April 2018

D.R. CONGO :
AN END OF THE ROAD.

By George OLA-DAVIES
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Engulfed by conflicts, violence, corruption, the country should go to the polls on December 23… an insurmountable obstacle. And then everything has to be rebuilt.

It is not strange for religious leaders to be strongly implicated in the socio-political life in the Democratic Republic of Congo and this has been in existence since the country’s pre-colonial days.  The powerful Catholic Church and its leadership in particular have been involved in stifling any simmering chaos, not that they are always successful, but politicians have had a tendency to at least listen for a while. Religious leaders played a significant role in the 1990 National Sovereign Conference that sought to re-introduce multi party politics and end two decades of the Mobutu dictatorship. They also closely followed the Inter-Congolese Dialogue in Sun City, South Africa between 2001 and 2003, which heralded, for the first time in the history of politics in Africa, four Vice Presidents in a system that was aimed at overcoming the traditional divisions in the country’s polity and sought to usher in a veritable democratic system. 

This new system appeared to have eased the dogmatic divisions that had blotted the society and thus kept the religious leaders at bay but it was short-lived. The religious leaders resurfaced once again to avoid letting their dear country crashed into the abyss of humanitarian and political crises. The latest chapter of their implication witnessed a fresh chapter of the security intervention beyond imagination. 
Unfortunately that democracy which followed the Inter-Congolese Dialogue in a country of nearly 79 million people nicknamed a geological scandal by Congolese themselves because of its immense mineral wealth, has only been broken dreams. The DRC is the second largest country on the continent (2,344,858 km2) after Algeria and boasts of the fifth largest deposit of diamonds by volume in the world. It also has vast deposits of gold, cobalt, copper, nickel and the rare metal, caseterrite that is used in the production cell phones. 
Marie-Ange Mulumba, a diamond businesswoman in Mbuji Mayi said of the country’s mineral wealth: “If only we had used our minerals wisely we would have been in heaven on earth but here in Congo, we are in perpetual hell fire.”  
The Inga Hydroelectric Dam that was built under former President Mobutu Sesse Seko’s regime which has been at a semi-standstill for decades is another energy scandal. When in fully operational, this Dam will provide a 4,500 Megawatt of electricity that will not only supply the entire DRC with electricity, but will also export to Namibia, Angola, Botswana and South Africa. 
The DRC also has an immense national tragedy with a succession of wars, more so a major conflict that attracted neighbouring countries in the Great Lakes region between 1998-2003 claiming victims estimated to be between one and five million people. This cataclysm is said to be second only to the Second World War. The country also boasts of having hosted the largest contingent of United Nations peacekeeping troops (18000military/police and 4000 civilians. According to the British magazine, “The Economist,” ten out of the country’s 26 provinces have internal armed crisis with the presence of uncontrolled militias. Last year alone, it was estimated that more than two million Congolese fled their homes, increasing the number of refugees to nearly 4.5 million.
Apart from Kinshasa (see page 38) and Lubumbashi - and this is relative- the state is disintegrating with looters and their ilk devastating the country’s vast natural resources. 
Amidst the politicians’ bickering in the capital, a resurgence of the nearly two-decade long inter-ethnic fighting erupted in the Eastern Ituri region between the Hema and Lendu communities. The initial battle in January left at least 30 dead according to the United Nations which also issued warning of humanitarian catastrophe. Thousands of people have fled into neighbouring Uganda for safety leaving behind their torched homes, destroyed farmlands and stolen cattle. Inter-ethnic violence between the two communities that live side by side has claimed over 10,000 lives since the violence first erupted in 1999. On another front, armed militias have continued their activities in the North and South Kivus.
 
 
 
The epicentre of the Crisis
President Joseph Kabila has been following the footsteps of other African leaders on the continent before him. He came in military fatigues, when he was imposed on the people after the assassination of his father Laurent-Désiré, shed those for designer suits. He has been voted in twice in 2006 and 2011, following questionable electoral processes. His legal mandate after a two five-year term ended nearly two years ago and there is no sign he is ready to relinquish power soon. The latest date for elections is slated for December 23 this year but its realisation is left to conjecture. 
Twice elections had been pushed forward for different reasons and each time the country slid into new and bigger violence. Once again the church has waded in while state security forces have employed their brutal tactics leaving sorrow and blood as Congolese counted their dead and destroyed properties. The difference this time is that supporters of the ruling party took what they termed “counter demonstration” into church compounds all around the country to forestall protest marches initially launched by religious leaders. The protest would have seen churchgoers all over the country took to the streets after morning mass but the security forces surrounded major church buildings in major cities as well as blocked the main avenues. 
Kabila’s future uncertainty has aroused more attention from the Coordination of Secular Committee (Comité Laïc Coordination), CLC which organised the series of popular marches throughout the DRC on 31 December 2017 and 21 January 2018 that left in their trail bitter crushing by the security forces. This time the security forces went into churches (the first time ever) and attacked those whom they labelled as having participated in “an unauthorised popular uprising.”  The United Nations confirmed the death of nine people this year alone as a result of police brutality.
At the heart of the current crisis is the holding or not of elections come December 23. The government, through the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), is trying to introduce a controversial electronic voting system, despite accusations that the technology could twist the outcome.
On 13 February, the head of the CENI, Corneille Nangaa said: "Without voting machines, there won't be elections on 23 December 2018." Other officials of the CENI have claimed that it is not a cheating machine but rather one that simplifies the process and reduces costs. The views from the international community runs contrary to those of the CENI. The US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Hailey, for example, claimed that the machines could undermine the credibility of the polls. "These elections must be held by paper ballot so there is no question by the Congolese people about the result," she said adding: "The US has no appetite to support an electronic voting system," especially against the backdrop that e-voting system had never been practiced in the DRC. For an electronic system to function correctly, there must be constant electricity supply which is sadly not the case. Not only electricity is not everywhere, it is a luxury for the majority of the population.  
 
SILENCE ABOUT HIS FUTURE
The DRC has hardly, if ever, succumbed to international pressure. This latest threat will not be an exemption. There is a tendency to believe that Kinshasa regards the international community as a toothless bulldog for its lack of firmness in executing its sanctions apart from holding back aid money, freezing foreign assets of high placed military and government ministers and officials and barring them from travelling to such countries where their funds are being kept. Kabila himself has been quiet about his future. One of his aides, Lambert Mende, who doubles as Information Minister and government spokesman, said last January: “Mr. Kabila will not be standing for the presidency again.” 
For Roger Lumbala, leader of the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie – Nationale, (RCD-N): “We are not sure if Kabila will give up. He is an introvert and so we do not know what he thinks.” All this while, President Kabila is operating as if nothing is amiss. In what is being largely viewed as further consolidating his grip on power, he only recently appointed Henri Mova Sakanyi as the new interior minister and deputy prime minister. Sakanyi was until this appointment, Secretary-General of Kabila’s PPRD party, a post that is being abolished to make room for the newly created post of President, which Kabila intends to assume. 
With the opposition in disarray, hopes that Kabila’s PPRD will continue to cling on to power with him being an overarching figure guiding from the periphery could not be ruled out. According to Thierry Vircoulon, a renowned specialist on the Great Lakes Region, Joseph Kabila’s continued stay in power is largely due to a tacit pact signed between the security, economic and political actors who do not wish to see the status quo changed. The security forces have had all the latitude to do business as they wish since Kabila assumed office in 2001. The politicians and parliamentarians alike live off the longevity of the system with huge salaries and annuities.   Mining and oil companies (mostly underestimated) remain the preserve of close allies of the regime. They quietly and regularly enrich themselves and usually appear in international investigations in the genre of Panama Papers. Most of the neighbouring countries, with the exception of Rwanda, have found a modus operandi of dealing with Kabila and his government. China has, since the famous “Mineral for Cash” deal in 2007, become one of the major political actors in the DRC. After 17 years of Kabilism (and 30 years of Mobutuism) Congolese citizens are craving for a real - not mere cosmetic - change that will go beyond the renewal of the political class. In the words of Thierry Vircoulon “It is a question of putting an end to a true economic and political system of crossed interest in order to halt the “consensus of corruption”  “unsurpassable horizon of Congolese history.”  Faced with this force of inertia and the immensity of the task ahead, the cracks in the opposition walls have continued to give way. Moise Katumbi, the wealthy businessman and former governor of Katanga province, who heads the G7 political platform remains in exile with no certainty he will be back  to lead any meaningful campaign. Katumbi enjoys support not only from his Katanga region but throughout the country. Prior to declaring his intention to become president he had largely supported and sponsored Joseph Kabila. He resigned from the PPRD party in 2015 after a fallout with Kabila, denouncing the government’s constitutional drift and absence of the rule of law. His absence from the country has given rise to uncertainty and this has led to a gradual crumbling of the G7. The Tschisekedi faction which was born after the death of the emblematic opposition figure, Etienne Tschisekedi wa Mulumba, in February 2017 could have been THE veritable major opposition block but it is as divided as ever. The formation had hardly got off the ground when it was hit by a division. It now has two camps made up of the “Rassemblement de Limété” with Felix Tschisekedi at the head and Olivier Kamitatu, Pierre Ndumbi, Christophe Litundula as the principal figures and the “Aile Kasavubu” made up of Prime Minister, Bruno Tshibala, Joseph Olenghankoy and Roger Lumbala as the main actors.
 
 
LEGITIMACY CRISIS
Olivier Kamitatu was a founder member of Jean-Pierre Bemba’s Mouvement pour la Libération du Congo, (MLC.) With Bemba in Prison and a series of disaccord, he left the MLC, aligned with the presidential majority while serving as minister and later Deputé before creating his own ARC party. He now serves as the spokesperson of the G7 of which Moise Katumbi remains their presidential candidate. 
Their internal crisis within the G7 is two-fold. One of the main sources of discord which came into public view in December, relates to the support or not of a march to counter that proposed by the CLC. That difference remains deep and if Roger Lumbala is to be believed, it seems irreconcilable.  Another is the crass difference is the endemic regional and tribal groupings which have bedevilled the country’s political life long before the advent of independence. Lumbala believes the country does not have a political crisis. “We have a crisis of legitimacy because all those in office are out of their political mandate. On the basis of this illegitimacy how can we find a solution if we do not have elections?” Lumbala also supports the idea of the state apparatus cracking down on those who supported the call of the CLC demonstration. “In what country in this world will you have the authorities watch with folded arms while there is an uprising?” On the one hand, he said, “One should criticize constructively and on the other hand you should try to get to the bottom of what pushed the authorities to take such a stance.”  
Faced with such major division within the Tschisekedi camp it is difficult to envisage any reconciliation before the proposed December polls. Opposition to the Kabila regime is not only the Tschisekedi faction. There have been ongoing political choreography with leading political figures shifting sides as it suits them. There are those pitching tents with members of Jean-Pierre Bemba’s Mouvement pour la Liberation du Congo, (MLC),  Mbusa Nyamwisi, a one-time chef d guerre and former minister and Vitale Kamhere’s Union pour la Nation Congolaise, (UNC) one of the architects of the Sun City Accord and former president of the National Assembly. The absence of Jean-Pierre Bemba may have weakened the structure of his party but his MLC party loyalists remain intact. These political figures come from troubled parts of the country that are vehemently opposed to the Kabila regime. The MLC has its political base in the Equateur region, Mbusa Nyamwisi and Vitale Kamhere from the Kivus region. 
They may not be able to put up a strong force to fight a formidable political battle but in the face of the adversity to the current regime a re-composition of opposition groupings is not impossible. At least they still have time to navigate and fight a good fight. 
The Congolese masses have been waiting with impatience. They have been clamouring for it on the streets, in bars, in prayer houses……And the last thing that any Congolese will wish for now is a full scale disorder in a country that has witnessed one of the highest political instability on the continent.

 

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