President Felix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has not done too badly as he closes in on his first 100 days in office. His latest move is another long overdue, but decisive, step. By dropping the frivolous May 2016 charges against exiled Moïse Katumbi, Tshisekedi probably solidified his base, especially when his rival Martin Fayulu is calling for the Congolese to remove him from the presidency.
Katumbi, 55, is an accomplished businessman and former governor of the DRC’s richest province, Katanga. This is the part of the DRC with about 3% of the world’s cobalt and the bulk of its copper. All things being equal, he is grounded man; not perfect, but has a huge following. This is thanks to his business success and patronage of the “almighty” TP Mazembe football club.
The politics of the DRC is always about nine other countries and, by extrapolation, all of Africa.
Instability in the DRC affects north, east, west and southern Africa. It’s a large country with abundant resources: gold, diamond, copper and coltan - and that is before we consider the River Congo, which could literally light up all of Africa with hydro-power.
When former president Joseph Kabila eventually left office this year Tshisekedi succeeded him, inheriting a political and economic wasteland. For all its potential, the DRC demonstrates how Africa continues to be everybody else’s bounty - while Africans look on from the sidelines. Since gaining independence in 1960, the country has not known peace. Its first prime minister Patrice Lumumba - Africa’s foremost luminary - was assassinated for refusing to kowtow to former coloniser Belgium.
Somehow, the latter continues to benefit from DRC mineral resources, including the gold that is being siphoned out back to Europe via Uganda, among other countries.
The arrival of Tshisekedi on the scene was not the textbook case of democracy at work. However, his controversial presidency is the closest shot at stability and should be given a chance. The mess left by Kabila in antagonising and harassing his former supporter, Katumbi, out of the country on spurious charges of plotting to oust him must be fixed pronto if the Congolese are to move forward.
The Tshisekedi administration needs the experience and feet on the ground of people like Katumbi.
He knows entrepreneurship, fishing, mining, transportation and football, among others.
He successfully ran both Katanga and his businesses for a long time, until he resigned and declared his presidential ambitions. This irked Kabila, who started a terror campaign against him, culminating in accusations of plans to remove him from power. He was ridiculously convicted in absentia in June of 2016 for selling a house that apparently was not his to begin with, and received a 36-month sentence. He lived in exile, addressed his supporters via Skype, but was denied entry to the country.
With these charges now dropped, it is time for Katumbi to return home and strengthen the government for the reconstruction of Africa’s most important economy. It is 59 years behind schedule.