DR Congo: Learning the Lessons
DR Congo: Learning the Lessons
Supporting Dialogue and Demobilisation in the DR Congo
Supporting Dialogue and Demobilisation in the DR Congo
Commentary / Africa

DR Congo: Learning the Lessons

Several weeks behind schedule, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has published the results of the legislative elections held on 28 November 2011. They are the outcome of a process that witnessed many violations of the electoral code, disregarded several million votes and experienced vote-counting operations too opaque to make verification possible (See the statement from the Carter Center and statements from European Union electoral observation missions and subsequent statements from Belgium, France, the United Kingdom, the EU and the United States). Yet the INEC president, Daniel Ngoy Mulunda, rejected all the international community’s offers to help with vote counting. The results, which will determine the complexion of the new National Assembly, therefore lack credibility. 

Map showing alleged electoral irregularities.

The political complexion of the National Assembly remains much the same but there are some subtle changes.

Whether the results are credible or not, they unquestionably reveal some major trends:

  • the political landscape is more fragmented;
  • the presidential camp has lost some ground but not lost its dominant position;
  • the opposition has renewed its ranks without significantly improving its overall position;
  • Congolese politics is divided along ethnic-provincial lines.
National Assembly, DRC, 2006

As the diagrams above show, the dominant trend is fragmentation of the political landscape. In 2006, five parties presenting more than 300 candidates (PPRD, MLC, RCD, MSR and FR) won 243 seats (48.6% of the National Assembly), while in 2011, nine parties presenting more than 300 candidates (PPRD, UDPS, UNC, UFC, MSR, PALU, PPPD, AFDC and ECT) won only 220 seats. Half of the 98 parties now represented in the National Assembly have only one seat and only eleven parties have more than ten seats (namely, the PPRD, UDPS, PPPD, MSR, MLC, PALU, UNC, ARC, AFDC, RRC and ECT). The main winner of this election was neither Joseph Kabila’s People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (Parti du peuple pour la reconstruction et la démocratie, PPRD) nor Etienne Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress (Union pour la démocratie et le progrès social, UDPS). The winners were rather the increased number of micro-parties with between one and three seats. There are 29 more of these parties in the National Assembly compared to 2006. This proliferation of micro-parties is accompanied by a major reduction in the number of “independents”, who have melted like snow in the sun from 63 in 2006 to 16 in 2012.

Given this increase in the number of micro-parties, the major parties, such as the PPRD, the MLC and the PALU, have all lost ground. While remaining the first party in the assembly, the PPRD only obtained 61 seats compared to 111 in 2006. Although all the big parties (except for the new ones) lost seats, some lost many more than others: the MLC is in free-fall, losing 42 seats, while the PALU, the RCD-National and the UDEMO lost fifteen, fourteen and seven seats respectively. This sometimes massive reduction represents a protest vote against the parties in the 2006 assembly, both the majority and the opposition.

Although the presidential party is losing momentum and the internal dynamics of the presidential camp are changing, the presidential majority is undoubtedly the dominant force in the 2012 National Assembly, on the basis of the INEC’s figures. The PPRD and its allies have 341 seats but the majority of 2012 is not exactly the same majority as in 2006: the PALU has lost ground in favour of a new party, the People’s Party for Peace and Democracy (Parti du peuple pour la paix et la démocratie, PPPD), founded by former members of the PPRD, while the MSR of Pierre Lumbi is now the third mainstay of the majority. Far from being concentrated in one or two parties, the presidential majority is composed of many different ones, which initially did not fit in with the plans of PPRD leaders but will not prevent them from being able to form a majority for key votes and therefore retain complete control of the assembly.

For a better understanding of the subtleties of the electoral process, it should be noted that despite the reduction in the number of PPRD seats and the dispersal of the majority into many groups, the key figures in the “Kabila system” and members of the Kabila family were elected, including Augustin Katumba Mwanke, Jeannine Mabunda, Lambert Mende, Evariste Boshab, Jean-Pierre Daruwezi, Simon Bulupyi Galati, Charles Mwando Simba, Celestin Mbuyu, Norbert Basengezi, Justin Kalumba, Adolphe Muzito, Olivier Kamitatu, Janette and Zoé Kabila, etc. (Janette Kabila was elected as an independent while her brother Zoé Kabila was elected under the colours of the PPRD). All the system’s candidates for the post of governor were elected, except in South Kivu and Western Kasai. However, Alexis Thambwe, José Endundo and Martin Kabwelulu, ministers for foreign affairs, the environment and mines respectively were not elected.

The subtle changes in the presidential camp contrast with the profound changes in the opposition. The parliamentary opposition of 2006 has given way to two new parties. The MLC has lost its place as leader of the opposition. It now trails the UDPS and is closely followed by another new party, Vital Kamerhe’s UNC. The two newcomers will have no trouble superseding the former parliamentary opposition. However, the new parliamentary opposition will only exist if Etienne Tshisekedi allows his deputies to take their seats in the assembly. If the DRC’s second biggest party boycotts the assembly, it will only further weaken the opposition and will mean the UDPS having to go back to square one.

The legislative elections clearly show the ethnic-provincial nature of Congolese political parties. Only the PPRD elected deputies in all the country’s eleven provinces and only four parties (UDPS, PPPD, MSR and PALU) elected deputies in more than six provinces. However, all parties, including the PPRD, have a significant provincial base that forms the core of their electorate: Katanga(PPRD, PPPD, ECT, UDCO, UNADEF and UNAFEC); Province Orientale (MSR, AFDC, RRC and MIP); Equateur (MLC and PDC); Bandundu (PALU and ARC); Eastern and Western Kasai (UDPS); North Kivu(RCD K-ML) and South Kivu (UNC). The UDPS and the UNC also have a strong ethnic-provincial base: 25 of the UDPS’s 41 deputies are from the Kasais and ten of the UNC’s seventeen deputies are from the Kivus. It is particularly the case that both majority and opposition parties have a strong base in the home provinces of their leaders.

Learning lessons

Some international actors have flagged up the need to learn lessons from the presidential and legislative elections, especially in view of the forthcoming provincial and local elections. Several actors do in fact need to assess their contributions to the elections:

  • INEC. Why were the polling stations map and the electoral roll incomplete and inaccurate, even though several million dollars were spent on them? Why were several million votes not included in the count? Why did INEC accept the expert assistance of the NDI and the IFES but then reverse this decision?
  • Supreme Court of Justice. According to what procedure and with what guarantees of independence were additional judges appointed in the middle of the electoral campaign?
  • United Nations. Why did the UNDP’s electoral experts apparently fail to draw attention to the problems that arose during preparations for the elections and not point out the need to put back polling day by a week or two? To what extent did they participate in the ad hoc commission establishing the results? To what extent did MONUSCO check the integrity of the boxes of ballot papers it transported? To what extent was MONUSCO’s good offices mission successful? Why, in 2012, is there a surge of armed groups that were supposed to be declining in 2011?
  • SADC, AU, ECCAS, ICGLR and COMESA and other observation missions. Why did they restrict themselves to short and even very short-term missions?
  • Donors. Why did they invest more than $100 million in an electoral process that was biased from the start? Why was the European Union’s contribution debited from the budget set aside for indispensable infrastructure in the DRC? Will the EU pay its last tranche of funding after its observation mission said the elections lacked credibility? To what extent are donors ready to fund the provincial elections if the governing party is dominant and the INEC has no credibility?
  • UDPS. Will the party boycott the National Assembly or will it use parliament as the engine-room for forming an opposition alliance?

Contrary to appearances, publication of the results of the legislative elections does not signal the end of the electoral process and several problems have yet to be resolved. For example, the organisation of another ballot in seven constituencies where the result was annulled. Then there is the matter of the provincial elections. Scheduled for March in the initial electoral calendar, the INEC has already postponed them without setting a new polling day. They cannot be postponed for too long without creating institutional problems (non-renewal of the Senate, non-renewal of the governors who were elected as deputies, etc.). In theory, provincial elections could take place in better conditions than the elections of 28 November, if the INEC’s current composition is changed. Funding of the rest of the electoral process also remains an open question. In addition, after Vital Kamerhe’s appeal against the results of the presidential election, nobody has any illusions about how the Supreme Court will deal with the hundreds of complaints submitted about the legislative elections, even if their rejection might provoke dangerous local reactions. January has in fact witnessed an upsurge of intercommunal tension and activity by armed groups in North Kivu, where the CNDP of Bosco Ntaganda, a Congolese officer wanted by the International Criminal Court, has established a political presence. In the context of intercommunal tensions, the pointlessness of legal complaints and the international community’s silence on the Kabila government’s use of force, the losers in the legislative elections may be strongly tempted to exert pressure by resorting to violence in the areas where militias are strong.

The western donors remain hesitant. Despite their public criticisms of the election, their options range from the strong temptation to do nothing to a carefully weighed “review” of international engagement with the Kabila government. Although the western donors genuinely want to learn lessons from the 2011 elections, the least they can do is to consider how to avoid a repeat of the 28 November elections during the forthcoming provincial elections.

Commentary / Africa

Supporting Dialogue and Demobilisation in the DR Congo

Rising violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has the Great Lakes region on edge. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2022 – Autumn Update, Crisis Group explains what the EU and its member states can do to help bring stability to the area.

The eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is experiencing an alarming uptick of violence. Fighting between the Congolese military and the March 23 Movement (M23), which resurfaced in November 2021 after suffering defeat in 2013, has surged. So, too, have attacks on civilians and camps for internally displaced people by other armed groups. The bloodshed has the entire Great Lakes region on edge and is creating friction beyond the DRC’s borders. Of greatest concern, the M23’s attacks have opened a rift between the DRC and Rwanda, with Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi labelling the rebel commanders “terrorists” who receive financial and logistical support from Kigali. 

Complicating matters is that the Congolese president has turned to some of his neighbours for support in tamping down insecurity in the east. Bent on rooting out the armed groups, in late 2021, Tshisekedi gave Ugandan and Burundian troops permission to carry out operations on Congolese soil. He then used the DRC’s accession to the East African Community (EAC) in March 2022 as an opportunity to ask the bloc for help. By way of response, the EAC agreed in April to establish a joint force composed of regional troops to battle militias in the east. But the force left out a key player: citing Rwanda’s alleged interference in the DRC’s affairs, Tshisekedi insisted that the country be excluded from the force, angering Kigali. 

So far, plans to stabilise the eastern DRC remain a work in progress. The new force has yet to fully deploy and is likely to face funding challenges. Meanwhile, diplomatic and demobilisation efforts meant to complement the military track show some promise but have yet to make substantial progress. 

The European Union (EU) and its member states should take the following steps in working to address instability in the eastern DRC: 

  • Refrain from providing financial support to the regional force – which some EAC states have already requested – pending greater clarity on its performance and the sufficiency of human rights safeguards.
  • Building on talks between Kinshasa and a select number of armed groups that were held in Nairobi in the spring, work with the DRC’s regional partners to develop plans for the next round of negotiations, focusing in particular on which militias should be included and for what purpose; in addition, provide financial and technical support for those negotiations. 
  • Provide support for DRC demobilisation efforts by pressing for greater clarity on links between the Nairobi political track, the EAC regional force’s mission and the DRC’s nascent community-based national disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) program. Ideally, groups that participate in the dialogue and express interest in demobilising would be given an opportunity to do so through the program. The program also requires donor support, which the EU and member states should provide if satisfied with anti-corruption safeguards and other criteria.
  • When evidence emerges that the DRC’s neighbours have violated its sovereignty – as was the case when a UN confidential report recently reached findings of Rwandan involvement with the M23 rebels – condemn the violations through bilateral and multilateral channels and underscore the threat that instability in the DRC could grow into a regional conflagration.

Turmoil in the Great Lakes

M23 rebels have once again taken up arms in the eastern DRC, a resource-rich area that has long been the battleground for overlapping conflicts involving regional powers and armed groups. The M23 is principally fighting the Congolese army, with hostilities centred in North Kivu province. This conflict has driven more than 170,000 people from their homes since the rebels re-emerged in November 2021, having previously been defeated and signed a peace deal in 2013. At first, the M23 mainly targeted Congolese soldiers, but since June the group has also been making civilian victims. MONUSCO, the UN peacekeeping mission in the country, has expressed its concern about the M23’s sophisticated firepower and its own limited capacity to ward off the group. In a September interview with France 24 and RFI, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said “the M23 is a modern army with heavy weapons, more advanced than MONUSCO’s equipment”.

Along with the M23 insurgency, other armed groups have also intensified attacks on both military and civilian targets. Notable among them is the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan outfit whose biggest faction has sworn allegiance to the Islamic State and whose members kill locals and loot or burn down villages. In late August, for instance, suspected ADF fighters killed at least 40 civilians in North Kivu. Meanwhile, the Coopérative pour le Développement du Congo (CODECO), a loose association of militias of mostly Lendu ethnicity operating in Ituri, has killed dozens of civilians and terrorised many more since the year began in a spate of raids on camps sheltering displaced people.

A confidential UN report … included evidence of continuing ties, indicating that Rwanda has helped reinvigorate the M23.

The stakes are high for Tshisekedi, who plans to seek a second term in office in 2023 polls and has repeatedly pledged to end the turmoil in the east. He has sought outside assistance to make good on his promise. In late 2021, Tshisekedi permitted Ugandan and Burundian troops to enter the country to fight, respectively, the ADF and RED-Tabara, a Burundian rebel group based in the DRC. Tshisekedi pointedly did not seek Rwanda’s assistance, at least partly because he believes that Rwanda is behind the M23’s abrupt reappearance. Rwanda (along with Uganda) did indeed back the group from when it first emerged in 2012 until Congolese and UN forces defeated the movement a year later. As Crisis Group has noted elsewhere, a confidential UN report leaked in August included evidence of continuing ties, indicating that Rwanda has helped reinvigorate the M23.

Tshisekedi’s decision to allow Ugandan and Burundian troops into the DRC but not Rwandans infuriated Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who has rejected Tshisekedi’s accusations concerning Kigali’s links to the M23. Kagame alleges that, to the contrary, it is Kinshasa that is cooperating with the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR), a remnant of the Hutu militia responsible for the 1994 genocide. While some evidence suggests that the Congolese army works with the FDLR in some capacity – the leaked UN report says some army commanders cooperated with a coalition of armed groups, including FDLR members, in fighting the M23 – Kagame’s frustration at being left out likely has other dimensions as well. He may be concerned that Rwanda will be boxed out of access to the eastern DRC’s natural resources, in particular gold, and that the Ugandans will extend their sphere of influence in the region at Rwanda’s expense.

The DRC-Rwanda dispute escalated further after Tshisekedi’s decision to seek support from the EAC in April. The EAC answered that request by deciding to form a joint force composed of regional troops to battle armed groups in the eastern DRC. But Tshisekedi insisted that Rwandan soldiers be excluded from the force, riling Kagame further. Kagame’s sense of grievance – coupled with his conviction that Kinshasa is aiding the FLDR and fuelled by economic interests – may tempt him to order a unilateral incursion to target the FDLR, which he still considers a threat, or to back another proxy.

Meanwhile, components of the regional force are beginning to deploy, but the full force has not yet taken the field. In August, the Congolese authorities reported that a Burundian contingent had entered the DRC under EAC auspices. In late September, the Kenyan defence forces started deploying materiel and troops. South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda are also to send contingents to fight alongside Congolese forces.

A Risky New Force

Aside from the costs of alienating Rwanda, the EAC deploying a regional force carries other significant risks. The force’s draft battle plan says the bloc is to assemble between 6,500 and 12,000 soldiers with a mandate to “contain, defeat and eradicate negative forces”. The new forces will for the most part be joining forces from those countries that are already on the ground either by invitation of the Congolese (in the case of Burundi and Uganda) or as part of the UN peacekeeping mission that operates in the DRC with a civilian protection mandate (in the case of Kenya and Tanzania).

The presence of so many foreign forces in the eastern DRC could spell trouble. In the past, the DRC’s neighbours have repeatedly undermined stability in the east by arming proxy fighters and helping themselves to mineral wealth, such as cobalt, coltan and gold. Some – for example, Burundi and Uganda – may well continue to push their own agendas, even when their troops are placed under joint force command, as appears to be the plan. The force’s deployment could also energise armed groups unhappy with an influx of foreign soldiers, escalating levels of violence, including against civilians. Nor is it clear how the new force will coordinate with MONUSCO, which has an overlapping territorial writ but a different mandate focused on civilian protection. Finally, the EAC has never before deployed a peacekeeping or enforcement operation, much less put in place safeguards for protecting civilians, raising considerable concerns about human rights violations by the troops themselves. 

Funding shortfalls are one reason the joint force has not yet fully deployed. According to the draft battle plan, which outlines the force’s objectives and rules of engagement, each country is to pay for its own soldiers. Some governments will likely struggle to bear the costs, especially if the operation drags on. Kenya has reportedly already asked EU member states, as well as China and the U.S., for money for men and materiel. 

Foreign powers have options beyond funding the EAC regional force to support stabilisation efforts in the eastern DRC.

But foreign powers have options beyond funding the EAC regional force to support stabilisation efforts in the eastern DRC, notably a recently initiated diplomatic track. Back when the bloc’s seven leaders agreed to the joint force, they launched a round of Kenyan-mediated talks with Congolese militia leaders in Nairobi. The first round was scrambled hastily together by the Congolese and Kenyan authorities in April and involved only about twenty of roughly 120 armed groups, excluding among others the M23 branch loyal to its military commander Sultani Makenga (the most active of the group’s two factions) and outfits considered to be foreign such as the ADF and FDLR. The Congolese are discussing a second round but have not scheduled it.

The DRC’s demobilisation strategy is another part of the picture. Launched in April but yet to hit its stride, it focuses on returning former fighters to their communities and helping them build livelihoods outside the military, rather than integrating them in the army or granting amnesties, as previous demobilisation programs did. This demobilisation effort is at least theoretically linked to the EAC’s diplomatic and military tracks. According to the draft concept of operations, the joint force is mandated to support Tshisekedi’s demobilisation efforts, suggesting that the EAC expects armed groups to either commit to demobilising through the Nairobi political track or become targets for the regional force. But the concept offers no detail about how this would play out in practice. 

What the EU Can Do

Given all the uncertainty surrounding the EAC regional force, the EU and member states should hold off on providing its support through the European Peace Facility or other channels pending information about the force’s performance, impact on the eastern DRC’s stability and respect for human rights. On the whole, given the long record of proxy warfare in the area and its harm to the civilian population, the bar for funding the force should be relatively high. Instead, the EU and its member states should support Tshisekedi’s and the EAC’s non-military efforts to stabilise the east, including through dialogue and demobilisation. 

As concerns dialogue, the EU should offer technical and financial support to a second round of Nairobi talks with armed groups active in the eastern DRC. As a threshold matter, EU and member states with strong relationships in the region should work with Kinshasa and EAC states to encourage progress toward a second round and help develop a framework for a meaningful process beyond individual rounds of talks. Fundamental questions, such as which groups should be included and specific topics and goals of the process, still require fleshing out. The EU could also support efforts to establish the Office of the Inter-Congolese Peace Dialogue, which will support the Nairobi talks and oversee implementation of the EAC heads of state agreements on peace and security in the DRC. 

The EU and member states should ... help Congolese authorities breathe life into Kinshasa’s disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration strategy.

The EU and member states should also help Congolese authorities breathe life into Kinshasa’s disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration strategy, which although promising is still in the very early stages of implementation. This line of effort should be of particular interest to Brussels given the EU’s new strategic approach in support of DDR. One way they can help is by encouraging greater clarity on how demobilisation efforts are linked to both the joint force’s mission and the Nairobi political track. There should be incentives for armed group members who wish to come off the battlefield to enter the demobilisation program, including the offer of an alternative to armed activity. 

Financial and technical support will also be important. Donors have been reluctant to foot the bill because previous demobilisation efforts were largely donor-driven, lacking local buy-in, tainted by alleged embezzlement and unsuccessful in permanently dismantling any armed group. Government officials and military officers alike have treated the programs as sources of patronage. The new initiative, however, is designed to send former fighters home to civilian life and help them develop alternative livelihoods rather than integrating them in the army, as previous programs did; diverting them to unarmed vocations may help them sever their links to armed group chains of command. Against this backdrop, the EU should consider providing financial and technical support to the plan to the extent it is satisfied with the adequacy of anti-corruption safeguards and if, as the program rolls out, it assesses that it holds out sufficient hope of genuinely offering low-level insurgents a viable future.

Finally, the EU and its member states should more directly address the challenge to peace and security created by neighbouring countries’ support for DRC rebels. The findings of the confidential UN report regarding Rwandan involvement with the M23 and other sources addressing alleged Ugandan support, for instance, should be the basis for Brussels and member state governments to relay clear messages to Kigali and Kampala condemning violations of Congolese sovereignty and underscoring the threat that instability in the DRC could grow into a regional conflagration. Member states represented on the UN Security Council can urge the Council to reinforce these messages from New York. Standing visibly behind the principle of territorial integrity is particularly important at a time when European states are condemning Russia’s transgressions in Ukraine. They should make clear that violations of this core principle of the UN Charter are to be condemned wherever they take place – in Europe, Africa or elsewhere.

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