As tension mounts ahead of DRC election results proclamation – Where is the European Union?

Many observers and commentators of the ongoing Congolese elections have been wondering about a rather silent if not completely absent international community and global press, compared to DRC’s last elections in 2006.

As the fourth partial round of the presidential results have appeared and the provisional final results are expected for today, incumbent President Joseph Kabila Kabange (46,4%) maintains his lead over fierce opposition contender Etienne Tshisekedi wa Mulumba (36.2%). Other candidates such as Vital Kamerhe (7.2%) or Leon Kengo wa Dondo (4,4%) are far behind but if they had aligned to Tshisekedi, the whole race would have become quite tough.

All that happening, major international actors have left the scene. The scent made by understaffed electoral missions from the EU (MOE UE) and the USA (Carter Center) has turned into a clear statement of unconcern which is odd considering the fact that international aid donors are still pouring over 3 billion US$ per annum into the (post-)conflict country. In addition, elections in 2006 were accompanied by a resilient EU military outfit called EUFOR RD Congo, joining the efforts of the UN mission then called MONUC. This time, MONUSCO (apart from the name, nothing much has changed in that UN mission) was left alone with a task not belonging to its core assignments and has apart from yesterday’s mediation attempt by Special Representative to the Secretary-General, Roger Meece, not attracted much attention during the last days.

In the UN Security Council, the probably rigged and fraudulent nature of DRC’s 28th of November poll has been discussed, as DRC expert Jason Stearns has reported, though without any clear results. While Russia and China continue to pray the sermons of non-interference (which is not always the worst argument, as we have seen in Côte d’Ivoire where international interference has broken both Ivorian and International Law) and back Joseph Kabila, even the USA, France, UK are rather keen on dealing with a difficult but predictable Congolese counterpart. The inclination for Tshisekedi among the Big Five is thus, at best, mediocre. South Africa, Gabon, and Nigeria are at Kabila’s sides anyway and other UNSC members are likely to follow one of the permanent members, or if they are EU members, they may follow a specific EU line. Apparently, only Germany has uttered deep concerns among the strong Western countries (although, I cannot finally confirm that). The position of Lebanon is quite unclear to me, as I cannot really approve whether they are pro- or anti-Kabila (depends on which of the Lebanese traders are most influential in the Lebanese government) but they will not be the ones to influence the behaviour of the whole UNSC.

While we see a group of countries traditionally against interference (Russia, China, and their peers) while others have clear motives or personal reasons to support Kabila (the African members of the UNSC) and the USA have been reluctant to engage in (Central) Africa for quite a while, the European Union is left as the only block likely to become involved in DRC’s current electoral issues. There are two reasons why the EU should become concerned: First, it has been doing a couple of military and civilian mission in the country throughout the last 10 years, most notably EUFOR RD Congo, EUFOR Artemis in Orientale province 2004, and the ongoing EUPOL/EUSEC missions. Second, the EU has been struggling to find/keep its place on the international level after the coming into force of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009 which has been established in order to promote are more coherent, consistent and weightier external action.

Looking at DRC and the current developments, the mentioned aims sound somewhat awkward. Especially with regards to the high-level relations there has not been any major incident indicating that the EU chiefs are ambitious to play an active role in mitigating a possible post-electoral conflict. The most recent statement of the spokesman of EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Catherine Ashton remained unconcrete and vague. A couple of days later, Lady Ashton and her Development Commissioner Piebalgs  delivered another press release which has not been grasping the crucial points and challenges of the situation in DRC either. European Council President Herman van Rompuy has not even contributed at all to the discourse, as he is probably engaged in Eurozone matters and maybe also in Egypt or Syria. Nonetheless, as the Lisbon Treaty expects him to represent the EU externally at his level, he would be the person in charge to broker negotiations between Kabila and Tshisekedi. On the other side, as the agent of the collective principal European Council, his own interest or aspiration might not determine his actual behaviour. In contradiction to the written provisions to be found in EU treaties, the daily policy-making in Europe’s capitals has proven that legal text are seldomly applied to the real world the way they were written.

Due to the financial and monetary crisis (I know, it is easy to blame the that crisis for everything, but there are reasons – also in this case) most EU member states are on the way of massively cutting their defence budgets and therefore not likely to engage in military missions driven by interests other than own security. Both Ashton and van Rompuy must be quite aware of that which is why they might have chosen to employ a very low profile on the DRC issue – especially as other actors such as the UN may approach the EU for another mission (although last time the EU refused when a multinational battle group should be deployed in North Kivu 2008). On the other side, it seems the EU would silently count on its skills as a “normative” or “civilian” rather than “military” force. A digest of the most relevant DRC newspapers during the pre-electoral weeks show a strong activity profile of the EU delegation in Kinshasa. Ambassador Richard Zink has been engaging with a large number of relevant political parties, the electoral commission CENI and numerous power-brokers. In contrast to several bilateral representations in Kinshasa, it seems that the EU’s “multilateral” diplomacy is driven by a more careful and sensitive approach as Congolese media are widely positive towards the EU delegation.

Still, the EU’s efforts are not correlating to its capabilities and aspirations in international relations. In the wider EU discourse the notion of a “capability-expectations-gap” has been fiercely discussed since the 1990s. In the case of external action and the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) I would rather argue there is a “willingness-expectations-gap”. Although many aspects of external action have stood at the centre of the last treaty reforms (most notably the creation of the European External Action Service, the creation of the European Council President, and that of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign and Security Policy) the current case of DRC displays a clear case of EU inertia and lack of initiative on the CFSP arena.

Meanwhile, Kinshasa is expecting the provisional final results to be declared by the CENI today. While DRC’s highest police commander, Gen. Bisengimana has already forecast a day “such as any other”, many people are worried about which “mot d’ordre” Tshisekedi will utter in (the most probable) case that Kabila secures his looming landslide win. Regardless of the opposition’s reactions, the whole electoral process is yet renowned as widely manipulated, fraudulent, rigged, and partly undemocratic as many observers have claimed. After civil outrage during the polling days (mainly in Kananga, Mbuji-Mayi, and Lubumbashi) the situation has remained very tense in most urban areas of the country and several incidents have been reported in the rural zones of DRC’s Eastern provinces. As to witnesses, the capital has been filled with intervention police, riot cops, and Republican Guards while the military is also ready to step in if popular uprising happens. Up to now though, the situation remains quiet and calm both in Kinshasa and other parts of DRC.

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