The dan­gers of a hasty Congo elec­tion

A peace­ful pres­i­den­tial tran­si­tion re­quires more prepa­ra­tion

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Lam­bert Mende Lam­bert Mende is the min­is­ter of com­mu­ni­ca­tions for the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo.

The Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo (DRC) has been the tar­get of crit­i­cism in re­cent weeks with ed­i­to­ri­als in ma­jor news­pa­pers call­ing on our pres­i­dent to step down. A res­o­lu­tion in the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives is de­mand­ing the same thing and con­gres­sional hear­ings are sched­uled soon. A cur­sory read­ing of the DRC Con­sti­tu­tion would sug­gest that the pres­i­dent should step aside, but that’s too sim­ple and, in fact, dan­ger­ous.

Congo does not have a his­tory of smooth tran­si­tions of power. In fact, quite the op­po­site. That’s why a na­tional di­a­logue that in­cluded op­po­si­tion par­ties re­cently agreed that pres­i­den­tial elec­tions will be held, but not this year. Time is needed to cre­ate cir­cum­stances that would al­low a new pres­i­dent to take charge peace­fully, for a change.

While the pres­i­dent’s sec­ond elected term ends Jan. 19, the con­sti­tu­tion states and a court in­ter­pre­ta­tion has af­firmed that a suc­ces­sor should be elected be­fore the in­cum­bent steps down. That is why the DRC has cre­ated a bridge mech­a­nism, in­clud­ing an in­terim govern­ment, which is be­ing formed now from a range of po­lit­i­cal par­ties with the in­terim prime min­is­ter com­ing from the op­po­si­tion.

In 2006, the DRC held its first, widely praised na­tional elec­tion in four decades. This was in large part pos­si­ble be­cause, three years prior, Pres­i­dent Joseph Ka­bila was able to end a decade of bloody con­flict that had claimed the lives of 5 mil­lion Con­golese.

An­other elec­tion was sup­posed to be held this year. But if elec­tions were held this month as the orig­i­nal cal­en­dar pro­jected, more than one-half of Con­golese, es­pe­cially young peo­ple, would be dis­en­fran­chised be­cause the voter rolls are so out of date.

So the govern­ment is work­ing to or­ga­nize in­clu­sive and fair elec­tions. That means get­ting the rolls up to date. The govern­ment also wants to im­prove se­cu­rity. While small-scale, for­eign-backed rebel ac­tiv­ity con­tin­ues in east­ern Congo, mak­ing the peace is frag­ile. More work can be done there as well.

The in­terim govern­ment is a first step. We have the ur­gent obli­ga­tion to im­ple­ment a bud­get that pro­tects mil­lions of vul­ner­a­ble Con­golese, pro­vides for de­fense in one of the most dan­ger­ous re­gions on earth and of­fers a fair and or­derly res­o­lu­tion of our first con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis. We’ll also hold elec­tions as soon as we are able. The con­sti­tu­tion prom­ises the Con­golese the right to lo­cal elec­tions, which we have not yet been able to hold. In­deed, the next elec­tions need to an­swer the ques­tion of who suc­ceeds Ka­bila, as well as who will serve in par­lia­ment. That is the fairest route to en­sur­ing that all voices are heard.

In the mean­time, we ur­gently need all the help our friends in the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity can of­fer. The cost of hold­ing an elec­tion is nearly a quar­ter of our na­tional bud­get. From our friends in Europe and the United States, we would ben­e­fit from the same kind of moral sup­port that we en­joy from our neigh­bors in the African Union, which shares out in­ter­est in a non­vi­o­lent tran­si­tion. The DRC has al­ready paid too high a price for the wars of other states.

To best en­sure against vi­o­lence, all sides in the DRC need to come to­gether. The Her­culean task of reg­is­ter­ing more than 50 mil­lion vot­ers should be com­pleted by July of next year. In an­tic­i­pa­tion of that land­mark, we’re pre­par­ing new elec­toral leg­is­la­tion.

Ex­pect­ing Mr. Ka­bila to leave of­fice in De­cem­ber is nei­ther re­al­is­tic nor fair. We’ve suf­fered from dis­or­der and in­con­sis­tent poli­cies in the past. Today we need help in achiev­ing a tran­si­tion that serves our na­tional in­ter­ests as well as the broader se­cu­rity of Central Africa. When it comes to elec­tions in the DRC, pa­tience would in­deed be a virtue for ev­ery­one to fol­low.


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