If you can’t win, don’t try

Joseph Kabila, the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, appointed a new prime minister today: Samy Badibanga, a member (I think, we’ll get to that) of the opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) party.

Hello, Mr. Prime Minister!

Seems like a normal story, right? Presidents appoint prime ministers all the time. The thing is, in this case, Badibanga doesn’t come from the largest party in the DRC parliament, Kabila’s People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy. He doesn’t even, really, represent the UDPS, which has disowned him over the whole affair. And the reason Kabila appointed him wasn’t so much about governing the DRC as it was about keeping Kabila in office, even if it’s just for a few more months.

Kabila, you see, is term-limited, and should rightly be stepping down at the end of this year, after elections that are supposed to be held this month. But he would very much like not to have to do that. He’s one of the collection of African heads of state who have either managed to stay on past their constitutionally mandated term limits or are trying to stay on past their constitutionally mandated term limits. In some cases, for example the case of Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, the decision to opt for a third term in office has been met with widespread public acclaim. This is, ah, decidedly not so in Kabila’s case:

Congolese overwhelmingly oppose changing the constitution to allow President Joseph Kabila to stand for a third term and believe he should step down at the end of his mandate in December, according to a opinion poll published on Tuesday.

Over 81 percent of the respondents oppose changing the constitution to allow Kabila to stand for a third term. Seventy-four percent say he should leave office this year.

If the presidential election were held today, 33 percent said they would vote for former provincial governor Moise Katumbi, 18 percent for opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi and 7.8 percent for Kabila. Kabila registered a 44 percent approval rating. Katumbi and Tshisekedi received 85.8 and 65.3 percent ratings respectively.

The results, which varied little based on socio-economic status, gender and religion, show a marked drop in support for Kabila, who officially won 48.9 percent of the vote in 2011, a consequence of a lack of economic development and poor security.

To be fair, polling hasn’t been very good anywhere these days, and this particular poll did have a margin of error of +/- 5%, but none of that really means very much when you’re polling in the single digits. Lot of room for the polls to be wrong there and yet you wind up getting creamed anyway.

Instead of, I don’t know, taking the L and moving on, Kabila is trying to hang on for dear life. He’s already pushed the election back from this month to April 2018, citing “logistical challenges” and a lack of money. Those must be some big problems, seeing as how they’re apparently going to take a whopping 18 months to sort out. But as the old saying goes, when you’re the incumbent, you win 100% of the elections you don’t hold.

In order to appease the opposition, Kabila offered to appoint an opposition prime minister in sort of a national unity arrangement in the interim between when the election was supposed to be held and when it will–may, really–be held in 2018. Since UDPS is the biggest opposition party in parliament, appointing somebody like Badibanga makes sense.

Except that UDPS boycotted the talks about pushing the election back and putting together a unity government, and they seem ready to jettison Badibanga, if they haven’t already, rather than accept the validity of his appointment and therefore of Kabila’s skeevy attempt to extend his presidency. Badibanga’s appointment also likely comes as a surprise to Vital Kamerhe, the leader of the opposition Union for the Congolese Nation party, who thought he was going to get the PM gig.

So on the downside, the DRC’s electoral system is in shambles and the power-sharing deal Kabila has worked out seems to involve sharing power with nobody in particular, so the country may well be headed for some good old fashioned violence. On the upside, reading about this story really prepared me for President Trump’s eventual decision to move the US presidential election to April 2022 after he’s wrecked everything here. So in that sense I feel like it was a very useful exercise.

“Happy to help”



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