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Draft law on nationality in DR Congo perceived as targeting Mose Katumbi

A proposed draft law aimed at tightening eligibility criteria for presidential candidacy in the Democratic Republic of Congo is being perceived as a potential tool to secure President Felix Tshisekedi’s second term in the upcoming elections scheduled for December.

This proposed legislation is one of several bills scheduled for discussion during the September session of the Congolese parliament, which traditionally also addresses budgetary matters at this time of the year.

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The parliament is set to review the draft law, often referred to as the “Tshiani Law” after its author, Noël Tshiani, a 65-year-old economist with a background at the World Bank who ran for the presidency in 2018.

One key provision in the bill stipulates that only individuals born in the Democratic Republic of Congo to Congolese parents can hold positions of sovereignty or state office, including the presidency, prime minister, roles in the judiciary, and key ministries such as finance, defense, and security.

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Majority MP Pitshou Nsingi Pululu, who is championing the draft law, stated, “We want to secure approximately 250 positions that we consider vital for our country’s sovereignty.”

The bill was initially proposed in July 2021 but was not adopted. Its proposals reflect a trend seen in some African countries, which often bar individuals with dual nationality from holding state positions, rather than targeting those of mixed parentage specifically.

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In countries like Kenya, for example, the president, minister, members of the armed forces, parliamentarians, county assembly members, and ambassadors are prohibited from holding dual passports. The Kenyan president must be a citizen by birth, without specifying the nationality of parents, while members of the judiciary and other independent commissions can be chosen from the Commonwealth of Nations, including the East African Community.

Nevertheless, some individuals in the DR Congo believe that Tshiani’s and Pululu’s initiative is an attempt to exclude potential presidential rivals like Moïse Katumbi, who has a mixed heritage.

President Tshisekedi had refrained from commenting on the bill until a recent public appearance.

“I did not give my opinion so as not to get involved in the controversies that this law has aroused in the Congolese political class,” the Congolese leader said. “Tshiani is a Congolese — until proven otherwise — who has the right to think what he believes is good for his country. That is his right, we cannot put Tshiani on trial here because we are in a democracy where everyone has the right to express themselves.”

“I don’t think being born of a Congolese father and mother is a sufficient criterion for serving one’s country loyally, faithfully and appropriately. Because, even the most recent history of our country shows us that there have been Congolese whose fathers and mothers have participated in the ruin of this country, so it’s not a criterion, and those who think it is a criterion are free to argue.”

The “Tshian Bill” has been rejected by Congo’s opposition parties, and the Catholic clergy have described it as discriminatory.

Mr Katumbi, once an ally of President Tshisekedi, left the coalition a few months ago, fuelling suspicion the draft law targets him. He has announced that he will be a candidate in the presidential election due on December 20.

Registration of candidates closes on October 8.

Mr Katumbi, a wealthy businessman, is known most for his leadership of Congolese football club TP Mazembe based in Lubumbashi in the south of the country. His father had Greek and Italian roots, and was Jewish.

He served in Katanga Province as governor for eight years and backed Tshisekedi’s presidency.

In December 2022, he fell out with President Tshisekedi and left, declaring that “President Tshisekedi’s record is very bad and chaotic.”

“I gave advice internally, I proposed a list of tasks which was not considered,” he said on the day he quit and declared he would be a candidate in the presidential election.

Several ministers aligned with Tshisekedi resigned from the government, including Chérubin Okende, who was killed under unclear circumstances in July.

Tensions have escalated between the Katumbi and Tshisekedi factions, with some individuals connected to Katumbi facing legal proceedings. Salomon Kalonda, a close adviser, is currently on trial before the military court in Kinshasa, accused of planning a coup with Rwandans. MP Mike Mukebay from the Katumbi camp is in prison for contempt of the head of state.

During the 2018 presidential election, 21 candidates applied for candidacy. According to electoral laws and the constitution, candidates must meet specific criteria, including being of Congolese nationality by birth, at least 30 years old, possessing full civil and political rights, and holding a higher education degree or demonstrating a minimum of five years’ professional experience in relevant fields.

Candidates are also required to submit various documents, including a certificate of nationality, a valid criminal record extract, a photocopy of their voter’s card, a receipt for the non-refundable application fee of 160,000,000 Congolese francs ($100,000), and a certified photocopy of their higher education or university diploma or evidence of the required professional experience.

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