Congo's Elections: Making or Breaking the Peace
Congo's Elections: Making or Breaking the Peace
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
The Boiling Regional Crisis in Eastern Congo
The Boiling Regional Crisis in Eastern Congo
Report 108 / Africa

Congo's Elections: Making or Breaking the Peace

As the Congo approaches its first free elections in 40 years, the stability of the country remains at risk, for three main reasons.

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Executive Summary

As the Congo approaches its first free elections in 40 years, the stability of the country remains at risk, for three main reasons. First, one of the main former rebel groups, the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD), is unpopular and stands to lose most of its power at the polls: this has triggered a resurgence of violence in the east, which is likely to intensify before and after elections, as dissident RCD troops attack the newly integrated national army. Secondly, the vote has not been adequately prepared. With few safeguards in place against fraud, rigged polls could rapidly undermine stability after the elections and produce unrest in cities. Thirdly, the country’s long-time political opposition, Etienne Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), will boycott the voting, unhappy with the other main parties’ unwillingness to negotiate with it. This is likely to cause unrest in the two Kasai provinces and Kinshasa, where Tshisekedi enjoys substantial support.

The east is the most immediate flashpoint. Elections will radically change the political landscape. The RCD, whose military wing once controlled over a third of the country, will likely go from being a major national player to a small, regional party. This probability is tightly linked with fighting in the east, where dissatisfied RCD elements remain a security hazard, particularly in the Kivus. In North Kivu, former RCD units have refused army integration. Led by Laurent Nkunda, they have repeatedly attacked other, integrated units, most recently causing the displacement of 50,000 to 70,000 civilians around Rutshuru. The fighting has taken on an ethnic tinge, as the dissidents are all Congolese Hutu and Tutsi. This has exacerbated tensions within the province, where these communities have long-standing land conflicts with other ethnic groups. Unless prompt action is taken to address these underlying political grievances and to arrest the armed dissidents, further fighting is inevitable.

The potential for electoral fraud is considerable. The ministry of justice has failed to push through laws designed to guarantee judicial independence. The courts that will need to investigate and adjudicate election disputes remain politicised. A draft law to regulate campaign finance has also been shelved. At the same time, former belligerents retain parallel chains of command in the security forces charged with securing elections and have not been reluctant to influence and intimidate voters. In Kinshasa and Lubumbashi, these forces have been used to harass political parties and disperse demonstrations. The national police are poorly trained, and the new army is weak, deeply politicised and mostly still not integrated.

The elections are likely to be postponed a sixth time, due to logistical and legislative delays, in which case they would be held after the 30 June 2006 deadline established by the peace deal. The new constitution adopted by referendum in December 2005 and promulgated in February 2006 stipulates that transitional institutions remain in place until elections are held, suggesting that such a further delay is legally possible. However, the UDPS would likely use the missed date to mobilise demonstrations in an attempt to upset the process, and other groupings that anticipate poor electoral results, like the RCD, might well join.

The question is political, not legal. It is important to complete the electoral process without further delay, or at most the minimal delay necessitated by technical requirements. Lengthy postponement to extend the privileges of political elites would not be acceptable. A realistic date by which to hold presidential and national assembly elections if they must be postponed again would be 12-13 August. Efforts should be made to maintain a dialogue with the dissatisfied elements, not to permit them a veto over the electoral process but in order to preserve the inclusiveness of that process to the greatest degree possible and to keep the peace after the elections.

Elections are a step in the right direction, but if not carried out properly they could trigger further unrest. If the population and leaders conclude change cannot come peacefully through the ballot box, they may well resort to violence to contest the results. The transitional authorities and the international community have the responsibility to ensure that these elections – the first with multiparty choices since 1965 – are a genuine milestone marking the end to the Congo’s long conflict.

Nairobi/Brussels, 27 April 2006

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