Kabila's Would-Be Successor Hails Congo Ruler for Step Down

(Bloomberg) -- The presidential candidate for the Democratic Republic of Congo’s ruling coalition hailed incumbent Joseph Kabila as an “exceptional man” for not seeking re-election in December, underlining his reputation as one of Kabila’s most loyal supporters.

Kabila’s coalition said Wednesday that former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary will be its contender to lead Africa’s biggest copper and cobalt producer. One of 15 Congolese politicians and military officials sanctioned in the past two years by the European Union, the 57-year-old is accused of rights abuses and undermining democracy.

“It is the chance, before the Congolese people, to thank almighty God for the grace he has shown us and to thank sincerely and above all the moral authority of the Common Front for Congo, His Excellence Joseph Kabila Kabange, an exceptional man,” Shadary said Wednesday. “He is keeping his word. He said there will be no problem and there will be no third term.”

Kabila, in power since 2001, had been consulting with his Common Front for Congo coalition, or FCC, since late July and its choice of candidate was a closely guarded secret. The president’s decision not to compete will assuage international actors such as the U.S., United Nations and African Union, which had opposed any suggestion he would run for another term. Congo’s major opposition groups had also demanded that Kabila respect term limits in the constitution.

Party Founder

Shadary runs Kabila’s political party, the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy, the dominant member of the FCC, and was one of its founders.

“You really can’t get more of a product of the Kabila system than Shadary because his entire political career is due to his association with Kabila,” said Stephanie Wolters, head of the peace and security research program at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, South Africa. “This is not someone who has his own base either politically or in the army.”

Party officials say Kabila intends to remain active in Congolese politics beyond the elections, retaining the leadership of the PPRD and the FCC. Since May, he has also reshuffled the judiciary and military hierarchy, reinforcing loyalty to him in key positions.

Kabila being ruled out as a candidate is a “crucial first step” toward ensuring a credible electoral process in Congo, Ida Sawyer, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said in an emailed statement.

“Ramazani himself has been sanctioned by the European Union and has played a key role in government repression over the past several years,” she said. “Tough pressure from Congo’s regional and international partners must continue for the country to see a truly democratic transition and to prevent more repression and bloodshed in the months ahead.”

Delayed Elections

Congo’s presidential and parliamentary elections are set to take place on Dec. 23. They were initially supposed to be held in late 2016, but were postponed when the electoral commission failed to organize them.

Kabila was elected in two previous elections and adversaries claim that he himself was the main obstacle to timely polls as he was reluctant to give up power. The president’s refusal to exclude himself from the next election until the last minute fueled speculation he’d seek another term. Registrations with the electoral commission closed Wednesday and Shadary was the last of the 23 presidential aspirants to sign up.

Kabila’s initial choice to retain the presidency beyond the end of his second term in December 2016 sparked sporadic protests in which security forces killed dozens of people. Congo hasn’t had a peaceful transfer of power since independence from Belgium in 1960.

“We don’t congratulate Kabila for conforming to the constitution,” said Eve Bazaiba, the secretary-general of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo, a major opposition party. There is “still lots to do” to ensure credible elections that result in a “peaceful handover of power,” she said.

Three major opposition leaders -- Jean-Pierre Bemba, Vital Kamerhe and Felix Tshisekedi -- have registered to compete in the presidential election. Another, Moise Katumbi, says Kabila is preventing him from returning to Congo and filing his papers. The four men have said they may unite behind a single opposition candidate.

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