Collapsing Coalition or “Sacred Union”: From a Gamble to a Prisoner’s Dilemma

The opinion in this post is a follow-up to “game of gambling and comprises within the Congolese politics” published in BLISS blog mid-January 2019. Based on the evidence of flaws in the 2018 general elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the January post asserted, as widely held, that these elections were rigged. In contemporary Congolese politics, for the ordinary population in remote rural areas, the personal attributes of the President are of less importance than an assurance that he will end wars and violence, bring peace and lead the country towards a better future. The original post, written shortly after the Presidential elections of December 2018, questioned whether the president-elect could rule in the interests of ordinary Congolese people, instead of, as usual, making the kinds of political comprises that only serve the elite class.

  1. Gambling  to Compromise 

Two years after the so-called peaceful transfer of power between Joseph Kabila (the former president) and Felix Tshisekedi (the current president), there have been growing tensions between these two allies, who in effect cooperated to compromise the 2018 election results. Rigged results have created the destabilizing political context where the Head of State leads the country, but with limited control over parliament/Senate, and where some government ministers, including the Prime Minister, are more or less a law-unto-themselves. The ruling coalition is composed of two political platforms, each made up of several smaller parties. The first is Cap pour le Changement (Force for Change – CACH) and Front Commun pour le Congo (Common Front for Congo – FCC). While the President belongs to CACH, the FCC has a parliamentary majority and includes key players like the Prime Minister. Moreover, CACH has been weakened by the arrest of some key leaders, like the President’s Cabinet Chief of Staff, Vital Kamerhe.

While there have been internal clashes within the ruling coalition since its creation, the straw that broke the camel’s back was the recent nomination of judges to the Constitutional Court. Strikingly, Presidents of the Parliament and Senate, the Prime Minister, and other Cabinet members boycotted the swearing-in ceremony for these judges, claiming their nomination had been unconstitutional. Meanwhile, behind this fraught issue, there raged a debate about the possibility of impeaching the current president, should Parliament or Senate feel the need to do so. Although President Felix Tshisekedi had used his executive powers to nominate Judges likely to be neutral or supportive of him, the boycott was humiliating for him, as President. As tensions mounted between various government institutions, controlled by different partners in the coalition, the President launched what was termed the “Union Sacrée[1] (Sacred Union) through political consultations around key challenges in the Congolese socio-political arena. Though it is still uncertain to what extent these consultations have helped to solve ongoing tensions, a range of political and social actors, including civil society organizations and religious leaders, have shared their divergent opinions with the President.

(6) Kasongo Mwema Yamba Y’amba on Twitter: “Annonce officielle de la fin des consultations.” / Twitter

These consultations, which started on 2nd November, were expected to end on 25th November 2020. Beyond mobilizing representatives of socio-political groupings, and in spite of the strong interest in the consultative process from social and political actors, it remains uncertain what tangible solutions this series of dialogues will produce, or whether the President will be able to come up with any tangible solutions to the current inter-elite conflicts, and the effects of political crisis for ordinary Congolese, given the very many problems they already face. To a large extent, there have been so many talks and dialogues over the years, that from the perspective of 2020, looking back to the early 1990s, the Union Sacrée almost looks like ‘flogging a dead horse’.

2. FCC/CACH and the “Prisoner’s Dilemma Game”

President Tshisekedi owes his position to a bargain, or a gamble, that led him to secure the Presidency, at a price. However, his position now, having gained his position as Head of State, can be better understood through the lens of the ‘prisoner’s dilemma’, one of the scenarios associated with Game Theory in the social sciences. From Britannica, the prisoner’s dilemma illustrates “Two prisoners, A and B, suspected of committing a robbery together, are isolated and urged [by a judge] to confess…; each must decide whether to confess without knowing his partner’s decision”. The prisoner’s dilemma game expects 3 scenarios: both confess and serve 5 years in jail; neither confesses and both face one-year jail (as there is no evidence); and one confesses, he gets free while the silent faces 20 years jail. The irony of this game is that both prisoners act selfishly (do not cooperate with the other prisoner), and they finally face 20 years in jail each, for having disclosed their secret. The two players (prisoners) are FCC/CACH as platforms and their chairpersons.

(6) Ntanyoma R. Delphin on Twitter: “#Kinshasa #Consultations @Presidence_RDC: As I was thinking about possible scenarios to expect this week, I recall “the prisoner’s dilemma” part of the “Game Theory”. Very powerful model to explain how two “Criminals” can betray each other. (1)” / Twitter

Though applauded by some, the President’s palaver initiative has been rejected by some powerful actors; including the powerful FCC platform. Although Jean Pierre Bemba and Moise Katumbi – both potential presidential candidates (rejected politically grounded basis) in 2018 on– met with the President, Martin Fayulu, the presumed winner of the election had it not been rigged, so far declined to meet with the President. The content of Bemba and Katumbi’s discussions have not been revealed. Obviously, President Felix Tshisekedi is unlikely neutral or impartial. Instead, he is largely part of the overall equation to be solved. Acting as if he is a ‘unique judge’ himself does not help. The recent crises in Congo’s politics, and its socio-economic challenges need honesty.

3. The Game and Consequences of Selfishness

Within the prisoner’s dilemma, President Tshisekedi garners support as some expect him to crash the other prisoner. Some applaud the President’s move since they view him as the lesser evil as compared to the other prisoner. However, in isolation and confinement, with their discussions kept secret, each of the two ‘players’ in this prisoner’s dilemma, may be tempted to not cooperate and rather choose to betray the other. In end, their choices will inevitably affect both. The most plausible scenario is that the Union Sacrée is simply another gamble to get to a situation of outright one man-rule, perhaps the ultimate goal and an opportunity to share the pie of the cake.

Instead of these seemingly endless and unproductive dialogues and consultations, used for Machiavellian ends, most ordinary Congolese ordinary people would welcome a model of more democratic political institutions that place them closer to the center of decision-making on key issues affecting them. Most Congolese citizens, wherever they live, interpret such renewed and elitist consultations as a form of haggling around political and public positions.  The need to engage in deep and sincere dialogue is very obvious, but this would require a much more bottom-up approach and a serious commitment to deconcentrate power from the Kinshasa and regional elites to benefit the provincial level, local government, and local communities.

Whilst appropriate, an idea of a federal system that could deconcentrate the power in the hands of Kinshasa is being manipulated and equated with the much-feared ‘Balkanization’ of the Congo. But recent governance models have finally reached their limits. Reform is needed and needed urgently. It is an impulse to reform that can blaze a trail and open genuine debate and the possibility of moving towards more appropriate governance, in both form and content, for this other ‘sleeping giant of Africa’.

PhD Researcher in Conflict Economics

The Institute of Social Studies/

Erasmus University Rotterdam



[1] The initiative intended implicitly to rally other political figures and actors behind him through something uncertain, called “Union Sacrée

About admin 430 Articles
PhD & Visiting researcher @POLISatLeeds. Interest: Microeconomic Analysis of Violent Conflict, Genocide Studies and violence targeting minority groups. Congolese, blogger advocating for Equitable Redistribution of Ressources & national wealth as well as & #Justice4All #DRC. On top of that, I'm proud of being a "villageois"

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