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January-February 2012

Vol. 37, No. 1

 

DRC: Election "too flawed to be credible"

Joseph KabilaOn November 28, 2011, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) held presidential elections; incumbent president Joseph Kabila (right) was named winner, though his strongest competitor, Etienne Tshisekedi, claimed victory too. On January 4, members of the U.S.-based National Democratic Institute and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems arrived in the DRC to meet electoral authorities, members of key political parties as well as national and international electoral observers. The following is an excerpt of an article written by Kissy Agyeman-Togobo and published on AllAfrica.com on January 5.

… [The presidential election was] noted by the EU observer mission as having "serious deficiencies"; [the mission] warned that the bloc would "re-evaluate its support come the next stages in the Congo's democratic process." The U.S. Carter Center, which sent observers to the elections, said that the vote was "too flawed to be credible." The Congolese Catholic Church, which had deployed the largest observer mission to the elections (30,000 people), said that the stated results "did not confirm the truth." Meanwhile France's ministry of foreign affairs has "deplored and criticized" the irregularities, as well as the "reported violence." However, instead of calling for an annulment of the results - even though France acknowledged that the irregularities "marred" the vote - it has favored dialogue and called for lessons to be learned. The same is true of the U.S. Whilst the Obama administration has been critical of the electoral process, it has not called for an annulment. ...

In terms of the management of the elections, the Carter Center detailed impossibly high voter turnouts in some areas, as well as voter intimidation, which was commonplace. A member of the Congolese Diaspora community in the UK spoke of the intimidation and crack-downs on personal freedoms in the post-election period. "Back home, not many people have the internet but many have mobile phones. We send text messages to our friends and families back home about what is happening at home, because they are ill-informed. But now the government has cracked down on this too." This was in relation to the government's closing down of the networks to prevent the dissemination of information and the potential stirring up of Arab Spring-styled anti-government protests. Indeed, the clampdown in the DRC has been harsh, with Human Rights Watch reporting that at least 24 had been killed by the security forces in the aftermath. Many more may actually have been killed as the authorities reportedly launched a rapid clean up operation of the dead bodies. …

[Speaking to members of the Congolese Diaspora in the UK, Member of Parliament Jeremy Corbyn criticized] Western countries, saying, "If governments are serious about democracy, where are they in the DRC? There's a wider agenda – Congo has been disgracefully treated."

This "wider agenda" is something which is spoken about often by the Diaspora community in relation to the West's attitude to the DRC. Indeed, as far as natural resources are concerned, the DRC is one of the richest countries in the world. It boasts a host of minerals including diamonds, copper, uranium and coltan (used in the production of mobile phones). The Congo River is also the second longest in Africa and has significant hydro-electric potential. The feeling that the West has been largely indifferent to the situation in the DRC is juxtaposed with the groundswell of support for Ivorian former opposition leader now president, Alassane Ouattara, when, following the announcement of results by the Constitutional Council over a year ago, he also maintained that he was the rightful winner. With the support of the international community, Ouattara's opponent and former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo was toppled and subsequently extradited to The Hague to face war crimes charges. But such a scenario in the DRC is not on the cards. According to Jean-Marie Guehenno, (the UN's former head of peacekeeping, and now a professor at Columbia University) there has been "a gradual political disengagement in Congo." He continued: "There is definitely Congo fatigue after 11 years and billions of dollars. There is no appetite for repeating the Ivory Coast experience." …

Kabila's legitimacy is strongly challenged. However, the security force crackdowns and the heavy police presence ... will frustrate the plans of the opposition to pressurize Kabila out. But the Diaspora community, a step removed from Kabila's force of arms, appears resolved to keep up the fight in applying pressure on Western capitals and also on their friends and families back home to persist. ...

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