The elections of November 28th 2011 in the DR Congo took place with many and under strict control of the government. The non-acceptance of the official results of both the presidential and parliamentary elections means that there is still political instability today, and this will probably continue in the coming months and years. The results as they stand mean that parliament is very heterogeneous, with a fragmented landscape both within the majority and the opposition due to the large number of parties in both camps. The lack of coherence of the parliament will make it difficult for the majority to govern the country, just as it will make it difficult for the opposition to play its democratic role. That is if the opposition wants to play such a role – the main opposition party, UDPS, has forbidden its elected MPs to take up their mandate. At this point, it is not easy to imagine how and when the next phases of the electoral cycle will be organised
One thing that is clear, though, is that the international community made little difference to the process. In January 2011, the constitution was changed without open international criticism, which made it hard for the international community to play a role further down the road in the process. It is hard to react on issues such as the electoral law and the composition of the electoral commission if you did not react to a much larger and more visible change. African countries (AU etc) observed and praised the elections. Most of these countries however have leaders that have also been legitimised through elections with a democratic deficit. Still, most did not send their head of state to the inauguration (with the exception of Zimbabwe), which is a strange signal that does not reinforce the credibility of the process. If Mugabe is the only invitee who turns up in person at your party, you have a problem.
What to do with the contested results is also not easy. Cancelling the elections and organising new ones would in no way guarantee better, more democratic, more transparent and less violent polls. And recounting the votes is technically and politically not possible, given the way voting bulletins have been dealt with since November 28th. I am afraid we will simply never know what the results would have been under normal circumstances.
Whether we like it or not, it looks like we will have to put up with Kabila for at least another five years, at the head of a regime that has been weakened because it has lost coherence and legitimacy. Of course, we will also have to wait and see what the consequences will be of Katumba Mwanke’s death. ‘AKM’ was the most important man in the circle around Kabila, which is probably more important than the formal institutions of the Third Republic when it comes to decision making. Katumba Mwanke’s death leaves a political and economic vacuum, and the question is how that vacuum will be filled. His personal contacts with Congolese and international financial and economic actors, as well as with different foreign diplomats, were also very important for the regime. It is however far too early to tell what the impact of his death will be.
In the meantime, since electoral fever started to dominate everything else in Congo, little or no progress has been made in some important areas of work:
1) Security Sector Reform (SSR) in general and the integration of the army in particular. These are key elements in the reconstruction of the Congolese state and its instruments for establishing the rule of law. Despite all efforts, the army is still more part of the problem than part of the solution. Recently, different armed groups were integrated in an accelerated but superficial way, but that integration was not sustainable at all. Despite the integration of the CNDP in the army in 2009, the CNDP remains an army within an army, nearly a state within a state, much to the frustration of soldiers with a different background. We are concerned that the post-electoral government might lack the political will or the effectiveness to deal with the sensitivity and complexity of SSR.
2) An area where no progress at all has been made since 2006 is decentralisation, (including the issue of local elections). Decentralisation should consolidate democracy from below. Good governance, participation and accountability start at grass roots level. This process is fundamental in reconstructing the state and restoring its credibility. And local elections should be a school for democracy where citizens learn how democracy works. It will facilitate the renewal of the political landscape and the emergence of new leadership and at the same time it will encourage a more harmonious economic development based on local initiatives rooted in the community.
3) All democracies require the existence of a vibrant civil society to counterbalance state power through a constructive but independent and critical monitoring of the authorities. It will be very important to create and protect the space in which civil society and the press can fulfil their democratic role. I do not exclude the possibility that the weakened regime will narrow down the democratic space which is already quite limited. In the particular case of the ownership of the Congolese citizens over the electoral process, it is very important to support and finance civil society in its role of raising popular awareness through civic and electoral education throughout the entire cycle down to the local level.
4) A very specific area of work when we talk about good governance in Congo is of course the illegal exploitation of natural resources, very much linked to the conflict and its violence. It is important to contribute to the effective, transparent, equitable and accountable management of the Great Lakes region’s natural resources and land, through regulation to oblige international companies to report publicly on steps they take to apply due diligence, through the support to the formalisation of the mining sector and traceability measures.
Independent of the outcome of the elections, these are important challenges for the new government.
In order to accompany the government in its task, it is important that the international partners which want to accompany Congo try to maximize multilateralism. I have the impression that the space for common analysis and joint action within the international community has diminished a lot since 2006. In any case, if the international community wants to make a difference, unlike in recent months, it will have to find a fine balance between loyal and passive support on the one hand, and effective pressure on the other, on sensitive areas as human rights, democratic space and good governance.
We should remain aware of the fact that democracy and security in the Great Lakes region are so interlinked that it is impossible to make sustainable progress in one country if it does not take place as part of a coherent regional approach. It is therefore important that there is a political multilateral regional framework which allows the countries of the region to find negotiated solutions for the regional issues.
I would like to end with a dilemma. Some people approach Congo from a post-conflict perspective. Continuing to deal with Congo as a country in conflict will cut it off from a lot of the developmental instruments of international cooperation. As such, continuing to consider Congo as a conflict country is a self fulfilling prophecy. It will make us turn around in circles. The only way to go really forward in Congo is to approach it as a post conflict country.
On the other hand: I went on a lot of field missions in recent years, and I increasingly felt in the field that the international community had reached the limits of its impact. A lot of efforts have been made, a lot of money has been spent, and a lot of expectations have been raised on issues such as the democratisation process and the reform of the security sector. There have been results of course, but very few of them turned out to be sustainable. I believe that one of the causes of this low impact has to do with the fact that the international community tried to fix Congo with a standardised package of post-conflict progammes and policies, and tried to apply them on a country which has changed greatly over the years, from open war to low intensity conflict, but never was able to leave the conflict entirely behind. Applying such policies through institutions, missions and delegations which live and work far from the daily realities of Congolese communities means that they lack the capacity for sophisticated analysis and are thus unable to be proactive.
Maybe, under these circumstances, these programmes and policies are bound to have a superficial impact, if any at all. Maybe considering the Congo as a post-conflict country is a fatal form of wishful thinking.
Kris Berwouts studied African languages and history at the University of Ghent. In the last 25 years he has worked for different Belgian and international NGOs on peace and reconciliation, security and democratic processes. Until recently he was the director of EurAc, the network of the European NGOs for advocacy on Central Africa.