DR Congo: Better the devil you know?

Taking its lead perhaps from the Obama administration, the international community seems generally willing to accept continued rule in the Democratic Republic of Congo by President Joseph Kabila despite his questionable legitimacy as president and his government’s violent repression.

Joseph Kabila, president of DRC

Millions of Congolese went to the polls on November 28th 2011 to cast votes in presidential and parliamentary elections. Since then, there has been a tense political climate in the country and several outbreaks of violence.

Both the US and the UN have spoken out recently on the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the aftermath of election results widely viewed as fraudulent. What they are not saying, however, is at least as important as their declarations of concern, analysts say. Neither the US nor UN is calling for new elections or for sanctions to be imposed on the Kabila government. Instead, the DRC’s re-installed leader is being urged to listen to opposition voices and to respect democratic norms.

As high-ranking US State Department official Donald Yamamoto told Congress earlier in the month, “The importance of the DRC to the United States is multifaceted and profound.” However, although he called for the “formation of an inclusive DRC government,” Yamamoto explicitly said, “We are not advocating a coalition government.”

The East African cites independent analysts in Washington who suggest that Congo’s severe poverty and absence of truly national institutions leads policymakers to calculate that superior alternatives to Kabila’s rule are not available.

Some see Etienne Tshisekedi, leader of the main opposition party, as yesterday’s man. Congressman Donald Payne recently declared that “the future of Congo is not with Tshisekedi. His time has come and passed.” Tshisekedi is seen by some – both in Washington and elsewhere – as “volatile and potentially unfriendly”.

At a press briefing at UN Headquarters in New York on February 8th, Hervé Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, emphasized that the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in DRC (MONUSCO) must continue to work with the Congolese authorities, especially to ensure that future elections can be carried out more smoothly.

Mr Ladsous acknowledged that the circumstances under which elections were held were challenging, and underlined the need for MONUSCO to continue working closely with Congolese authorities to prepare for the next phase of elections – provincial and local – so that they “satisfy the Congolese political actors, contribute to dialogue and the opening of the political space.”

A statement issued by the US State Department on February 14th said the United States continued to closely monitor the electoral process, and the hundreds of legal disputes against some legislative election results. It also said it remained “deeply concerned about multiple allegations of human rights abuses by security forces, including illegal and arbitrary detentions throughout the electoral process”.

However, it said that despite these concerns, the US encourages “all political parties to participate fully when the National Assembly is seated in order to preserve and protect the basic democratic principle of representative government in the Congo”.

Find out more with the following back issues of the Africa Research Bulletin

Parliamentary results Vol.49 No.1

Kabila’s tainted victory Vol.48 No.12

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