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DRC Elections 2011: Lessons Learned for a Faltering Democracy

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The 2006 national elections in the DRC were among the most expensive held in Africa, and the involvement of the international community was extensive. There seemed to be high hopes for a new beginning for the country ravaged by decades of civil war. The UN mission at the time, MONUSCO, provided security before and during the elections, while international organisations and individual states provided technical assistance and logistical and financial support. The electoral situation in 2011 is in stark contrast with this. The international community financed approximately 80 per cent of the 2006 elections, while in 2011 financing has been halved.

Some analysts have linked the supposed decline in international interest, and subsequent declines in funding, to so-called ‘donor fatigue’. It is late in the game, 4 months before the elections, to advocate for increased funding, but the current state of affairs in the DRC certainly highlights some lessons learned – hopefully.

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The atmosphere has become increasingly tense in the months running up to the elections. The altering of the electoral system in January 2011 resulted in the scrapping of the second round of elections, and has been the biggest blow for opposition parties aspiring to the presidency. An added frustration for political opposition has been the rumour of irregularities within the Independent Electoral Commission (CENI), which augments the possibility of vote rigging by the ruling party.

The CENI, headed by pastor Daniel Ngoy Mulunda, has come under severe criticism from the opposition, who believe the registration process has been poorly executed. The CENI announced in July that 31,2 million Congolese citizens have registered to vote, after an extended registration period. Opposition parties and civil society movements have queried the integrity of the process. Due partly to a substantial decrease in funding for the elections, there were fewer registration centres compared to 2006, forcing many people to travel considerable distances to register. There has also been a lack of functioning technological equipment and skills to operate equipment.

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Initially it was argued that the move to appoint a religious figure as the head of the CENI would engender trust in the electoral processes of the DRC. There have, however, been numerous complaints from opposition parties who distrust Mulunda – widely believed to be an ally of the incumbent president, Joseph Kabila​. In a related complaint the electoral commission has not, as promised, named new officials to replace the workers within the commission who are affiliated with the ruling coalition.

Etienne Tshisekedi​’s Union Pour la Democratie et le Progres Social (UDPS) party attempted to deliver a memorandum to the Electoral Commission in early July listing its complaints regarding the voter registration process. According to the party its members were prevented from entering the building, which resulted in several people being injured when they clashed with local police. After this incident UDPS Secretary General Jacquemain Shabani Lukoo was allowed to deliver the memorandum.

Despite frustration and the mounting odds facing the opposition, personalities and individual ambitions appear to enjoy a higher priority than policy or even peoples’ interests. Should the status quo remain, the opposition will fail to capitalize on the dwindling popularity of the incumbent. Kabila has lost a lot of support, particularly since 2006 in the unstable east where, according to a UN OCHA humanitarian report of March 2011, 1 246 000 of the DRC’s 1 700 000 internally displaced people are living.

Perhaps the biggest disappointments in terms of opposition strategy have come from the Movement for the Liberation of Congo​ (MLC) and the UDPS. The MLC, the main opposition party in the 2006 elections, and consequently the opposition party with the highest number of seats in parliament, announced that party leader Jean-Pierre Bemba​ will be running as the party’s presidential candidate in 2011. Bemba is currently on trial in the Hague on 3 counts of war crimes and 2 counts of crimes against humanity for his role in the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2002 and 2003. It is unlikely that Bemba will be able to register to run in the elections – let alone run the country from a jail cell in the Hague.

Tshisekedi, who has been quoted as saying that Kabila will not win the elections, displays similar optimism regarding his chances of success. The general concern is that all party leaders seem to feel certain of their popularity. With widespread speculation that the elections will not be fair and that the political avenues for expression are closed, the scenario of post-election violence does not seem far-fetched – or unfamiliar.

Bemba’s MLC and Kabila’s People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD) clashed in Kinshasa following Kabila’s victory in the 2006 elections. In the run-up to the 2011 elections there have already been warnings of potential violence in the Kinshasa, Kivus, Katanga, Bas Congo and Kasai Oriental provinces.

Current developments illuminate several key lessons for the future. Firstly, last-minute aid deals to boost the electoral process are not beneficial to democratic development. The CENI is central to free and fair elections, and yet the institution finds itself understaffed, under-skilled and lacking sufficient (and functioning) equipment. Skills development is a long-term undertaking. Secondly, and related to the first point, there is a desperate need for investment in political parties. It might be argued that the current display of ‘ego’ politics over viable strategies is a product of poor information. Although functioning state institutions are important features of a modern state, they are of no consequence if the people who fill positions, or aspire to fill positions, do not have the necessary skills and knowledge. Election polls, for example, might assist in creating a realistic view of the political landscape in the future – but this will take a lot of time and a lot of financial support.

Ultimately foreign financial assistance for elections is only half the solution. Foreign assistance can provide increased security, logistics, technological assistance etc., all of which are necessary for an election, but none of which guarantee democracy. Democracy always has and always will depend on the people – in this case the people of the DRC – and their ability to take the initiative to develop and support existing democratic structures.

Melanie Roberts, ISS coordinator for l’Observatoire de l’Afrique, Peace Missions Programme, ISS Pretoria Office

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