[Dehai-WN] Foreignaffairs.com: Joseph Kabila and Where the Election in Congo Went Wrong

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Tue, 29 Nov 2011 23:12:53 +0100

Joseph Kabila and Where the Election in Congo Went Wrong

What Happened When the World Looked Away From the DRC

 <http://www.foreignaffairs.com/author/mvemba-phezo-dizolele> Mvemba Phezo

November 29, 2011


kabila-and-where-the-election-in-congo-went-wrong> Article Summary and
Author Biography


The European Union spent more than a half billion dollars to underwrite
Congo's first nationwide election in 2006. That election was not perfect,
but it led to economic and political progress. As the country goes to the
polls today, however, those gains risk being squandered.

MVEMBA PHEZO DIZOLELE is a Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is
serving with the Carter Center as an election monitor of Congo's 2011
election. The views contained herein are his own.

Once the playground of tyrants like Uganda's Idi Amin, Ethiopia's Mengistu
Haile Mariam, and Zaire's Mobutu Sese Seko, Africa is finally shedding its
postcolonial heritage of despotism and chaos. In Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia,
and Eritrea, a new generation of nationalist leaders with strong and
disciplined armies is emerging to take control of the continent. Their
fights against the old foreign-supported order have left them suspicious of
anything that comes from abroad, especially from France. Still, they are far
more accountable and egalitarian than their predecessors-and they want to
get into the United States' good books.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is going to the polls today and
tensions are high. From Kinshasa to Lubumbashi, from Goma to Mbuji-Mayi,
clashes have broken out between supporters of incumbent President Joseph
Kabila and opposition groups. At least 30 people have been killed; many more
have been wounded.

It was not supposed to be like this. After 32 years of kleptocratic rule by
the Cold War-era strongman Mobutu Sese Seko, the European Union spent more
than half a billion dollars in Congo to underwrite a nationwide election in
2006. It was not perfect, but it was a success. Kabila won the race with 58
percent of a runoff vote with then Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba.

In the years that followed, Congo made meaningful political and economic
progress. Starting in 2007, Vital Kamerhe, then newly elected president of
the national assembly, encouraged vigorous policy debates, allowing both the
majority and the opposition access to the floor. Parliamentary commissions
held hearings on sensitive matters, such as the $9 billion mining investment
by the Chinese that set off a national debate about balancing the
sovereignty with economic development.

After decades of mismanagement and chronic conflict in Congo, this election
presents the people with a chance to rebuild their country. But if the
Congolese are robbed of a fair and honest say in their national politics,
such potential will remain but an illusion.

The democratically elected government in Kinshasa made economic gains, as
well. The country coasted through the global financial crisis relatively
unscathed. In 2010, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank
approved a $12.3 billion debt relief package to help alleviate Kinshasa's
financial burden, part of the Mobutu legacy. And largely because of
investment in the country's extractive sector, particularly copper, the
World Bank expects Congo's economy to grow over the next several years at
around seven percent annually, one of the fastest economic growth rates in
Africa. This success has led the European Union, long the country's largest
outside patron, to pat itself on the back, proud to have fostered democracy
in what the world considered a failed state. Since 2007, Brussels has
largely stepped aside.

So today's election is a Congolese affair. Kinshasa has underwritten most of
the cost, estimated at nearly $900 million and counting. The steep bill is
the result of a combination of bad planning and logistical challenges that
border on the absurd. There are more than 63,000 polling sites in a country
that is roughly as big as the United States west of the Mississippi but has
just 1,700 miles of paved roads. There are 11 presidential and 18,855
parliamentary candidates representing more than 250 parties. The country
lacks the industry to produce voting materials, so everything from ballots
to voting booths had to be purchased from China, Germany, Lebanon, and South

But the West declared victory too soon. For all the hope that Congo could go
it alone, the disengagement from one of Africa's most resource-rich
countries -- also one of the most conflict-prone -- has proved hasty. The
withdrawal has opened the real possibility of post-election violence that
would undermine the gains made in 2006 and threaten the country's democratic

The positive momentum in Kinshasa began to fizzle as early as 2009, when
Kabila forced Kamerhe out of the parliament after the two disagreed over
joint Rwandan and Congolese military operations in eastern Congo. With
Kamerhe gone, the open debate system was, too. The president's majority
muzzled dissent and passed a hasty constitutional revision in January 2011
that scrapped the two-round voting process in favor of one round.

Jettisoning the possibility of a runoff hands an advantage to the incumbent.
In this case, Kabila benefits from his ten years in office, an organized
network of parties, and substantial government funds not available to the
opposition. What it also means is that Kabila could win with a less than a
simple majority -- he only has to tally the most votes of all 11 candidates.
Major powers in the West -- especially the United States, France, and
Belgium -- wrote off the power play as an internal affair.

But constitutional changes weren't the only internal affair that changed the
rules of the game. After years of stalling, last March Kabila's government
set up the electoral commission, known as CENI, to carry out the vote. The
delay -- the law mandated that it be established in 2007 -- undermined the
complex operations ahead. CENI consists of four members from the majority,
including Chairman Daniel Ngoy Mulunda, and three representatives of the
opposition. Its leaders struggled with technical problems -- just days
before the election, ballots and boxes had still not made their way to all
of the country's polling places.

But more serious questions have been raised about CENI, including
accusations of bias, charges of amateurism, and lack of transparency. The
leading opposition party, Etienne Tshisekedi's Democratic Union for Social
Progress (UDPS), has filed an official complaint with CENI about what it
calls massive fraud and corruption of the voter registry. The UDPS alleges
that the CENI has been stocking voter rolls with potential Kabila
supporters. Tshisekedi's party alleges that more than two million voters
listed in areas favorable to Kabila are either redundancies or phony names.
For its part, CENI has repeatedly rejected UDPS' call for a transparent,
independent audit of voter lists.

The government has also used its power to tilt the media landscape in the
president's favor. Since the campaign officially began on October 28,
state-run radio and television channels have not granted opposition parties
equal access to programming time as required by law. In Kinshasa, billboards
of Kabila are everywhere, while the opposition has run into trouble. Civil
society groups have reported that members of opposition parties have been
harassed when they tried to post campaign materials in public spaces. The
harassment is often violent: UDPS partisans were beaten when they placed
Tshisekedi's posters at Rond-Pont Victoire, a prominent and popular city
square. Plainclothes police officers then destroyed the posters.

Poisoning the climate further, there is no adequate forum for a dialogue
between CENI and the opposition, effectively denying the two sides a
constructive platform to communicate. Meetings tend to happen on an ad hoc
basis, driven by events or crises, not by a set schedule. Meanwhile, the
commissioners representing the minority have remained quiet over the
allegations leveled by the opposition. As a result, UDPS has staged weekly
street protests in Kinshasa to demand that the integrity of the electoral
process be reinstated through an independent audit of the voter registry.
Police and security services have cracked down on the protests and
intimidated members of the opposition.

During all of this, the Western and European bodies that supported democracy
in Congo just a few years ago have appeared content to look the other way.
Diplomats from the United States, France, Britain, and Belgium have praised
CENI for enrolling 32 million voters, no doubt an impressive feat
considering the enormous logistical challenges. But voter enrollment is the
first step of an electoral process -- not the end. These same international
actors have remained silent about the allegations of fraud and
irregularities, even as Congolese and international human rights
organizations denounced violence and abuses.

This all leaves Congo ripe for post-election violence. Because Kabila
changed the constitution, he may win in one round but with a lesser
percentage. Such a victory would only grant him a limited mandate, not the
respectable popular endorsement and legitimacy of 2006 runoff victory. The
lack of broad support would likely fuel more discontent and street protests,
particularly if the election were not deemed fair, credible, and

There is a way forward. The government in Kinshasa and the international
community share the obligation to protect Congolese citizens from violence
and conflict. The government has to take appropriate disciplinary action
against human rights violations meant to intimidate voters or candidates,
and it must safeguard civil liberties. Kabila may think he can strong-arm
his way through the election and its aftermath, but he cannot -- withering
public support will only spur further challenges to his rule.

Likewise, CENI has to transparently relay the results to assure that the
election was free and fair; doing so will also restore confidence in the
process. As for the international community, the United Nations, the U.S.
State Department, and the French and Belgian foreign ministries need to both
pressure and assist Kinshasa and CENI to discharge their duties responsibly.

After decades of mismanagement and chronic conflict in Congo, this election
presents the people with a chance to rebuild their country. With its vast
natural and human resources, Congo has the potential to be a regional power,
as it once was, providing stability and leadership in an area known for
turmoil. But if the Congolese are robbed of a fair and honest say in their
national politics, such potential will remain but an illusion.


      ------------[ Sent via the dehai-wn mailing list by dehai.org]--------------
Received on Tue Nov 29 2011 - 17:12:55 EST
Dehai Admin
© Copyright DEHAI-Eritrea OnLine, 1993-2011
All rights reserved