Stuck in the middle

Nigeria: Fulani militia

As Nigeria fights jihadists in the north-east and militants in the oil-producing south, a third conflict is simmering at its centre

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari © Creative Commons

Traditional leaders in Riyom, a town in Plateau State, say they have been suffering for 15 years. Since the turn of the century their tribe, the Berom, has been locked in conflict with Fulani herdsmen. They blame the nomads for raiding their villages, trampling their crops and appropriating their land. “We are refugees in our own land,” grumbles Gyang Dahoro, a local monarch, pointing to the horizon where charred houses are strewn like skeletons under rainy skies. Although in constant battles with Fulani herdsmen since 2000, their recent conflicts are part of a bigger puzzle of sectarian violence in Nigeria’s middle belt, home to Muslims and Christians from more than 200 different tribes. Like the Berom, many of them complain of deadly attacks by armed Fulani herdsmen. In 2014 more than 1,200 people died in clashes between nomads and indigenous tribes, according to the 2015 Global Terrorism Index. It found that Fulani “militants” killed an average of eight people per attack, making them the fourth most deadly “terrorist” group in the world. In February 2016 Fulani herdsmen were accused of murdering 300 people and displacing some 20,000 from communities in Benue State. Two months later 500 armed men killed at least 40 people in Enugu, further south. Another 80 lives were lost after a fortnight of sieges on Benue in July. By July this year, the Council on Foreign Relations had recorded 1,039 deaths in sectarian violence. “These Fulani men came to our land and we … allowed them to stay,” says Dahoro. “Then they started attacking us.” Yet the conflict is not as binary as the southern-dominated Nigerian media or international terror rankings suggest. “These are invariably two-way fights,” says Adam Higazi, a researcher affiliated to Cambridge University and MAUTECH, a federal university in Nigeria. “The Fulani are also victims of attacks, with many lives lost.” For example, in Plateau State, Berom youths “systematically” attacked Fulani pastoralists in 2001 and 2010, Higazi argues. Herdsmen say they are the targets of cattle rustling operations—a serious crime in communities where wealth is measured by livestock. “Cattle are our livelihood,” states Ardo Mohammed Bello, a Fulani chief whose community settled on the Jos plateau before his birth 70 years ago. “If a man complains that his crop has been destroyed it may be because he has stolen from us. That is how the Fulani man can have his revenge: an eye for an eye.” Nigeria’s current president, Muhammadu Buhari, is a Fulani. Yet nomads have felt marginalised by state and federal politicians; their itinerant schools, for instance, have crumbled. Formerly, when their cattle were taxed, they moved through grazing corridors and reserves set aside to protect their migratory way of life. But interest in raising revenue from their livestock fell away when easier money bubbled up after the 1970s oil boom. As Nigeria’s population soared, the open spaces were swallowed up by farms and sprawling towns. This makes it “very difficult, and sometimes impossible, to migrate without encroaching onto farms”, Higazi says. “The government is aware that we are denied access to our pathways,” Bello states from a tiny mud house. “It has done nothing.” Religious and ethnic tensions have characterised the middle belt’s politics since independence from British colonial rule, says Hussaini Abdu, of Plan International, a non-governmental organisation, peaking in a series of conflicts between Muslims and Christians in Plateau State from 2001. As modern pressures exacerbate age-old rivalries, the conflict is spilling further afield. Dr Abdu estimates that up to 10 million people may have been displaced as rains fail and the Sahel inches southward. Meanwhile traditional pastures and grazing routes became no-go zones as Boko Haram extended its reach after 2009. Today’s war is one of two worlds, argues Idayat Hassan, director of the Abuja-based Centre of Democracy and Development. It pits nomads, or semi-nomads, against indigenes, pastoralists against farmers and Muslims against Christians (most Fulani are Muslim). “It is a conflict between two production systems: an economic struggle over resources,” she says. Some theories suggest that the conflict is becoming increasingly organised: both the government and farming communities think that the culprits travel from abroad. “These men are from Chad and Niger and Sudan,” says Dahoro. “They are tall and haggard, with different facial marks to our Fulani.” The information minister, Lai Mohammed, recently suggested that the perpetrators had voyaged from Mauritius, an island off the other side of Africa. “The herdsmen attacking Nigerians across the country are not Fulani but another gang of Boko Haram insurgents from other countries,” the agriculture minister said in May. Berom leaders agree. “These men are wearing black uniform,” says Gyang Dalyop, a colourfully attired monarch in Plateau State. “They are jihadists getting guns from terrorist organisations in Syria and Libya. Our suspicion is that it is an organised arrangement supported internationally, with a motive to eliminate people like the Berom.” Boko Haram may have bombed cities such as Jos and Kaduna, which are outside its normal stronghold, but this does not tie it to the rural conflict. Pastoralists, like farmers, are also victims of the Islamists’ violence. Thousands have been killed, prompting some Fulani to arm themselves against Boko Haram. Hassan says the conflict is more about rural banditry than Boko Haram. This is no surprise. Nigeria has not produced enough jobs or quality schools for its young and is awash with weapons, some of which are thought to have swept south from Libya after the so-called Arab Spring. Forests in states including Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna have been overrun by cattle rustling gangs that tax communities and mount murderous raids on towns. “They operate as a state within a state,” Abdu explains. “The problem is under-reported because it involves people of the same Hausa-Fulani ethnic stock. It doesn’t fit into a narrative about ethnic divisions of the country.” The conflict is costing the country. Mercy Corps, a US-based humanitarian organisation, says Nigeria could add US$13.7 billion a year to its economy if peace were restored in Benue, Kaduna, Nasarawa and Plateau states alone. Sectarian fighting has “impeded market development and economic growth by destroying productive assets, preventing trade, deterring investment, and eroding trust between markets actors,” it said in a report last July. In Plateau State a military deployment with a remit to conduct community mediation has won plaudits for restoring a shaky kind of peace this year. Troops were recently dispatched against armed bandits in Zamfara. Yet Nigeria’s security forces are spread thin as they fight both Boko Haram and pipeline-bombing militants in the southern Niger Delta. In April the UN called on Buhari’s government to do more to protect its citizens following reports that the army had failed to act on warnings about the Enugu attack. “We are … worried by the complete impunity enjoyed so far by perpetrators of previous attacks,” it said. Meanwhile, Nigerian lawmakers are considering a new bill to establish protected land for herdsmen. Reserves and grazing routes are already accounted for in legislation, but this is usually ignored. Re-allocating cultivated land, meanwhile, could prompt new disputes. Yet Higazi believes that opening up old grazing paths could avert some of the fighting. “The solution is for farmers and pastoralists to share use of the land on a rotational basis,” he says, adding that Fulani cattle could fertilise harvested fields. “They do not have to be in competition.” The challenge for President Buhari will be responding to a crisis founded on local grievances rather than one political or ideological aim. As Nigeria’s population grows and its climate changes, the middle belt conflict threatens to spill even further beyond its traditional boundaries.

Eleanor Whitehead is West Africa Correspondent for The Economist and one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 for 2016. Photo Credit:

Call for Submissions: The Complexities of Land Tenure and Land Reform in Africa

Submission Deadline: 15 October, 2019

Good Governance Africa (GGA) invites interested participants to submit a paper proposal in the form of an abstract of up to 500 words on the Complexities of Land Tenure and Land Reform in Africa.

Selected papers will be published in the second edition of GGA’s Rights to Land book. The first edition of the book examined land restitution procedure in South Africa’s post-apartheid era (William Beinart, Peter Delius and Michelle Hay, 2017).

The second volume of the book aims to consider the phenomenon of land ownership, tenure and restitution in Africa. It proposes to highlight the successes and challenges African countries have faced with their land restitution policies and identify the factors influencing the procedures of land tenure and land reform on the continent.

This includes, but is not limited to, legal frameworks, customary land tenure and the land rights of women, and land restitution mechanisms, which are reducing poverty and securing sustainable livelihoods. Given the differing historical backgrounds of many African countries, the book also intends to consider the current trajectory of land reform and restitution in post-colonial contexts.

The book aims to examine original and contemporary perspectives on land tenure and reform in Africa by focusing on the achievements and challenges of these mechanisms. Contributors may provide an analysis into a number of areas surrounding land ownership, tenure and restitution with the intention of shedding new light on these critical issues and providing concrete policy recommendations for governments, civil society, and other relevant stakeholders.

The proposals may apply a comparative or case study approach, considering single or multiple countries or sub-regional contexts in Africa. Topics should be centred exclusively on African countries (excluding South Africa).

This second volume will be published by a prominent South African publishing house. Both GGA and the publishing team include experienced authors and editors, and all team members take seriously their responsibility to ensure the book’s chapters are of high-quality scholarship and writing. \

The proposals and chapters will be subjected to careful editorial scrutiny and, where appropriate, the editors will ask authors to revise their chapters for the purposes of clarity and focus.

Your submission should include:

  1. A 500-word abstract, including references
  2. A brief 100-word author biography and list of publications
  3. Full contact details

The abstract must be in English and submitted in Microsoft Word Doc format – Times New Roman 12.

Each contribution must be original and unpublished work not submitted for publication elsewhere. Please submit your proposal by sending your abstract to both and

References: William Beinart, Peter Delius and Michelle Hay. 2017. Rights to Land: A guide to Tenure Upgrading and Restitution in South Africa. Johannesburg: Fanele.


Lessons for Africa

Namibia: ethnicity and politics

In the context of deep ethnic divisions and conflicts on the African continent perhaps Namibia is getting some important things right

When Hage Geingob was declared the ruling South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) Party’s presidential candidate for the 2014 election, some commentators cautiously suggested that Namibia had moved into a “post-ethnic” political phase. Geingob, from the minority Damara ethnic group, was a popular choice at the ruling party’s elective congress of November 2012. He competed against no fewer than seven other senior party leaders, all of whom were from various sub-groups within the majority Owambo ethnic group, which makes up roughly 50 percent of Namibia’s population of around 2.3 million. Since independence from apartheid South Africa in 1990, political leaders in Namibia have claimed to cultivate a national culture of inclusiveness. Even so, at times over the last two and a half decades divisive ethno-nationalistic expression has slipped, and sometimes burst into the open. The run-up to the SWAPO Party elective congress of 2012 was characterised by the sort of polarising identity politics that still marks the political landscapes of most African countries. Some ethno-centric factions within the ruling party were adamant that the national president should be an Owambo because of the strong historical role the group played in the liberation struggle, and because it is the majority population group.

Herero dolls, Namibia © Pixabay


Ethnic tensions were so high in the months leading up to the congress that there were fears of instability. Later it emerged, inadvertently, that the Namibia Central Intelligence Service had instituted a programme to monitor ethno-political machinations across the country. In the end, the rallying vote for Geingob at the elective congress was something of a transcendent incident: delegates voted across ethnic lines after intense behind-the-scenes politicking and horse-trading. As recently as mid-2016 a senior ruling party political office bearer, Omaheke Regional Governor Festus Ueitele, was embroiled in an ethnicity related spat with residents of the easterly region bordering Botswana. The incident drew national attention and required Geingob’s intervention. In June this year Ueitele, who is from the Owambo ethnic group, was recorded as saying: “You should be careful with Hereros. These are the type of people who will become your friends only when they want something from you.” The Ovaherero group makes up the majority of the region, and the remark was made in the presence of the Tswana chief of the Bakgalagadi ba Namibia, Hubert Ditsabue, and his daughter, Josepha Ditsabue, a representative of the SWAPO Party Women’s Council. Members of the region’s Ovaherero community called for his firing for stoking ethnic tensions. In late July Geingob stepped in. He is reported to have instructed Ueitele to “take concrete steps to bring calm to the situation by issuing a public apology to the Ovaherero community to restore the spirit of peace, unity and trust within the Omaheke region”. Ueitele issued an apology at the end of that month. So Namibia is not a “post-ethnic” society, and relations between the various ethnic groups remain sensitive. The country has 13 officially recognised ethnic groups, including Namibians of European origin and those of a mixed race heritage labelled as “Coloured”. Ethnicity has had a profound impact on Namibian politics since the precolonial period, an era of internecine ethnic conflict, and through the German colonial and South African apartheid rule years, when the different ethnic groups were geographically segregated; a situation which largely persists today. “The negative effects of apartheid are still very apparent in how various ethnic groups in Namibia perceive and interact with each other,” says Natasha Tibinyane, director of the Namibia chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa. “It is apparent in the way that we still regard each other based on the classifications prescribed to us by the apartheid dispensation, which classified some groups as more valuable than others.” Arguably the greatest test to date of the strength of Namibia’s ethnic quilt was the secession attempted by ethnic nationalist forces in the northeastern Zambezi region (formerly the Caprivi region) in 1999. Led by then opposition leader, Mishake Muyongo, then president of the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA) of Namibia, the secessionists struck at state facilities in the region in the late hours of August 2, 1999. During fighting between Namibian police and military forces and what was called the Caprivi Liberation Army, 14 people were killed and hundreds more rounded up. Scores fled the country, including Muyongo, who lives in exile in Denmark. The secession attempt was followed by the longest running trial in Namibian history, in which 134 individuals were tried for treason. Though the trial was essentially concluded by early 2016, it had yet to completely wind down by the beginning of August 2016 because some of those found guilty went on appeal. The issue of secession in the Zambezi region is not settled; pro-secession forces, known as the Caprivi Concerned Group, are still active in the region. Founded as the Owamboland People’s Organisation in the 1950s to struggle for Namibian independence, the SWAPO Party has since remade itself as a national party representing all Namibian groups. Election results since 1990 reflect the fact that the party draws support from virtually all communities, even though its bedrock remains the Owambo community within which it has commanded as much as 90 percent support during elections. Meanwhile, the opposition has become more ethnically fragmented. The current official opposition, the DTA, formed as a proxy apartheid party before independence, was set up along ethnic lines. Although a much reduced force in Namibian politics, it still reflects its origins, being mainly dependent on votes from the Ovaherero community. The National Unity Democratic Organisation is also essentially an Ovaherero party, while the United Democratic Front, which mainly represents Damara interests, is also ethnicity-based. Notably, opposition parties with an ethnic base have proven more resilient since 1990 than those—such as the defunct Congress of Democrats and the greatly diminished Rally for Democracy and Progress—which have tried to bridge ethnic divisions. It could be argued that the domination of opposition politics by ethnicity-based parties has limited their effectiveness, given that they are primarily seen as representing specific communities. Yet “ethnic tension is often a muted affair in Namibia, and only very rarely emerges as physical confrontation or violence”, says Graham Hopwood, executive director of the Institute for Public Policy Research, and author of “A Guide to Namibian Politics” (2008). “It seems likely SWAPO will manage its limited ethnic tensions while the opposition will remain hobbled by their limited ambition, which is partly a result of their ethnic blinkers, for the foreseeable future.” Since taking office in March 2015, Geingob’s government appears to have revitalised its “My Namibia, My Country, My Pride” campaign. However, even well-meaning initiatives will probably only have the effect of papering over ethnic cracks that run deep as a consequence of stubborn power and economic imbalances within and between Namibia’s ethnic communities.

Frederico Links is editor of the Namibian current affairs magazine Insight Namibia and a researcher on governance issues, mostly for the Institute for Public Policy Research, a thinktank based in Namibia.

Divided since 1963

Kenya: deadly politics

Ethnic factionalism results in skewed allocation of resources and opportunities towards majority tribespeople

Last year three Kenyan universities closed indefinitely after a poisonous division emerged between two groups of students contesting the outcome of their respective leaders’ elections. The closures revealed an underlying division at Kenyan institutions of higher learning where students mobilise along tribal lines, especially during elections. At all three universities—Chuka, Maasai Mara and Moi— one group was mainly made up of Kikuyus and Kalenjins, while the other included Luhyas, Kisiis and Luos. Together, Kikuyus and Kalenjins make up 11.6 million of the population, and Luhyas, Kisiis and Luos 11.2 million, according to the 2009 census. “These happenings disproved the fact that education can refine an individual and an institution,” said Wanyonyi Buteyo, a political analyst based in Bungoma, western Kenya.

Masaai, Kenya © Creative Commons

Despite their relative size as a group, Luhyas, Kisiis and Luos feel left out of the country’s leadership. Kikuyus and Kalenjins have dominated politics and the civil service since independence. Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta, was a Kikuyu. His successor, Daniel arap Moi, was a Kalenjin. In 2002, Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, took over from Moi. In 2013, Uhuru Kenyatta, son of Jomo Kenyatta, was elected Kenya’s fourth president. William Ruto, a Kalenjin, and current deputy president, is likely to succeed Kenyatta as president in 2022. The two control a formidable political and tribal alliance known as Jubilee. The frosty relations between different tribes in Kenya date back to 1963, says Buteyo. Before the arrival of the British colonialists, he asserts, little or no animosity existed between communities. Intermarriages, which today are seen as taboo, were common then. The British settlers brought the divide-and-rule principle, magnifying differences amongst the various tribes and instigating conflicts among them. This encouraged negative tribal stereotypes. The Kikuyu, for instance, were led to believe that Luos were indolent, uncircumcised and unreliable, while the Luhya were encouraged to view the Kikuyu as schemers and thieves. The sorry situation underlay the formation of tribal political parties after independence. The Kenya African National Union (KANU) was dominated by Luos and Kikuyus, while the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU) was controlled by people from the other ethnic groups, who feared that Luos and Kikuyus wanted to “finish them” politically. KADU insisted on majimbo, a federal system of governance, arguing that it would shield the smaller tribes from exploitation by the Kikuyu and Luo. However, majimbo was discarded when KANU’s unitary system carried the day. When Jomo Kenyatta became president his regime unapologetically favoured Kikuyus. The ethnic favouritism manifested itself in skewed government spending and privileged access to government and parastatal jobs. Though the former vice-president, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga was a Luo, members of his group were looked down upon, and when they complained, subjected to intimidation and assassinations. When Tom Mboya, a senior Luo politician and minister, was assassinated in 1969, his death was blamed on Kikuyus. The enmity between Luos and Kikuyus has continued since then. Ethnic loyalty has seen a lack of accountability, underdevelopment and poor governance, fostering the rise in corruption in Kenya, says Isaiah Cherutich, a lecturer at the United States International University-Africa. Kenya is among the most corrupt countries in the world, according to Transparency International. Recent scandals include a currency printing scam, procurement and staffing irregularities at the National Youth Service, and an electoral system scandal (known as the Chickengate Scandal), among many others. No one has been held to account in any of these matters. “It is not because the country’s laws are weak; it is the tribe factor that chiefly determines if one should be declared innocent or guilty before a court of law in Kenya. A Kikuyu or a Kalenjin thief is as good as an angel today because the two tribes control more than 70 percent of key positions in the public service,” says Emmanuel Manyasa of Kenyatta University. “A Kikuyu man who has stolen $10,000 is [more] likely not to face the laws of the land [than] a Sabaot [man] who has stolen an egg.” The media have also been caught in the tribal mess: some outlets deliberately fail to investigate people in power because they are perceived as the kinsfolk of their owners and managers. The church, traditionally seen as a neutral arbiter, has not been spared. The Presbyterian Church of East Africa, for instance, openly endorsed President Kibaki’s candidature in 2007 and urged all its followers to vote for him. Most of the church’s senior leaders are Kikuyu. Luke Mulunda, managing editor of Kenyan news outlet businesstoday., says tribalism was the main contributor to the killing of more than 1,200 people in 2008 following a rigged poll. The 2007 election saw Raila Odinga—a Luo and son of Oginga Odinga— amalgamate 41 tribes against the Kikuyu-led government of Kibaki, and was not based on issues, ideologies or principles. Rather, it was an avenue for voting out the Kikuyus. Violence broke out when it became clear that the election had been rigged. People from President Kibaki’s tribe were hunted down, attacked, maimed and evicted from their homes all over the country. “Tribal leadership saw [an] opposition chief outrightly denied [the] presidential seat. There is no way powerful Kikuyu mafia and businessmen would have allowed a Luo [Odinga] to be the head of state,” argues Mulunda. Tribalism is being “perfected each new day in Kenya”, says Manyasa. “Under the current regime, we have witnessed the worst form of negative ethnicity in this country’s history. Those people and regions perceived to be from tribes that are anti-government have been punished, with minimal national resources allocated to them.” The neglected regions include opposition strongholds such as Nyanza, Coast, and eastern and some parts of western Kenya. Ethnic background still determines access to lucrative jobs in government and parastatals such as the Communications Authority of Kenya, Central Bank of Kenya, Kenya Revenue Authority and the Ministry of Finance. “We are living in a country where we have thousands of extremely rich people, and millions of paupers. Tribalism is all to blame for this huge gap,” observes Mulunda. The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission—established to heal Kenya of the tribal divisions that emerged in ethnic conflicts in 1992, 1997, 2007 and 2013—has so far achieved little. “When the government says it has created more than a million jobs in a year I wonder where that is. Only Kikuyus or Kalenjins appreciate the said numbers,” says Maurice Ochieng, 23, an engineering graduate and jobseeker. To rid Kenya of ethnic tension, Okoiti Omtata, an activist, says leaders should learn from Tanzania and Rwanda. In Tanzania it’s almost illegal, and certainly frowned upon, to speak in one’s ethnic language in a public context; in that respect, Swahili has unified the country. “Rwanda is a perfect example to Kenya of how perilous this stupid mindset on tribalism can be,” says Omtata, referring to the 1994 genocide. He adds that Rwanda’s approach to de-ethnicising politics since 1994 can give Kenya “proper lessons” on “healing and bonding as a unit”. Kenya should go to the root causes of tribalism, and address each exhaustively, he argues. A major factor is the skewed allocation and distribution of national resources, particularly land, associated with ethnicity-based politics. “A clear formula of power and resource sharing should be instituted through constitutional arrangements. This has already started with the coming into play of devolution,” he says. Wanyonyi adds that the country needs appropriate legislation to curb discriminatory practices in the provision of public services. “If this is followed we will have a stable and unified nation,” Mulunda says, adding: “For now, the country is in deep tribal shit.

Mark Kapchanga is a senior economics writer for the Standard newspaper in Kenya and a columnist for the Global Times, an English-language newspaper in China. He is pursuing a Ph.D in investigative business journalism at the University of Nairobi.

The puzzle of political alternation

DRC: quo vadis?

As Kabila fights to retain power, opposition politicians must put political differences aside in the interests of the electorate

Children in Goma, capital city of North Kivu province, DRC © iStock

The 2006 elections marked the end of a dramatic decade in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) after two wars (1996-1997 and 1998-2002) and a complex peace process. Joseph Kabila, who succeeded his assassinated father Laurent-Désiré in January 2001, was sworn in on December 6, 2006 as the first elected president of the Third Republic, in the country’s first reasonably fair and free multiparty election since independence. But the next election, in November 2011, was so contested that it brought the country to the edge of implosion. It was not organised to protect a fragile democratic process but to consolidate power. The regime used its control over the security forces and the electoral machinery against a weak and divided opposition. Since September 2014 President Kabila’s political family has attempted several times to push his reign beyond its constitutional limit of December 19, 2016. Aubin Minaku, the speaker of the National Assembly, tried to change the constitution in September 2014 but failed to mobilise the necessary majority. In January 2015 the government proposed passing a new electoral law that included a census that would delay the elections by several years. Once again, however, this was blocked—this time not by Parliament but in the streets. Protests were organised in several cities, including Kinshasa and Goma. At least 40 people died. Few expected the violence, and it was unclear who had instigated it. Given all this, the only strategy that has worked is slippage, le glissement: delaying the electoral calendar on the grounds that the government is not ready to organise elections; and the systematic non-disbursement of funds budgeted for phases of the electoral process. Since 2014 Kabila has found it increasing difficult to guarantee a cohesive government. It is likely that he exceeded his expiry date to take advantage of the superficial unity between the interest groups on which his regime is built. Through his father, Kabila is a member of the Balubakat people in North Katanga. Both Kabila regimes (père and fils) are perceived as representing a Swahili-speaking Katanga-based political fortress. More recently, signs of serious discontent have emerged among the Balubakat. The north of the province, where the Balubakat comes from, has been largely absent of the growth dynamics observable in the major cities such as Lubumbashi, Likasi and Kolwezi. The people there blame their leaders for this. After Laurent-Désiré Kabila took power, Balubakat leaders visibly enriched themselves, but there was hardly any return for North Katanga. Most Congolese politicians have used their mandate to develop their own regions by rehabilitating roads, building schools and hospitals, and so on. In 2013 three Balubakat leaders lost decisive positions in key sectors of public life. John Numbi ceased to be national police chief, Daniel Mulunda Ngoi was dismissed as president of the electoral commission and Jean-Claude Masangu ended his mandate as president of the national bank. At the end of 2014, Katanga turned against Kabila, a consensus incarnated in the personality of the then governor of Katanga, Moïse Katumbi. In March 2015 party leaders within the majority, including Pierre Lumbi, Olivier Kamitatu, Charles Mwando Simba and Kyungu wa Kumanza joined forces. Known as the G7, they share the conviction that further constitutional reform or slippage of the electoral process pose enormous risks for the country’s stability, and might undermine the achievements of the peace and democratisation process. Since then Kabila has struggled with the supporters of his challengers in 2006 (Jean-Pierre Bemba, who has since been tried and convicted in The Hague) and 2011 (Étienne Tshisekedi, who left the country in 2013, only to return in 2016). Most of all, he has struggled with members of his support base who won the 2006 elections with him, and who were the main reason Congolese and international public opinion considered the election to be reasonably free and fair. Some were key people in his regime during his first period in office. Lumbi was minister of infrastructure and, later, Kabila’s counsellor on security; Kamitatu, minister of planning; Vital Kamerhe, who left the president’s camp in 2010, was speaker of Parliament; and, of course, Katumbi. They are now leading opposition figures. Their success will depend on their capacity to mobilise the masses who are frustrated because they believe that the current regime has neither the capacity nor the political will to change the country. The mistrust is widespread, and directed at the entire political caste. Politicians are thought to be interested only in enriching themselves, their families, their clans and their own communities. Little distinction is made between the ruling party and the opposition. Congo’s political elite lacks moral authority and, therefore, the ability to manage social unrest. Tshisekedi recently returned to the country, cheered by an impressive crowd. But it remains to be seen whether he can translate this enthusiasm into an effective popular force for change. The opposition must provide a plan to govern the country differently, and take into account the DRC’s complex ethnic and regional puzzle. Congo’s political elite lacks moral authority and … the ability to manage social unrest. Katumbi is thought to be a likely challenger to Kabila. He has a good reputation as a businessman and manager, and is seen to be generous. He has the money, charisma and looks for a successful campaign, and has used his success in football and development to support his political ambitions. Yet it is unlikely that the Congolese population will accept a third president from the former province of Katanga. Moreover, dark shadows hang over his business past: questions could be asked about how he acquired his wealth. Many people think he lacks the strength of personality to be a leader at this level. He is not considered a sophisticated intellectual nor a visionary. He might play a crucial role in the future of the country, but a lot depends on the coalition he can mobilise. Tshisekedi considers himself the president elected in 2011, and his followers in his home province of Kasai believe it is their turn to provide the president after predecessors from the western (Kasavubu), northern (Mobutu) and eastern (the Kabilas) parts of the DRC. Other challengers are in the offing. In 2011, Kamerhe claimed much of Kabila’s 2006 electorate in the Kivu provinces. But can he manage the huge potential for grassroots anger and violence? Currently, every local conflict in eastern Congo is activated under pressure of local tensions. The Congolese state collapsed at the end of Mobutu Sese Seko’s kleptocratic regime and has not risen from its ashes. Its capacity to deal with local conflicts is limited. Political protagonists may try to manipulate these conflicts to position themselves on the political chessboard at provincial or national levels. Kabila has probably lost his capacity to hold together the antagonistic groups that comprise his regime. The opposition must prove that its leaders can unite to fight an election. They will have to build the country’s different local realities into a dynamic political force for change.

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