Crisis Group Report 225: Is Democratic change possible?

International interventions can operate pretty independently from local contexts. In Congo, most of the staff from international organizations do not know much about the country’s politics, and I would argue that this is because they don’t have to. A good way to exemplify this is asking “who is Boshab”? Having failed this test myself in the past, I want to highlight that many staff members have technical professions far removed from diplomatic interaction and that a lack of (quality) Congolese media make it difficult to follow local politics. Yet, knowing the name of the Deputy Prime minister, former Speaker of Parliament (till 2012) and former Secretary General of the ruling party (till last week), might be considered good style when you are attempting to “help” another country.

During recent fieldwork in Congo, my attention was drawn to the other extreme – the “Congo nerds”. These are westerners, typically researchers and journalists, who have an applaudable knowledge about the country.  These people know the army regiments and hundreds of commanders within them; they know national, provincial and local politicians and are sometimes intimate with armed groups.  They talk about these things, are curious and ask questions. Although the name-dropping can get a little irritating, the knowledge and underlying experience is enviable.

The upcoming local/ provincial (2015) and national (2016) elections in Congo are the reason behind the Report at hand. The comprehensive report situates the analysis of the election preparations in a description of the key political moments during the recent years such as the “national consultations” and the M23 rebellion. It also explains the structural and institutional issues of Congolese politics, such as the lack of independence by the electoral commission (CENI), the highly fragmented political landscape and the tightly controlled security apparatus. In this manner, the report identifies several risks connected to the decentralization process, the overly ambitious electoral calendar and divisions within both the opposition and the ruling majority. Some of these aspects, such as the voter role, are quite technical, but nevertheless important for understanding the framework in which action takes place.

The report does justice to the role of key actors from politicians, to police, military, civil society and church leaders. More than 30 individual stakeholders are introduced. Being still quite ignorant on the Congolese actors, I appreciate this thirty something pages full of background knowledge, names and institutions as a great opportunity to study up. However, I am wondering how effective this detailed description is for people who merely want to get the bigger picture. It might divert attention from the analysis, which could have benefitted from a more central argument as organizing principle.

With a coup attempt and on-going fighting in Burundi, the intentions and action of Congo’s president deserve scrutiny. Just as in the case of Burundi and Rwanda, Congo’s constitution foresees President Kabila stepping down after having served two terms in office. But like Pierre Nkurunziza and Paul Kagame, Kabila seems to be decided to continue. He has not publicly clarified his intentions, which in itself is oil in the fire of pre-election tensions. However, there are clear indications that the regime tries to stay in power by all means. The report identifies three subsequent strategies: first, the regime attempted to amend the constitution. When that did not work, Kabila attempted to create legal obstacles to delay the elections. Since the new electoral law was abandoned due to widespread protests, the Congolese Government is now deliberately trying to produce chaos through pushing ahead with the elections and the decentralization process: “The sheer magnitude of the electoral agenda, in particular the local and provincial elections, combined with the sudden urgency in the otherwise stalled establishment of the new provinces, is likely to result in massive confusion and disarray…Such a scenario would justify an indefinite delay of the elections.” (P. 17)

The report naturally ends on recommendations. And here I see a big discrepancy between the analysis and the proposed action: While the report develops a picture of a power-hungry, Machiavellian Kabila regime, it suggests that this very regime could be compelled to a turn around through the threat of the withdrawal of international support. To be successful, this step requires that the regime would care. However, the earlier descriptions as well as other sources suggest that these men are primarily concerned with holding on to power. From the very beginning, they have been beneficiaries of this predatory state and are likely to cherish continuing more than they fear the withdrawal of international support. If they are attempting to compel the regime to anything, international negotiators ought to imply consequences for personal assets and traveling freedoms.

Congolese Local Elections Calendar

Although Severine Autesserre (2010) and Zoe Marriage (2013) have, amongst others, heavily criticized the focus of international donors on organizing Congolese elections in 2006, the upcoming one are widely seen as tremendously important not just for the legitimacy of the government and Congolese politics, but also for their interconnected role in mitigating conflict across the East.
While the State’s monopole on violence is undoubtedly an issue in DRC, legitimacy does not just derive from being in control. Particularly in a country as big as Western Europe representation is important, as many conflict hotspots in the East are more than 1500 km away from the capital. The issue of elections in DRC is two-fold:

1) National elections: The last national elections in 2011 have been criticized by the international community, the main concern being that a delegitimized president Kabila might not be able to effectively govern the country. Although there have been outbreaks of violence mainly in Kinshasa, it seems that the degree of manipulation was small and within the acceptable limits for Congolese populations and elites. The opposition was divided and Kabila would have probably won anyway. After this experience and with five more years of relatively unsuccessful Kabila reign, tolerance for manipulation both from the Congolese and the International Community would probably be less this time around. However, the Congolese constitution only permits two terms for the president and Kabila would have to step down. He seems unwilling to do so and has tried to change the constitution, which has met quite a lot of resistance. The issue of national elections is thus quite a thriller.

2) Local elections: I personally think that these are even more important precisely because national Congolese politics are likely to remain flawed. In addition, local elections have not taken place before and will mark the beginning of the country’s decentralization, something that is utterly necessary. This is critical because of an assumed high correlation between representation and violence. Put simply, people that do not feel represented and do not see any chance to influence politics, government and administration are more likely to take up arms. The inverse is probably also true, if you have elected your representatives, you are less likely to take violent measures against him/ her even if that person is incompetent. Currently, there is no such thing as local elections and given that illegitimate national-level politics, it is no wonder that local communities feel totally disconnected from the government whose military and police representatives also happen to commit most human right violations. Local elections can give the state that people actually interact with more legitimacy and also make it more accountable. Below the schedule of the urban, municipal and local elections (Communique de presse N°024/CENI/14):
• Du 10 juin au 09 juillet 2014 : Accréditation des observateurs à long terme;
• Du 01 octobre au 20 octobre 2014 : Audit externe du fichier électoral;
• Du 03 au 20 novembre 2014: Examen de l’annexe à la loi électorale portant répartition des sièges ;
• Du 10 décembre 2014 au 18 janvier 2015: Convocation de l’électorat et dépôt des candidatures au niveau des bureaux de réception et traitement des candidatures ;
• Du 19 au 23 janvier 2015 : Retrait, ajout ou substitution des candidatures ;
• Le 13 février 2015: Publication de la liste provisoire des candidatures aux élections des Conseillers des communes et des secteurs/chefferies ;
• Du 14 au 24 février 2015 : Dépôt des recours en contestation des listes des candidatures et leur traitement auprès et par les tribunaux administratifs ;
• Le 25 février 2015: Publication des listes définitives des candidats aux élections des Conseillers des communes et des secteurs/chefferies ;
• Du 30 avril au 29 mai 2015 : Accréditation des témoins, des observateurs et des journalistes;
• Du 15 mai au 14 juin 2015 : Affichage des listes des électeurs par site de vote et bureau de vote ;
• Du 29 mai au 12 juin 2015 : Campagne électorale pour les élections des Conseillers des communes des et des secteurs/chefferies;
• Le 14 juin 2015: Jour du scrutin municipal et local; ouverture des bureaux de vote et de dépouillement pour les municipales et locales;
• Le 30 juin 2015 : Annonce des résultats pour les élections des Conseillers des communes et des secteurs/chefferies;
• Du 01 au 08 juillet 2015: Dépôt des recours relatifs au contentieux des élections des Conseillers des communes et des secteurs/chefferies;
• Du 09 juillet au 06 septembre 2015: Traitement des contentieux des élections des Conseillers des communes et des secteurs/chefferies;
• Du 15 juillet au 18 août 2015: Installation des Conseils municipaux et locaux ;
• Le 07 septembre 2015 : Publication des résultats définitifs des élections des Conseillers des communes et des secteurs/chefferies;
• Du 05 au 18 juillet 2015: Réception et traitement des candidatures des Conseillers urbains, des Maires, des Bourgmestres et des Chefs de secteur;
• Le 3 août 2015 : Publication des listes provisoires des candidats Conseillers urbains, Maires, Bourgmestres et Chefs de secteur
• Du 04 au 12 août 2015: Contentieux des candidatures des Conseillers urbains, des Maires, des Bourgmestres et des Chefs de secteur (dépôt et traitement) ;
• Le 14 août 2015 : Publication de la liste définitive des candidats Conseillers urbains, Bourgmestres et Bourgmestres adjoints, Chefs de secteur et Chefs de secteur adjoints;
• Du 25 au 27 août 2015 : Campagne électorale des Conseillers urbains, des Bourgmestres et des Chefs de secteur;
• Le 29 août 2015 : Jour du vote des Conseillers urbains, des Bourgmestres et des Chefs de secteur;
• Du 29 au 30 août 2015 : Agrégation et annonce des résultats provisoires des Conseillers urbains, des Bourgmestres et des Chefs de secteur ;
• Du 31 août au 14 septembre 2015 : Recours et contentieux des résultats relatifs à l’élection des Bourgmestres et Bourgmestres adjoints, des Chefs de secteur et leurs adjoints;
• Le 15 septembre 2015 : Proclamation des résultats définitifs des Bourgmestres et Bourgmestres adjoints, des Chefs de secteur et leurs adjoints;
• Le 20 septembre 2015: Investiture des Bourgmestres et Bourgmestres adjoints et des Chefs de secteur et leurs adjoints;
• Du 31 août au 06 novembre 2015 : Recours et contentieux des résultats des élections des Conseillers urbains ;
• Du 14 septembre au 08 octobre 2015 : Installation des Conseils urbains;
• Du 11 au 13 octobre 2015 : Campagne électorale des Maires et Maires adjoints;
• Le 15 octobre 2015 : Jour de scrutin des Maires et Maires adjoints;
• Le 15 octobre 2015: Agrégation et annonce des résultats provisoires des Maires et Maires adjoints;
• Du 16 au 30 octobre 2015 : Recours et contentieux relatifs à l’élection des Maires et Maires adjoints;
• Le 31 octobre 2015 : Proclamation des résultats définitifs des Maires et Maires adjoints ;
• Le 05 novembre 2015: Investiture des Maires et Maires adjoints.