The DRC is playing with fire

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Democratic Republic of Congo's Felix Tshisekedi swears into office during an inauguration ceremony as the new president of the Democratic Republic of Congo at the Palais de la Nation in Kinshasa

Photo credit: Reuters

Felix Tshisekedi, who the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Constitutional Court declared winner of the country’s disputed 30 December 2018 elections, should include the runner-up Martin Fayulu in a government of national unity, to ensure peace, stability and inclusiveness in this troubled central African country.  

Unless Tshisekedi and his party substantially include Fayulu and his party in government, public institutions and business, the DRC risk imploding like neighbouring Zimbabwe. In last year’s election, Zanu-PF, in a disputed election result, endorsed by the courts, excluded the main opposition MDC Alliance in government, making at least half of the country feel angry at the prospect of yet another 5-years of Zanu-PF-rule which had in the past brought joblessness, starvation and enforced exile to millions.

In such a DRC unity government, Tshisekedi could become president and Fayulu could be the prime minister, and the Cabinet and government could be divided between the members of their respective opposition parties over 5-years. Alternatively, one could be president for half of the 5-year presidential term, and the other be the prime minister for the rest of the term; and then reverse roles with the other in the second half of the 5-year term.

The DRC’s electoral commission declared Tshisekedi winner with 38.57% of the vote, and Fayulu, was declared runner-up, with 34.8% of the vote. Fayulu had challenged the election result in court. The cobalt and copper rich country’s respected Catholic Bishops association had criticized the results as not a true reflection of the outcome, based on reports from its nationwide election observers.

The elections was the most historical since the end of colonialism, as for the first time two opposition parties dominated the outcome of the poll, rather than the country strongman. The DRC secured independence from Belgium in 1960. Despite the allegations of vote rigging about, the sporadic violence before and after the elections, and parts of the country remaining no-go zones, this has been relatively the most peaceful elections in the country’s short electoral history.

The election ended the 18-year rule of the autocratic rule of Joseph Kabila, who had taken over from his father Laurent Desire Kabila, in a dynastic succession, after the latter was assassinated. Joseph Kabila tried to extent his terms beyond the constitutional limits, repressed opposition and treated the country’s public resources as it was his personal property.

Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, handpicked by former DRC strongman Joseph Kabila was overwhelmingly rejected by the long-suffering Congolese voters. Shadary helped founded Kabila’s People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD) in 2002, of which he is the secretary general. Shadary polled a far third in the presidential election.

Kabila’s eventual fall had much to do with pressure from young people and civil society organisations that used new technology, such as the Internet, social media, blogs and short message services (SMS), on their mobile phones to organize mass protests across the country. DRC youth groups such as Filimbi, pushed for democratic reform, exposed corruption and human rights under Kabila and brought the government to its knees Arab Spring-like. In the end, Kabila conceded after pressure, and reluctant dropped his intention to stay on.

Tshisekedi in his inaugural presidential speech this week promised to tackle corruption and pervasive tribalism, release all civil society and opposition activists imprisoned by Kabila for opposing regime, and finally build democracy.

Fayulu launched his opposition party, the Commitment for Citizenship and Development in 2009. Felix Tshisekedi is the son of the long-time opposition party, the late Etienne Tshisekedi, who co-founded the Union for Democracy and Social Progress in 1982, the country’s first post-independence opposition party, which Felix inherited.

The DRC like most African countries have a winner take all electoral systems, whereby election winners, even if they won with half a percentage takes control of all government, public institutions and business tenders; marginalizing the opposition supporters even in the mostly lowly village council.

It is just plain dumb that African regional organisations continue, to like in the case of the 16-member Southern African Development Community’s (SADC’s), urged “all Congolese to accept the outcome”, instead of encouraging every African country to divide the spoil of elections equally between the leading contestants, not matter who wins, to reverse the slide of Africa into violence, country-break and more poverty.

The DRC and all African countries must abolished such destructive winner takes all electoral systems, which has led to civil war, break-up of African countries and forced many millions to flee their countries. African regional institutions must forthwith push for the abolishment of all winner takes all electoral systems, and the introduction of governments of unity, coalitions governments or presidential rotations between leading parties with substantial support.

The DRC is so close; yet so far to peace. It has finally rid itself of a tyrant – who have left peacefully, albeit reluctantly, following the mobilization of the youth, civil society and the media, which have helped propelled the opposition to power for the first time since independence.

A government of national unity between Tshishekedi and Fayulu, the inclusion of civil society in government, and the introduction of rights-based governance, could finally bring peace to the decades-long troubles at the heart of Africa. Such a compromise would indeed usher in the “new era” for the DRC espoused by Tshishekedi in his inaugural presidential speech this week. Tshishekedi, whose father Etienne in 1982 launched the first opposition party in the country’s post-independence history, should not let this great historic opportunity slip.


William Gumede is Executive Chairman, Democracy Works Foundation (www.democracyworksfoundation.org) and author of South Africa in BRICS (Tafelberg).