In the balance

Caleb Kabanda

A contested election result and a controversial change to the constitution have called into question the legitimacy of Joseph Kabila’s presidency and sparked a resurgence of violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s eastern provinces, writes Caleb Kabanda.

On 28 November 2011, the Democratic Republic of Congo held only its second ever presidential election since independence from Belgium in 1960. Joseph Kabila, the incumbent, was returned to office. In 2006, five years after the assassination of his father Laurent (then president), Kabila had come to power in an electoral process deemed free and fair by the international community. This time round, however, there is a widely shared consensus that Kabila’s victory was not legitimate.

Even though the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) and the Supreme Court declared Kabila the winner with 49 percent of the votes, a number of electoral observation missions, including those of the Carter Center, the European Union, the Catholic Church and a coalition of 140 Congolese non-governmental organisations, identified serious irregularities and instances of fraud during the elections. However, observers from five African organisations, including the African Union, expressed satisfaction with the conduct of the poll.

The opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) still maintains that its candidate, Étienne Tshisekedi wa Mulumba, who secured 32 percent of the ballots cast according to CENI, is the real winner.

Valentin Mubake, a political adviser to Tshisekedi, told Global, “He will take over as the head of state.” Tshisekedi has gone so far as to unilaterally declare himself president. Members of most other Congolese opposition parties are of the same opinion.

Upon first taking office in 2006, Kabila outlined a five-point plan to develop Congo. The challenges the new president planned to tackle during his five-year term were rebuilding the dilapidated national road infrastructure, bringing accessible health care and education to the majority of Congolese, providing safe housing, improving water and electricity services, and creating job opportunities. Establishing and maintaining security across the country was key to delivering Congo’s development plan.

But little progress towards these goals was made. Kabila’s national image was severely undermined and his popularity declined significantly. Instead of stepping back from the presidential race, Kabila revised the constitution, scrapping the multi-round run-off system used during the 2006 elections in favour of a single round of voting. Under the new rules, the candidate with the largest percentage of votes would win even if he secured, for example, just 20 percent of the national vote. Congolese opposition and human rights groups warned against a threat to national unity, fearing the possibility of the election of a president who was not representative of all Congolese people. The chairman of CENI, Pastor Daniel Ngoy Mulunda, dismissed these concerns and rejected calls for the postponement of both the presidential and legislative elections.

Kabila’s contested legitimacy is increasingly loosening his government’s tenuous hold on the security situation nationwide and is drawing the concern of observers. In the restive North Kivu province, there has been an insurrection by M23, a rebel group named after the failed 23 March 2009 peace agreement and headed by Congolese army renegade officers from the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP – a political militia that originally supported Kabila’s re-election). M23 has been rallying support from local armed groups throughout the eastern Kivu and Ituri districts, claiming that the presidential elections were flawed.

Further west in Kasaï-Occidental, a former commander of that province’s army has also risen up against the government and is demanding the truth of polls.

“As far as security is concerned, Mr Kabila doesn’t have the control of the army,” Mubake said. “The consequences of Kabila’s illegitimacy in the security plane are numerous; you can observe a lot of defections on the front line, day after day, in eastern DRC where soldiers are no longer obeying him because they are not well paid.”

The UDPS insists that the four-month delay in forming a government did not help the social situation in Congo. The party also believes that diplomatic relations with foreign countries have been damaged as a result of contested elections and that the economy is suffering too. “Due to insecurity, British, American and German investors will not bring their investments in a country of high risks,” said Mubake.

In order to regain the support of the Congolese electorate, Kabila’s administration has a huge task ahead. Stabilising the east, guaranteeing the wages of state employees – teachers, soldiers, police officers and health workers – and reducing unemployment should be among the government’s most immediate concerns, while establishing good governance and a return to true democracy would help restore the outside world’s confidence in Kabila.

Political analyst Stephane Omana is not optimistic: “With badly organised elections, irregularities and fraud observed, contestations, a divided opposition, a president governing by force and military defections observed… it is a bit complex and dark to predict the future of the Congo.”

About the author:

Caleb Kabanda is a freelance journalist based in Goma


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