John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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It’s Getting Hot in Congo

by John Campbell
December 12, 2011

Supporters of incumbent President Joseph Kabila are seen celebrating through a banner with his image after provisional election results are announced in Democratic Republic of Congo's capital Kinshasa, December 9, 2011. (Emmanuel Braun/Courtesy Reuters)

The electoral commission has declared Joseph Kabila the winner of Congo’s presidential elections with 49 percent of the vote. The chief opposition candidate, Etienne Tshisekedi, has rejected the election results. Violence has already broken out, but the reported instances thus far are small in comparison with post-electoral violence in Ivory Coast or Nigeria. How Kabila and Tshisekedi maneuver over the next few days will play a significant role in determining whether Congo descends into widespread bloodshed.

The Carter Center, a non-profit founded by President Jimmy Carter that has broad experience in election monitoring, has determined that the Congo polling “lacked credibility” and rated as “poor” some 40 percent of the 169 compilation centers. Other election monitors have also been critical. The exception is the Southern African Development Community (SADC) observer mission that characterized as “sterling” the performance of the electoral commission – almost certainly damaging its own credibility. The South African opposition, the Democratic Alliance, issued as press release stating that given the “massive electoral fraud,” there is “no way that the South African government can recognize Joseph Kabila as the democratically-elected president.” The U.S. Department of State issued a press release congratulating “the Congolese people for the large voter turnout and enthusiasm” and urged Congolese political leaders “to act responsibly, to renounce violence, and to resolve any disagreements through peaceful dialogue” – a tepid and unenthusiastic response.

What’s next?  Tshisekedi has already declared publicly that he, in fact, won 54 percent of the vote:  “As a result, I  consider myself from this day on as the elected president.” A Kabila government spokesman characterizes the Tshisekedi statement as an “infraction of the law” and an “attack on the constitution,” according to the press. The press is also reporting that Kinshasa is sharply divided between neighborhoods supporting Kabila and those supporting Tshisekedi.

It looks reminiscent of the stand-off between Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara in Ivory Coast that took months – and outside intervention by the French and the UN – to resolve in Ouattara’s favor.  The difference thus far is that the international  community endorsed the Ivorian elections that Ouattara won, while it has not done so with respect to Congo’s.

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by Hank Cohen

    The Carter Center has declared that the DRC presidential election lacked credibility. I am truly shocked. I can’t imagine that the electoral commission could do anything dishonest. Truly shocked.

  • Posted by Folusho Dolire

    Congo DR is sliding dangerously towards anarchy. The Kenya disturbance of 2007 post election violence is a sad reminder. When will these crop of African leaders learn from history and conduct a free and fair election so that the peoples’ choice can emerge?

    The danger of this widespread discontent is that it is the ordinary and poorly-fed Congolese people that pay the ultimate price.

    Enough of poverty and war development in Africa.

  • Posted by Zareen Iqbal

    At a recent seminar at Columbia University, a panel of DRC experts discussed the challenges of governance in DRC. Congolese Human Rights Activist and Researcher Ngungua Gisele Sangua advocated for a new form of national democratic government, one that better acknowledges and addresses the country’s ethnic diversity and permits greater ethnic/regional representation. Sangua proposed a rotational presidency, which would require the presidency to alternate between the various ethnic groups. She pointed to the various international inter-governmental institutions that utilize rotational leadership as an example. Under Sangua’s model, the country would essentially find its current de facto federalist governance system become more formalized.

    Although rotational governance seems at first a quick and possibly easy fix to current inequities, there are great challenges and risks associated with implementing such a system. There are a host of ethnics groups, nearly 250, throughout the entire country, and these groups in some instances share rather complex alliances and rivalries. The country’s ethnic diversity in some instances prevents unification even at the regional level. The risk with forming such a government is great as well. Rotational governance based on ethnicity risks further entrenching ethnic divisions; it would only serve to reinforce current feelings and beliefs that only an individual from one’s own ethnic clan can fairly represent one’s people. The system would essentially discourage real political discourse and the formation of political platforms; it would also further discourage voting across ethnic lines.

    Perhaps instead of rotational governance, some sort of coalition government that is more ethnically representational could be implemented? Similar to Lebanon’s tri-representational executive?

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