Jean-Pierre Bemba Just Became The Congo’s New Kingmaker

Former Congolese warlord and one-time vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba was just released from The Hague following an unexpectedly successful appeal of his 18-year sentence.

Originally incarcerated in 2016 after being held responsible for war crimes that his militia carried out in the neighboring Central African Republic, Bemba was suddenly found not guilty and released from custody in a ruling that reversed the historic one that originally led to his imprisonment. This couldn’t have come at a more sensitive time for the Congo because the popular leader of the Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) that played an important role in the country’s second civil war still has time to theoretically submit his candidacy for president ahead of the 23 December vote that’s planned to be the country’s first-ever democratic transfer of power in history.

Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo
Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo is seen in a court room of the ICC to hear the delivery of the judgment on charges including corruptly influencing witnesses by giving them money and instructions to provide false testimony and false evidence, in the Hague, the Netherlands, March 21, 2016

Incumbent Joseph Kabila delayed the original December 2016 vote citing logistical reasons in the Western European-sized but totally underdeveloped war-torn country that would have prevented the entire population from participating, though the past 18 months have seen the mineral-rich state descend into a low-intensity Hybrid War as various militants and bandits vie for power in certain regions of the state on the pretext that they’re “protesting for democratic elections”. Some of them have beheaded locals and killed UN experts, but they’re largely being given a pass by the Western Mainstream Media because their destabilizing activities align with the overall objective of pressuring Kabila to not change the constitution and run for a third term, which he has repeatedly denied was ever his intention.

Instead, it’s much more likely that he’ll designate a pliable successor who might enable him to function as the Congo’s “gray cardinal” if his surrogate wins, though all of this is speculative right now because no one has been named for that position yet even though that person would stand a chance of defeating the fractured opposition. About that, Moise Katumbi – the billionaire former governor of the copper-wealthy region of Katanga – and Felix Tshisekedi – the son of a famous opposition leader – are the two leading figures opposing Kabila, and each of them are vying for Bemba’s support. It’s been reported by an unnamed source in his party, however, that “Knowing his ego, he will never want to be lined up behind another candidate. Jean-Pierre will want to be the king”.

This suggests that he will only ally with either of those two men or join a coalition with them if he can be the leading force, something that they might disagree with. Kabila, however, could have an interest in striking deal with Bemba whereby he becomes his designated successor in exchange for being allowed to retain some of his privileges after leaving office, even if he has to concede on his possible desire to play the role of “grey cardinal”. Therefore, the future of the Congo ultimately comes down to who Bemba decides to side with, why, and on what terms, as well as what his relations with the same West that wrongly imprisoned him and tried to destroy his reputation will be if he succeeds in entering into a position of political influence.

For all intents and purposes, Bemba is the Congolese kingmaker, and he might even have a shot at becoming the king himself.

The post presented is the partial transcript of the CONTEXT COUNTDOWN radio program on Sputnik News, aired on Friday Jun 22, 2018:

DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution. 

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