DRC: Gov­ern­ment boy­cotting own elections


In Fe­bru­ary 2015, when the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo’s elec­toral com­mis­sion (CENI) pub­lished its calendar de­tail­ing all the steps in the process up to the elections slated for 27 Novem­ber 2016, it was con­sid­ered by most to be un­re­al­is­tic.

More likely, most na­tional and in­ter­na­tional ob­servers agreed, was that the elections will not take place on time, mean­ing Pres­i­dent Joseph Ka­bila’s time in of­fice will stretch be­yond its con­sti­tu­tional lim­its.

One of the main rea­sons for this is the gov­ern­ment’s to­tal lack of own­er­ship over the or­gan­i­sa­tion of elections, which is al­most equiv­a­lent to an ac­tive boy­cott. The sums bud­geted for the dif­fer­ent steps of the elec­toral process are not dis­bursed − the av­er­age dis­burse­ment rate for CENI’s op­er­at­ing costs is just 17% − and there has been a con­stant strug­gle be­tween CENI and gov­ern­ment for con­trol.

It is highly un­likely the gov­ern­ment will change its at­ti­tude, es­pe­cially with the DRC’s eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion wors­en­ing amidst China’s slow­down and low com­mod­ity prices.

And with­out sub­stan­tial fi­nan­cial con­tri­bu­tions from in­ter­na­tional part­ners, the elections will not take place. We are caught in a vi­cious cir­cle: the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity won’t give money with­out sig­nif­i­cant fi­nan­cial own­er­ship from the gov­ern­ment; and the gov­ern­ment won’t take own­er­ship be­cause of its fi­nan­cial prob­lems and lack of po­lit­i­cal will.

At this point, it seems un­likely Ka­bila will be able to push through a re­vi­sion of the con­sti­tu­tion or im­pose a tran­si­tional gov­ern­ment that would cre­ate the cir­cum­stances for a third term.

If he were able to take ei­ther of these routes, he would have done so al­ready. At the same time, how­ever, it is equally im­prob­a­ble that elections can be or­gan­ised be­fore the end of the year. For many peo­ple, le glisse­ment (‘slip­page’) is now a fact.

The Con­golese po­lit­i­cal elite and oth­ers will have to come to­gether to work out how to deal with this sit­u­a­tion, though there are cur­rently few signs that the pres­i­den­tial ma­jor­ity, the op­po­si­tion or the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity has any clear plan.Many things could yet hap­pen in the com­ing months, but there are three ba­sic sce­nar­ios of how things might pan out:

A decade ago, the DRC went through a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion as to­day. Af­ter the Sec­ond Congo War, there was a tran­si­tional pe­riod, which be­gan in July 2003 and was sup­posed to end in June 2005. But it was only in De­cem­ber 2006 that Ka­bila was sworn in as the new­ly­elected pres­i­dent.

The de­lays were not the end of the world, and the pub­lic largely ac­cepted them be­cause of two main rea­sons. Firstly, be­cause there was a broad po­lit­i­cal con­sen­sus that they were nec­es­sary. And se­condly, be­cause the tran­si­tion fol­lowed a cred­i­ble process.

To­day, a po­lit­i­cal con­sen­sus is again pos­si­ble though dif­fi­cult, but it is the lat­ter con­di­tion that pro­vides more of a stick­ing point. The elec­toral process can­not be cred­i­ble when the state is ac­tively boy­cotting it.

If there is not such an agree­ment akin to the mid-2000s, and Ka­bila man­ages to re­main in power be­yond his man­dated term, the cri­sis could in­stead re­sem­ble the end of Mobutu’s reign. Then, in the mid-1990s, any form of process seemed to van­ish or evap­o­rate to the point that no one knew what to ex­pect.

Seen through this lens, the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion is not too dif­fer­ent from the chaos and un­cer­tainty at the end of Mobutu’s reign.

of Jan­uary 2015 in which over 40 peo­ple were re­port­edly killed, every­body is aware of the im­por­tant but un­pre­dictable role the ur­ban pop­u­la­tion might play in forth­com­ing events. Many ur­ban Con­golese are liv­ing un­der pre­car­i­ous liv­ing con­di­tions and their frus­tra­tions are both pal­pa­ble and show­ing signs of in­creas­ingly vi­o­lent un­der­tones.

A fi­nal sce­nario then is that largescale vi­o­lence kicks off in a ma­jor city − with Kin­shasa, Lubum­bashi, Goma and Bukavu seem­ing the most likely − and trig­gers a rapid im­plo­sion of the state and the crum­bling of its in­sti­tu­tions. This would a highly un­pre­dictable sit­u­a­tion as well as one likely to be de­struc­tive in hu­man, ma­te­rial and in­sti­tu­tional terms.

The con­fronta­tion be­tween protest and re­pres­sion could not only eas­ily de­gen­er­ate into vi­o­lence, chaos and the annihilation of all the achieve­ments since the end of the war in 2003, but, as a worst case sce­nario, could even lead to a sit­u­a­tion com­pa­ra­ble to the likes of So­ma­lia two decades ago.

These three sce­nar­ios are of course very schematic and there are count­less vari­ants or in­ter­me­di­ate forms these could take.

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