Delegates attending an ambassadorial forum on Tuesday were told that merely holding elections was not enough to formalise and institutionalise democracy in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). “Greater substantive democracy is needed to ensure that the State has the ability to act as a representative body that expresses the will of the electorate,” said African Institute of South Africa (Aisa) chief research specialist Dr Sylvester Maphosa.
The ambassadorial forum was organised by Aisa and the City of Tshwane to investigate the Presidential elections in the DRC and its aftermath.
Maphosa said, holding elections is an important step in entrenching democracy as it is an avenue for the electorate to exercise its right to elect new leaders; however, alone it does not guarantee or promote substantive democratic processes. He argued that more needed to be done from a cultural and human aspect to ensure the consolidation and functioning of a democratic regime.
The DRC needed to focus not only on the technical issues of an election, but also on the nonelectoral dimensions to democracy, such as changing attitudes, perceptions and behaviors as a means to ensuring substantive democracy in the country. This is what Maphosa referred to as the “missing link” in democratic transitions.
Citing political philosopher Johan Galtung’s conflict triangle, he argued that attitudes affect behavior, which in turn affects political structures. Through this logic, the DRC needed to start changing the national psyche with regard to politics in order to effect democratic change in the DRC. Maphosa added that the strategy would only be successful, however, if there was buy-in from the public, the elite and civil society.
Barriers to Democratic Transition and Consolidation
The Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa’s Dieudonne Tshiyoyo said there were a number of barriers that were hindering the efficient functioning of substantive democracy in the DRC, with most of them residing in the State’s lack of capacity and legitimacy.
He noted that there was a substantial group within the DRC and abroad who have not accepted President Joseph Kabila’s election victory in the recent polls. These include supporters of opposition candidate Etienne Tshisekedi, who have violently protested the outcome of the election result, which they claim to be fundamentally flawed.
This lack of legitimacy seriously undermines the State’s capacity to enforce its authority, which is especially evident in the rebel-held northern and eastern territories. Further, the central government lacks the ability to protect its citizens, resulting in violence and frequent problems of factionalism.
“The State’s lack of capacity to carry out democratic functions, as well as the country’s undemocratic culture and mindset brought on by years of autocracy and violence, are seen as the major barriers to ensuring the DRC’s democratic transition and consolidation,” Tshiyoyo concluded.