The elections in Congo-Kinshasa

I will let the above photo accompany my reflections on the recent elections in Congo-Kinshasa (held on 30 December 2018). I took the photo a little over a year ago when we crossed the Congo river to go and visit friends in Kinshasa.

I’m glad that the elections – as shambolic as they were – passed relatively peacefully. I don’t think anyone expected the elections to be free and fair, and indeed it seems they were not, however, I think many expected serious violence to erupt following the announcement of the results, and that is the part were we were proven wrong, at least so far, I’m glad to say.

The removal of three areas from the electoral list (over a million voters), because the organisers ‘weren’t able to get the ballots there on time’ (or because of ‘insecurity and an ebola outbreak’, take your pick, both were quoted as the reasons), the postponement of the elections by a week because they didn’t realise it would be so hard to transport the equipment to all corners of the country (when the elections were originally due in 2016!), the ‘unfortunate’ fire that engulfed some of the computer equipment that was to be used for electronic vote counting (the fire was visible from Brazzaville, on the other side of the Congo river!), all these little misfortunes didn’t bode well and people on both sides of the river were worried. Hearing high ranking officials make lame and contradictory excuses for one problem after the next further increased tensions and many feared the worst.

But voting day came and went without mass violence and so did the announcement of the results. Not that people are happy with the results, not that they believe the vote was free and fair, but it seems that some kind of relative calm reigns. Yes, people are upset and all signs point to fraud, but at least Kabila had the sense to ‘let’ an opposition candidate ‘win’. Not the right opposition candidate though, and this is the sticking point, by all polls and predictions, it was Fayulu not Tshisekedi that won. But the announced winner is actually from the opposition, even if it later were to turn out to be true that he’s struck a power-sharing deal with Kabila.

It’s always hard to know what to believe, you read and hear all sorts, but when the overwhelming noise points in one and the same direction, and that ties logically with the few facts that you do have, then it’s hard to ignore the noise. Here we know that the DRC didn’t allow any election observers to come in from abroad (I wonder why!), the only observers on the ground were 40.000 officials from the Catholic Church (and they state that the data collected doesn’t match the results announced!), and by now we have the African Union, the EU, the US, Belgium, France and Germany all with serious doubts about the results.

Yet this election has been hailed as the first democratic transfer of power since Congolese independence in 1960, so a victory of some sort. It is after all the first time an opposition candidate has ‘won’! Although how you interpret the word democratic in this case needs some modification to what you normally may be used to. Because let’s not forget that it seems the candidate with the highest number of votes hasn’t been proclaimed the winner and we have over one million voters that weren’t allowed to participate in the election! It’s been said that the excluded voters will be able to vote in March 2019. Well, hello there election organisers – how can you announce a winner now if part of the population is yet to vote?! You’ll actually organise a late election in a couple of months? And you’ll actually add the new votes to the current result? And you’ll actually declare a new winner should the results require it? Oh, no, sorry, I forgot, makes no difference what the numbers are, Tshisekedi is the winner, of course. Pity. Even Fayulu’s legal challenge of the elections has now been thrown out as ‘unfounded’ by the Constitutional Court. And the Catholic Church is appealing for calm, as they know from experience that the opposite would have tragic consequences.

So maybe we should simply see this election as a first step in a gradual progression towards democratic elections in the DRC. A baby-step in the right direction. And hope that things will slowly change for the better for the people of Congo-Kinshasa as well as for the Congolese that have chosen to leave their country and live elsewhere, many in neighbouring Congo-Brazzaville, but also in Belgium of course and other countries. This is the perspective from which I choose to look at it.

Here’s a selection of reports on the situation from the BBC, from France24h and from Reuters.

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