Related Stories By Southern Times Writer Published: 20120224
Kabila extends olive branch

Windhoek - The DRC's President Joseph Kabila is open to dialogue with the main opposition following months of uncertainty triggered by last year's divisive general election.

Information Minister Lambert Mende told a news conference this past week that the door for dialogue with opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi remained open.

This has led to speculation that President Kabila might form a coalition with his bitter rival.

Indications are President Kabila is prepared to offer Tshisekedi the Prime Minister's post.

President Kabila was inaugurated for a new term in December following the November 28 poll.

Parties allied to President Kabila won more than 260 out of 500 seats, according to provisional results from the electoral commission.

A government will be formally constituted after a Supreme Court declaration on the validity of the results, which is scheduled for March 16. Since then, Tshisekedi has declared himself de facto leader and thugs aligned with him have been accused of assaulting senior government officials at home and on foreign soil.

On Tuesday, Minister Mende said, “Mr Tshisekedi is a valid spokesman for the opposition and its most important leader,” indicating the door was open for talks.

However, according to the Congo Planet website, he deplored Tshisekedi’s decision to boycott Parliament, pointing out that he risked expulsion from the House for such behaviour.

Mende reiterated President Kabila’s commitment to the openness expressed in his inaugural address.

But, the government spokesman said, Tshisekedi had “responded with a categorical refusal, going as far as to ask for the President to be brought to him in handcuffs”.

“Lines of contact still exist. We wait for a willingness to be expressed. Then, contacts could be made,” Mende said.

He said if President Kabila were to appoint Tshisekedi as the PM, allies of the Presidential Majority would have no objection, as long as this contributed to the success of the President’s development agenda for the DRC.

Some observers have speculated that the death of a key President Kabila advisor in a plane crash earlier in February has complicated the dialogue process.

Augustin Katumba Mwanke, the former governor of copper-rich Katanga Province, was believed to be very influential and his advice keenly sought by the President.

Katumba Mwanke was among five people who died when a Gulfstream IV jet crashed after overshooting the runway at an airport outside the eastern city of Bukavu.

“The death of Augustin Katumba Mwanke will have serious repercussions for the Kabila regime and in particular for the mining sector,” an analyst at London-based africapractice was quoted as saying at the time.

“His removal from the political scene will encourage a power struggle among politicians keen to fill the void.”

According to Bloomberg News, Katumba Mwanke was seen as “the power behind the throne”.

“He was instrumental in negotiating a US$6-billion minerals-for-infrastructure contract with China and was a confidant of Israeli investor Dan Gertler, who works with companies including Glencore International Plc (GLEN) and Eurasian Natural Resources Corp in the country.”

The news site added that potential replacements for Katumba Mwanke included Evariste Boshab, the head of Congo’s National Assembly; Interior Minister Adolphe Lumanu; and Pierre Lumbi, the national security advisor.

Tshisekedi has accused President Kabila of instigating violence and poll fraud.

However, some analysts say that though irregularities marked the November 2011 election, in most likelihood President Kabila did have more votes. Tshisekedi's supporters were allegedly behind the January 2012 assault of DRC's Senate chief and former Presidential candidate, Leon Kengo (76). Kengo was attacked by thugs at a Paris train station. France condemned the attack but to date no arrests have been reported.

France's Ambassador to the DRC, Luc Hallade, told AFP he denounced these "rogue methods", adding, "This is not how [we[ can advance democracy in Congo or anywhere else".

Zulu paramount leader, King Goodwills Zwelithini has also slammed Tshisekedi's supporters for their unruly behaviour during anti-President Kabila supporters in South Africa.

The DRC elections have attracted great international attention.

Africa's largest country holds about four percent of the world’s copper reserves and about half its cobalt. It is Africa's top tin producer and has vast gold and diamond deposits while its forests are a mega-industry in their own right. The DRC is presently exploring for oil.

Known mineral reserves in the country are estimated to be worth US$24 trillion.