“That was the moment when Tshisekedi first began to distance himself from Kabila,” said van de Walle.
In January 2020, Tshisekedi told an audience at the UK-Africa Investment Summit in London that he would be willing to “dissolve” the National Assembly and have new elections, drawing strong criticism from the FCC.
Political tensions were further stoked when in February, General Delphin Kahimbi, head of army intelligence who was charged for involvement in a plot to destabilise Tshisekedi, was found dead.
Then last month, Vital Kamerhe, Tshisekedi’s chief of staff who also ran Kabila’s election campaign in 2006, was charged with embezzling more than $50m in public funds, a decision that sent shockwaves through the country.
In recent weeks, the fragile coalition was rocked by counter-movements from Kabila’s allies, including judicial reforms aimed at redefining the powers of judges. This led to demonstrations in the capital, Kinshasa, over what was seen as an effort to muzzle the judiciary, prompting the resignation last week of Justice Minister Celestin Tunda, a senior figure in Kabila’s FCC. -Aljazeera