Crossroads in the Congo
Election could bring change or more of the same
Elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo offer the potential to begin resuscitating a nation rich in resources but impoverished through violence, corruption and political thuggery.
The contest — postponed for more than two years by President Joseph Kabila, who is long past the end of the second term permitted by the Central African country’s constitution — was held Dec. 30. Among the 20 or so candidates were Mr. Kabila’s preferred successor, Emmanuel Shadary, and Martin Fayulu, a lawmaker who was endorsed by a coalition of opposition leaders and widely expected to capture the popular vote.
The surprise winner, announced last week, was another opposition leader, Felix Tshisekedi, and the news immediately stoked concerns about fraud. That is altogether possible in the DRC, previously known as Zaire, which hasn’t had much experience with real elections since gaining independence from Belgium in 1960. The 47-year-old Mr. Kabila took office in 2001, after the assassination of his father, LaurentDésiré Kabila. Mr. Kabila delayed the Dec. 30 election for more than two years citing financial reasons and the need for an accurate census, but it was more about maintaining control of the government and business networks that have enabled his family to plunder the nation’s resources for personal gain. When Congolese took to the streets to demand elections, his security forces violently put down the protests, killing about 50.
Mr. Kabila has shown precious little interest in the actual task of governing while his people battle grinding poverty and regional political violence so widespread that the national government lacks control over huge swaths of the country.
Fixing these things won’t be easy, but the process can begin only when the DRC makes a complete break with the Kabila era. Mr. Shadary did not represent that kind of change. The consensus was that Mr. Fayulu just might. The announcement of Mr. Tshisekedi’s victory throws another wrench into the works, and a legal challenge by Mr. Fayulu could bring more tumult to a country that’s had more than its fair share of it already.
One thing is clear: Mr. Kabila finally needs to get out of the way and let new blood steer the DNC in the way he should have done.