An uncertain road: Election time in DR Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), recently characterised by ongoing political unrest and resource-driven civil wars, is approaching its second democratically displayed presidential and parliamentary elections. After many turbulences with regard to the independent national election commission (that shifted names from CEI to CENI) and issues concerning late and irregular registration of voters, the poll is now set for November. International observers already criticise the preparations and the overall political setting in which these elections are supposed to take place. Among the most outstading issues are legislative, organisational, and political mechanisms.

The legislative side includes a change in DRC’s electoral law: Incumbent President Joseph Kabila Kabange and his adjunct political movement AMP (Alliance pour la Majorité Présidentielle, including Kabila’s PPRD party and other aligned parties) went through both chambers of legislation where they successfully pushed forward a new, modified electoral law. The most prominent feature lies in the abolition of a possible second, “run-off”, poll. In theory, this is a rather technical issue and there might be a bunch of other countries that follow similar electoral laws. In the particular case of DRC, this legal adjustment provides the incumbent with comparably high opportunities to obtain a landslide win without major interference into the actual polling procedure. The opposition parties, mainly UDPS with Tshisekedi, MLC with Bemba (who is still detained The Hague), and UNC with Kamerhe, are unlikely to agree upon a single candidate which is why Kabila gains a relational advantage by introducing that winner-takes-it-all paragraph.

The organisational aspects includes a couple of serious challenges. A cross-cutting issue here is the persisting situation of administrative ‘underdevelopment’. It means that state institutions in general, and specific bodies in the context of the upcoming elections in particular, lack in adequate funding and transparent modes of financial and organisational governance. Despite broad institutional and monetary support by the UN, the EU and major bilateral donor governments, the weaknesses in these institutions are likely to prevail throughout the electoral process. Possible implications are delayed voter registration, unsufficient polling material, and civil servants prone to manipulation, among others.

The political dynamics framing the pre-electoral period might still be the most serious impediment to free and fair elections in DRC. Given that Kabila and his government have proven to grow incrementally more authoritative during the last 5 years (examples include a probably self-induced coup d’état with concomitant tightening of security measures in early 2011 and the dubious assassination of Human Rights activist Floribert Chebeya in 2010) it cannot be taken for granted that he would step down peacefully in case of defeat. Gradually, Kabila had been losing his stance of a so-called “donor-darling” and, instead, diversified relations to non-OECD donors (such as China or India). Hereby, he enlarged his room for manœuvre on the international level, as careful Congolese foreign policy resulted in a sort of toleration by Western governments (one of the main reasons was indeed that Joseph Kabila turned out to be less cruel and corrupt than his father or Mobutu) and acquisition of new partners. All that led to a situation whereby political and social rights have been entrenched and cut down step by step. Those dynamics have been mainly unobserved or unnoticed by DRC’s international partners. Kabila, the AMP, the ANR (his special secret service) and his special paramilitary cohorts built up a tough control in the area of Kinshasa, where political power in DRC is traditionally wielded. By the means of his de jure presidency and the internationally welcomed election results in 2006, he was accepted at a global level. On the other side, Kabila remained a very weak President in his own country. Outside Kinshasa, only Katanga in the Southeast can be considered as a major Kabilist stronghold. The Kivu provinces, with Katanga the most important provinces for him in 2006, have undergone a shift of political alignment, due to deception in terms of electoral promises but also due to the emergence of Vital Kamerhe’s UNC. In Orientale and Equateur, Bemba’s MLC still enjoys broader support and in most of the Southwest provinces (especially the Kasai provinces and Bandundu), Tshisekedi turns out to be the most popular contender. Further, insecurity and violence has again flared up in Eastern DRC (after a relatively quiet 2010) and Kabila’s military strategy (joint operations of Congolese and Rwandan army forces) has de facto led to a weakening of the major armed groups (to a large extent, CNDP was virtually integrated into the Congolese army FARDC, and FDLR-FOCA’s fighting capacity was substantially diminished) but the concerted bilateral offensives have deeply undermined reconciliation processes and enhanced a splintering of armed groups into smaller units. A complicated more opaque conflict topography is the consequence. In addition, Kabila’s mining decree (October 2010) caused serious economic volatility in the very same regions and contributed to further predation and illegal mineral trade.

So, what could those development have to do with the upcoming elections?

First, Congolese people are discontent with their President and their government.
Second, the concentration of political and military power around Kinshasa and the apparent inability to tackle the smouldering conflict in the East still represent a potential for explosion.
Third, DRC’s government is not dependent from a single large donor coalition, which strengthens its bargaining position and offers option to defect from certain donor wishes (i.e. good governance or transparent electorl processes).
Fourth, the tensions between the political opposition and the government are increasingly strong and might harden along different geographic and economic cleavages.
Fifth, Congolese institutions have not shown deliberate ownership in terms of the electoral process.
Sixth, international support will be weaker and smaller than in 2006, for different reasons: The current emergencies in Somalia, Libya, Syria, and other countries are diverting commitment to other regions. The deployment of an EU mission has not been considered, like in 2006. The capacities of MONUSCO are clearly insufficient to tackle the additional challenges arising in the context of the polls (same applies to many other international actors in the country).

Possible scenarios for the elections therefore include:

1. The opposition does not manage to forge a joint coalition with a unique candidate (Tshisekedi, Kamerhe, or most unlikely, Bemba) and Kabila easily wins with some 25% of the votes cast. DRC remains largely chaotic, but Kabila manages to maintain control over Kinshasa.
Likelihood: 90%
2. The opposition does not manage to forge a joint coalition with a unique candidate (Tshisekedi, Kamerhe, or most unlikely, Bemba) and Kabila easily wins with some 25% of the votes cast. The opposition does not accept the results, upheavals shatter Kinshasa and the country sinks in turmoil again. Such an outcome is close to being protracted, since political cleavages will spoil mediation attempts.
Likelihood: 60%
3. The opposition does not manage to forge a joint coalition with a unique candidate (Tshisekedi, Kamerhe, or most unlikely, Bemba) but one of the opposition candidates wins.
Likelihood: 0%
4. The opposition manages to forge a joint coalition with a unique candidate (Tshisekedi, Kamerhe, or most unlikely, Bemba) and Kabila still wins. The opposition, in that case, is less likely to accept defeat and organise protests arguing for cancellation of the poll due to massive fraud (the opposition will perceive fraud whether there is or not, in such a case). The result might be an even more orchestrated post-election clash with a unified opposition movement against the government. The humanitarian consequences would be worse than in scenario two.
Likelihood: 50%
5. The opposition manages to forge a joint coalition with a unique candidate (Tshisekedi, Kamerhe, or most unlikely, Bemba) and wins the elections. Kabila does not accept the election results and tries to violently oppress the implementation of the results. Kinshasa becomes a battlefield taking up the examples of Abidjan earlier this year. The resolution of such a conflict though remains largely open.
Likelihood: 30%
6. The opposition manages to forge a joint coalition with a unique candidate (Tshisekedi, Kamerhe, or most unlikely, Bemba) and wins the elections. Kabila steps down and a new coalition assumes office(s) and power in DRC.
Likelihood: 10%
7. Disagreements between the Presidential candidates and organisational problems lead to a postponement of the elections. They might then be held somewhen in 2012.
Likelihood: 40%

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