Good Developments

Thoughts on development aid, African politics and other stuff

Congo: the real danger lies ahead

Scuffles broke out at various polling stations (photo: Azad Essa/Al Jazeera)

by Peter Dörrie

The easy part of the elections in the DR Congo is over. The voting day was chaotic, marred by violence and irregularities, as was the run-up to the elections. But only after the last ballot was cast, the really dangerous part of the elections began.

Even if there is little or none tampering with the vote counting process – which can be doubted – the loosing parties will cry foul. And most impartial observers will agree with them, that the campaign and election process was hardly a level playing field.

The government of president Kabila left little to chance. First the electoral law was changed to avoid a situation like in Ivory Coast, were the incumbent Laurent Gbagbo saw himself beaten by his challenger in a tense run-off round, that resulted in a resurgence of the civil war and ousted him from power. In the DR Congo, there is no run-off round any more, the winner of the simple majority in the first round takes it all.

There are also widespread allegations of ballot-box stuffing, phantom polling stations and of hundrets of thousands of fake names on voter lists, which were not presented in public in many places.

The opposition, especially the supporters of long-time opposition leader Étienne Tshisekedi, will take these points up with gusto. Tshisekedi, a 78 year old politician who confronted every Congolese regime starting with Mobutu, has already declared himself winner days before the election even started and seems to be bend on seeking the ultimate confrontation with the current regime. His supporters already have repeatedly clashed with security forces, especially in Kinshasa.

While this opposition has little in terms of military supplies and structures, they could turn most urban centres of the country into war zones. Make no mistake: the security forces have the capacity to regain control pretty quickly, except maybe in the areas (like the Kivus) were they are weak anyway. But the ensuing conflict would be very bloody and filled with atrocities.

Should this happen, there is little hope that the West would intervene. Both the US and the EU have reduced their commitment since the elections in 2006, when a German-French mission patrolled the streets of Kinshasa. There is a UN mission in the country – wit a relatively robust mandate to protect civilians – and it would do their best to stem the flow of violence, but MONUSCO is already unable to effectively police the vast east of the country, where in many places militias still rule the ground, or put an end to the continuing incursions of the LRA in the north-east. Should both the opposition and the government be willing to slug it out on the streets, there is little the UN could do about it.

The only way a violent turn of the events could be avoided, is if one of the actors involved takes the responsible decision to back down and try to resolve their issues by non-violent means. This could be either the opposition, who could take a cue from the Arab Spring and start a non-violent protest movement. While deaths and injuries are virtually guaranteed by taking this path as well (over 800 people died in Egypt since January), the potential of escalation would be heavily reduced.

Or the government (maybe under pressure from the UN and other international partners) acknowledges the concerns of the opposition and finds a way to include them into the political process.

In all of these cases, the international community carries a great responsibility. It is up to the UN, the EU, the US and last but certainly not least the African states to exert pressure on their various allies inside Congo to reduce the potential for conflict. Especially the position of other African governments gives some hope this time around, as many of them (like South Africa) have huge economic interests in the DR Congo, which could be put into jeopardy, if the country sinks into chaos again.

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