Over two weeks, the African Union (AU), the UK and the US have sent envoys to speak with Joseph Kabila. Their objective: convince the former Congolese president to cede more power to his successor, Félix Tshisekedi.
Paul Arkwright was the first to start the diplomatic dance.
On 14 February, the acting UK ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo met with Joseph Kabila. The next day, it was Peter Pham, United States Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa, who shook hands with the former Congolese president. On 24 February, Smaїl Chergui, African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security, was received at Kabila’s Kingakati farm.
During each visit, the discussions addressed the same core matters: security issues, Kabila’s dominant role in Congolese politics and the power the current president of the DRC, Félix Tshisekedi, has in the coalition established between his group, Cap pour le changement (CACH), and his predecessor’s group, the Front commun pour le Congo (FCC).
For Arkwright, who has been serving as acting UK ambassador in Kinshasa since the departure of John Murton this past November, the visit marked his first official meeting with Kabila.
According to the UK diplomat’s Twitter account, the two men “discussed the FCC-CACH coalition” and “the challenges facing the DRC and the importance of governing in a way that benefits the Congolese people.”
Announcements made after Pham’s meeting with Kabila struck a similar tone,with the US special envoy saying that the pair discussed “the obstacles hindering peace, prosperity and the rule of law.” Pham described their conversation as “candid and in-depth.”
Smaïl Chergui, who met with Tshisekedi the day before his tête-à-tête with Kabila, stated that he was “very pleased” with their exchange which helped “explore the latest developments in the DRC and the Great Lakes region.”
In addition, Chergui commended the former Congolese president for his “renewed willingness to work with President Tshisekedi towards a successful coalition for the benefit of the DRC.”
Persuading Kabila to “make concessions”
“The groundwork is laid,” said a Western diplomatic source, who preferred to remain anonymous, contacted by Jeune Afrique. The main purpose of the meetings was to “try to persuade Kabila to make concessions that will help Tshisekedi bolster his leadership.”
The political climate of the past few weeks, marked by mounting tension between Kabila’s and Tshisekedi’s respective supporters, drove chanceries to pick up the pace of their initiatives. As our source explained, they wanted to “put pressure on” Kabila “before the situation gets out of control.”
However, Kabila’s inner circle sees things in quite a different light, as one of his close allies revealed: “This diplomatic dance around Kabila also conveys an acknowledgement of the limitations of Tshisekedi’s power to make the dreams of the Congolese people and foreign powers come true.”