Congo government official launches new party, promising "fresh air"

Vital Kamerhe, a member of the Democratic Republic of the Congo's ruling party, is starting his own, which some think could manage to unseat incumbents.

It's (almost) official: Vital Kamerhe is leaving the PPRD ruling party and creating his own party, the Union pour la Nation Congolaise (UNC). According to a press statement released yesterday, Vital will make the announcement on Tuesday. The former PPRD governor of Equateur Jean Bertrand Ewanga will be the UNC coordinator – he told the press that the party already has a million members, people who have signed "fiches d'adhesion" recently. Of course, it is easy to sign a piece of paper that has no legal status (it doesn't allow you to vote in a party primary, for example). There are reportedly ten other parliamentarians who will leave their seats to join the UNC, including Claudel Lubaya, the former governor of Kasai Occidental, and Hubert Molisho, the former vice-governor of Province Oriental.

People close to Kamerhe are calling him "Alassane Ouattara," the surprise victor of the Ivorian elections. Those elections had a strong psychological impact on Kabila and his rivals – no longer does it seem impossible to unseat the incumbent through elections. When asked by a Congolese newspaper about the vision of his party he said: "Mopepe ya sika." Fresh air. Maybe a slogan?

A biographical note on Kamerhe: Born in Bukavu in 1959, Kamerhe is from the Shi community of Walungu territory. Growing up around the country, he went to school in Bandundu and Kinshasa and graduated from Université de Kinshasa with a degree in economics. This upbringing is important, as it gives him a claim to being both from the East and from the West of the country.

His began his career as lecturer at the university, but then soon entered politics. During the democratic transition under Mobutu, he was a member of the Rassemblement des forces sociales et federalistes (RSF) of Vincent de Paul Lunda Bululu and was also a member of the opposition youth league. Between 1992 and 1997, he becomes advisor to various ministers (mining, post and communications and education). There is some controversy over whether he was a member of a Mobutist youth league (Frojemo), led by General Nzimbi, a fact his opponent often use to discredit him.

Under Laurent Kabila, Kamerhe becomes the deputy chief of staff of Etienne-Richard Mbaya, the eccentric minister of reconstruction, then director of the Service National (a quasi-military service set up by LD Kabila) and finally deputy commissioner in charge of MONUC affairs. A founding member of the PPRD party in 2002, he becomes general commissioner in charge of the peace process in the Great Lakes and is one of the principle negotiators of the 2002 peace deal. In 2003, he becomes minister of information and government spokesperson in the transitional government. In July 2004, he takes on the leadership of the PPRD and prepares the president's election campaign, which he receives a lot of credit for. He is elected as parliamentarian in Bukavu with one of the highest scores in the country and becomes president of the national assembly in 2007. He is lauded for the conciliatory role he plays in moderating between the majority and opposition. In 2009, he falls out with the president over the Umoja Wetu operations that allowed several thousand Rwandan troops to deploy into the Congo. In March 2009 he is forced to resign as president of the national assembly.

Jason Stearns blogs about the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Great Lakes region at Congo Siasa.

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