Congo: Elections, Democracy, and the Diaspora Awakening

The November 28th Presidential and legislative elections were fraught with tremendous irregularities and widespread charges of fraud. The National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI in French) announced on December 8th that Joseph Kabila won the elections with 49 percent of the vote and long-time opposition, Etienne Tshisekedi garnered 32 percent.

The Supreme Court validated the results published by CENI and dismissed a challenge to the results by the opposition, led by presidential candidate Vital Kamerhe. The opposition categorically rejected the results as fraudulent. Nonetheless, Joseph Kabila was sworn into office on Tuesday, December 20th, where only one head of state (Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe) attended although 12 other African heads of states were expected to attend. Ambassadors from foreign nations, including the United States, were present for Kabila’s swearing-in.

Rejecting the results, Etienne Tshisekedi announced that he would have his own swearing-in among the people at the 80,000 capacity Martyrs Stadium on Friday, December 23rd. Being under virtual house arrest, Tshisekedi was confined to his residence by the Kabila regime. The government also prevented the population from entering the stadium with a heavy show of force from the police, armed forces, and presidential guard. The regime blocked routes leading to the stadium with heavy tanks and artillery. Instead of a swearing-in at the stadium in front of a large audience, Etienne Tshisekedi had to perform the ceremony at home in his garden. In addition to domestic pressure, the government is experiencing intense international pressure; the European Union has said it will re-evaluate its cooperation with the DRC and make judgments based on how the political crisis unfolds, and Mme Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, said she is following the situation in the Congo with a particular focus on the rule of law and the political climate, especially the pre and post-electoral periods.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is at a critical juncture in its tenuous march towards peace and stability. The Kabila regime suffers from a severe crisis of legitimacy and the future of the democratic project is in the balance. Stability will be fleeting without legitimacy. What is at stake in the Congo is not merely an election but respect for the will of a people and the future of democracy in the heart of Africa.

The Carter Center said the Presidential results announced by the CENI “lacked credibility,” while the Archbishop of Kinshasa, Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo, said that the results announced by the CENI reflects “neither the truth nor justice.” The European Union chimed in, noting that the process evinced a lack of transparency, with its missing polling stations and lost results totaling an estimated 1.6 million votes. South Africa noted that the elections were “generally OK,” while the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU) found little wrong with the elections. Nonetheless, the CENI has ceased the counting of the legislative results and invited an international technical team from the United States and England to help with the counting of the legislative results, which are expected to be announced by January 13th – a constitutional deadline that will be difficult to meet.

Congolese in the diaspora have responded with universal outrage and have taken to the streets throughout the globe. Demonstrations have occurred in London, Brussels, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Johannesburg, Tel Aviv, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, New York, Washington and numerous other cities around the world. The central demand of the demonstrations is that the will of the Congolese people be respected. Click here to see videos of Congolese demonstrations!

Due to greater access to information, combined with the freedom to express themselves, Congolese in the Diaspora have voiced the frustrations and concerns of their countrymen and women. The Congolese population inside the country has been under a military clamp-down with tanks in the streets, omnipresent security forces, SMS shut down (a major tool of communication for Congolese), and opposition television shuttered. Moreover, the Kabila regime has already demonstrated a willingness to use its armed and security forces to fire on unarmed civilians (see Human Rights Watch Report) and round-up and disappear civilians (see Amnesty International and Voix Sans Voix Statement).

The best option to rescue the country from a descent into a deeper crisis is the activation of a national mediation mechanism supported by the international community (Southern African Development Community (SADC), African Union (AU), European Union, United Nations and United States). However, political will on the part of the political class to prioritize the people’s interests over partisan interests is a necessary prerequisite for this option to be successful.

The Friends of the Congo (FOTC) is a 501 (c) 3 tax-exempt advocacy organization based in Washington, DC. The FOTC was established at the behest of Congolese human rights and grassroots institutions in 2004, to work together to bring about peaceful and lasting change in the Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire. FOTC can be contacted at: Read other articles by Friends, or visit Friends's website.