DR Congo’s electoral process is at an impasse. Here are 3 scenarios for what comes next

The Congolese government is effectively boycotting its own elections

Credit: Tomas.

How long can President Kabila hold on the power? Credit: Tomas.

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:

1) Best case scenario: consensus over credible elections within credible delays

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 newly-elected 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 this best case scenario is to happen therefore, the government will need to put in place a process that can realistically lead to free and fair elections within a reasonable timeframe, and with the explicit proviso that Kabila will not stand for a third term. It will be important that le glissement does not simply equate to a new transition, and the question of who will chair this period will be difficult to resolve.

However, importantly, the current situation does not have to lead to violence and chaos, not if the political elite manages to convince the public of the seriousness of a political agreement and process for going forwards.

2) Back to the end of Mobutu: chaos and crisis

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.

Signs of a similar trend may already be emerging. The government’s paralysation of CENI and the improvised decentralisation of the country last year certainly create the impression of a deliberate deconstruction of the state. Meanwhile, different local conflicts in South and North Kivu in the east have flared up again, with the crisis across the border in Burundi increasing the possibility of a regional conflict.

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

3) Worst case scenario: state implosion under pressure from the street

Since the Kinshasa protests 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 large-scale 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. However, at this point, what seems most crucial is that the Congolese political elite takes up its responsibilities, builds a consensus for a credible elections within a reasonable delay, and ensures Kabila does not run.  Any other scenario involves a serious risks of chaos, destruction and violence.

Kris Berwouts has worked for a number of different Belgian and international NGOs over the past 25 years, focused on peace building, reconciliation, security and democratic processes. Since 2012, he has worked as an independent expert and writer on Central Africa. This article is a summary of conclusions from research conducted for DfID’s DRC Evidence, Analysis and Coordination Programme (EACP), on behalf of Integrity Research and Consultancy. Follow him on twitter at @krisberwouts.

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3 thoughts on “DR Congo’s electoral process is at an impasse. Here are 3 scenarios for what comes next

  1. The Peoples of DRC are more than capable of conducting elections to standard for November 2016. The CENI must now recognize that the Kabila Cadre have no desire for elections, ever.
    Therefore, the peoples of DRC must in a manner method most non-violent take civic civil electoral matters into their own hands.
    Empower and engage with electoral administrative responsibility the local Tribal Leadership who in their regions of influence will be accountable ensuring that only people electorally eligible subject to DRC Electoral Code in Process will be able to vote.
    Instead of having only the digit immersed in ink, my suggestion would be to have the whole hand immersed into a substance with at least a two week time frame of durability ensuring that only one vote is cast by each citizen.
    The International Community must be prevailed to provide civic civil electoral logistical assistance inclusive in all matters relating to electoral materials.
    Making use of already established civic civil social electoral norms will prove most expeditious in the advancement of civic civil electoral integrity.
    Any civic civil electoral delay must be attributed solely to the incumbent Kabila Government who would rather delay and delay and delay by what ever means possible notwithstanding that subject to the DRC Constitution the November 2016 Election date is no surprise.
    Normative Convention in Governance suggests that following September 2016, the Kabila Government will be entering into a Caretaker status of governance which must be appreciated by all DRC Citizens as the Kabila Government will be limited in executive endeavours subject to the Caretaker Convention or Holding President Kabila to Strict Limitation in conduct of executive action.

  2. My Muse in Why DRC is most challenged in elements social civic civil political publics culminating now in Joseph Kabila’s intent in not respecting the DRC Constitution inclusive in rule of law which places time limits in executive term of office.

    This is my muse as to why current DRC civic civil public politics is so most roiled and astringent in utter lack of civic civil social cohesive capacity in performance and strengthening of public institutions.

    I am convinced that the circumstances surrounding the 1961 assassination of President Patrice Lumumba witnessed the commencement and root of many of the present day problems afflicting DRC—–an African Nation State so rich rife in potential and promise, yet most unactualized in social civic economic and public political specific ‘gravity’.

    Something about Lumumba’s social civic public trajectory and the manner of his death offended global public opinion among both the elites and non elites, and has continued to attract and generate attention within the United Nations, and in Belgium and in the United States, and even in DRC itself.

    Many political public and social civic actors—–black Africans and white internationals created and instrumentalized Lumumba’s downfall.

    A review of the Congo’s politics in 1960 both integrates and suggests for me the perspectives of at least four primary competing public civic actors.

    1. the Congo’s inexperienced politicians who lacked absolute comprehension as to how to govern and why governance exists
    2. a normative righteous presumptive yet most flawed United Nations exemplified by the then Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold who at times displayed an idealized form in absolute lack in prescriptive judgement when confronting crisis
    3. an entrenched Belgian bureaucracy determined to hold on to and maintain past imperial prerogatives regardless of collateralized national Congo enmity directed to this soon to be vestigial colonialist ‘dictat’ in a land no longer Belgium sovereign
    4. an arrogant and destructive United States which under CIA aegis elected to project ‘cold war’ leitmotiv into Congo social civics without regard to potential social civic strife

    This most arresting complex multi-dimensional tale of greed and power has intersecting narrative lines and an international array of participant actors. These diverse political public styles and variance in social civic conventions of propriety do require an explanation as well as a profound reflective consideration with the reward being a fuller complete and more profound understanding of a momentous event in African social civic public political topography.

    The Congo in 1960 illustrates manifest the roots of empire, and also the exercise and deployment of power without mercy. The social public ruin of Lumumba displays in purest form the vicious character of society without sovereignty, and illustrates the deepest problems of political ethics.

    Today, DRC institutions of social civic governance are still entailed and encumbered within the antecedents of the past break down in social public civics.

  3. Kris, great article – Thank you.

    I agree with “credible elections within a reasonable delay” however I disagree with ensuring that “Kabila does not run”.

    One solution would be to allow Kabila to appear on the ballot paper and simultaneously hold a referendum (during the same election) posing whether the constitution should be amended to remove the two-term limit; Kabila is only re-elected if he wins the vote and the referendum passes.

    Of course, this is a short-term solution to the discussed impasse – it must be combined with larger government reform to remove partisan responsibility to organise and fund elections – as per advanced democracies, this should occur as an automatic and independent function.

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