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New uniform, old guard?

Current Affairs

New uniform, old guard?

Despite claims from several quarters that the DRC elections were fixed, it now seems that the surprise winner, Félix Tshisekedi is here to stay. Many see the hand of the outgoing President, Joseph Kabila in the results but what is his game and why are so many foreign powers upset with the outcome? Analyses by Anver Versi and Tom Collins.

It has taken almost 60 years for the DRC to finally manage what virtually every country in Africa achieved decades ago – the transfer of political power without resort to force of arms. So far, at the time of going to press, the situation has been peaceful but the atmosphere is charged.

According to the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI), the winner of the 2019 Presidential election is Félix Tshisekedi, son of the late opposition leader, Étienne Tshisekedi. The outcome was challenged in the Constitutional Court, which found nothing amiss and confirmed the results.

The general election was won resoundingly by the former President Joseph Kabila’s ruling party, the Common Front for Congo, with more than 350 seats in the 500-seat House of Representatives. The President appoints the Prime Minister, who is the head of government, from the winning party.

But a peaceful transfer through the ballot box is one thing – maintaining peace after the transfer is quite another. Immediately the results were announced and according to some, even before that, the runner-up, Martin Fayulu, the former Exxon Mobil executive turned opposition leader, contested them – calling it an “electoral coup”.

He claimed that Tshisekedi had brokered a backdoor deal with Kabila, and the outgoing President used his influence within CENI to pinch victory from Fayulu and hand it to his new partner.

Protesting against election results has become an almost necessary knee-jerk reaction following elections in Africa. Cases in point include the more recent polls in Kenya and Zimbabwe. Some observers put this down to the belief that a defeat in the polls is more palatable if the losing side believes the elections were ‘stolen’ than that the majority did not vote for their side. But that does not rule out chicanery during the polls from the stuffing of ballot boxes or later manipulation of the results.

Given the clear dangers of social anarchy that could and have followed disputed election results, wisdom advises caution before calling ‘foul’.

However, in this case, the voices raised in protest at the results have been many. The first blow to Tshisekedi’s victory came from the country’s influential Catholic Church, who led the largest election observation mission, fielding around 40,000 observers.

According to their figures – based on 43% of the voter turnout – Fayulu secured 62.8% of the votes against Tshisekedi’s 15%, while Kabila’s handpicked candidate, Emmanuel Shadary polled 17.99%.

France and the DRC’s former colonial overlord, Belgium also raised doubts. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian claimed that Fayulu was expected to be declared the winner. Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said that his country would use its temporary UN Security Council seat to investigate the poll results.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt added that he was very concerned “about discrepancies” in the results.  

The Financial Times and Radio France Internationale carried out a joint investigation and claimed the elections had been fraudulent.  The FT stated that its analysis of two separate collections of voting data, representing 86% of votes cast, showed that Fayulu won the election with 59.4% of the vote while Tshisekedi and Shadary both got about 19%.

The African Union also broke with protocol, initially saying publication of the results should be delayed and later saying that it would send a delegation, including AU Commission head, Moussa Faki and AU Chairman, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame to visit the DRC with “the view to reaching a consensus on a way out of the post-electoral crisis.” The government of DRC rejected both overtures.

Following the Constitutional Court of Kenya’s announcement, Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe, John Magufuli of Tanzania and Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi recognised Tshisekedi as the new President and sent their congratulations.

Russia and China said they opposed foreign interference in the DRC election, while the US President Donald Trump sent 80 troops to neighbouring Gabon in case violence broke out, and the US Embassy warned Americans not to travel to DRC until the situation was calmer.

Interested parties converge

As we go to press, Fayulu has called for nationwide non-violent civil disobedience. There have been a few gatherings of the opposition but these were quickly dispersed by the police and the situation remained calm in the rest of the country.

The question now is whether or not the current transition to power will hold and the opposition will battle the government in parliament, as is normal democratic process, or if violence will once again stalk this vast country?

The reaction of the Western countries clearly indicates that they are not pleased with the election outcome as they see it as a victory for Joseph Kabila, who they believe will pull the strings behind Tshisekedi who, while he has a considerable constituency following, has little or no experience of government.

The DRC, a vast country – four times the size of France – is also considered the world’s richest in terms of natural resources. It is an important producer of copper and cobalt. Cobalt is now considered ‘blue gold’ given the high prices it fetches in the international market, as it is a critical element in the manufacture of batteries used in mobile phones and increasingly, in electric vehicles. The DRC also produces diamonds, gold, coltan (used in laptops, mobiles etc) and other minerals. It is also an important market for manufactured goods.

Control of these minerals, as well as the country’s critical geopolitical position, has always made it of significant strategic value in the global competition for resources, markets and defence considerations.

Kabila has played the big powers adroitly, balancing Western interests against a growing Chinese and Russian influence and perhaps ensured that he will remain in control, through his party at least, of developments.

What are we to make of the election results and what do they portend? Was the vote rigged? Is it possible for any outside agency to unofficially monitor a country as vast as the DRC? What are the games within the games?

Is Kabila still the king without a crown? NA

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