Realpolitik of the DRC elections

Congolese president Joseph Kabila casts his ballot in the country's presidential election at a polling station in Kinshasa. File picture: Jerome Delay/AP.

With opposition parties in the DRC failing to back a single candidate to face off against President Joseph Kabila’s designated successor, the political trajectory in the country is likely to be one of continuity and not change. Incumbent President Joseph Kabila is backing a hardline Interior Minister and loyalist Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, and the decks are stacked in his favour.

Exactly a month ahead of the landmark elections, the opposition has unequal access to the media which is largely controlled by the government, and there have been cases of opposition rallies being blocked from taking place while Shadary’s rallies have been in full swing. The most popular opposition leaders have been prevented from running in the elections. Jean Pierre Bemba who came second in the 2006 elections was blocked by the government from returning to the DRC in August, and the popular Moise Katumbi was also barred from entering the DRC at the border when he tried to return home in August.

Concerns remain around the reliability of the voting machines being delivered from South Korea and whether they may enable fraud. With low computer literacy throughout the country and limited electricity supplies it is unclear whether the registered voters will be able to cast their votes, especially considering many of the 80,000 voting stations are in the rural areas. There are also questions around the validity of 10 million of the 46 million registered voters.

But despite the complaints of opposition parties about the dwindling political space, it was believed that if the opposition were able to unite, they would still have a chance of unseating the ruling party of Kabila. But once again egos have gotten in the way uniting the DRC’s fractured opposition. While seven of the main opposition parties signed an agreement in Geneva on Sunday to back a single candidate, by the next day the leader of the largest opposition party on the ballot, Felix Tshisekedi, had already pulled out of the agreement, his UDPS party not supporting the compromise.

With 36 political parties and little political will to form a united front against the ruling party, it becomes difficult to effect real change. The UDPS clearly feels they have more to gain by contesting the election on their own, rather than supporting the opposition candidate agreed on in Geneva – Martin Fayulu, who has the support of Katumbi and Bemba.This election is a one round contest that will be decided by simple majority, meaning that multiple candidates will spit the anti-Shadary vote.

So where does this leave the medium term future trajectory of the DRC? It suggests that many of those political leaders who have benefited financially from their positions of power will continue to do so, and they will also try to rid the DRC of foreign interference, even forcing the withdrawal of the UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO which has operated in the country for two decades. Without any kind of UN presence there is likely to be a proliferation of militia groups, particularly in the east of the country where a number of rebel groups already run amok.

The ADF rebel group that has operated near the border with Uganda since the 1990s has been targeting both the national security forces as well as MONUSCO staff and civilians in North Kivu. The national army clearly lacks the capacity to address the challenge posed by rebel groups, and without the presence of MONUSCO forces, these militias will have a free for all, preying on the local population in the Kivus – in what is considered the rape capital of the world.

The WHO has called the instability in the DRC “a perfect storm,”  given that the already spreading Ebola virus could easily spin out of control, especially now that health workers are pulling out after three Red Cross workers were attacked. Kabila’s government has little to show for its 18 years in office considering the DRC currently ranks 135th out of 140 economies measured by the WEF’s Global Competitiveness Report of 2018. There have been useful projects that were initiated such as the Inga Dam which could have solved the electricity needs of the DRC and even South Africa and other neighbouring countries, but thanks to inefficiency progress on such initiatives has been stalled for decades.

The DRC government has signed an agreement worth US$14 billion with Chinese and Spanish companies to build the largest hydro electric project – the Inga 3 Dam which is supposed to generate 11,000 megawatts of electricity. If this project comes off it would have immense benefits not only for the DRC, but South Africa considering that in 2013 we signed a treaty with the DRC committing our country to buying 2500 megawatts – half the projected output.

If Shadary takes power in January 2019, which looks increasingly likely, it would be in our national interest to initiate a sustained engagement with the new government in the hope of influencing and assisting the DRC’s development trajectory, which impacts on our own.

Shannon Ebrahim is the Group Foreign Editor for Voices360.