DR Congo: A Recount and Talks to Find a Way Out of the Crisis
DR Congo: A Recount and Talks to Find a Way Out of the Crisis
DR Congo Elections: Reversing a Dangerous Decision
DR Congo Elections: Reversing a Dangerous Decision
Supporters of Martin Fayulu chant slogans and carry placards as he delivers his appeal contesting the CENI results of the presidential election at the constitutional court in Kinshasa, on 12 January 2019. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
Statement / Africa

DR Congo: A Recount and Talks to Find a Way Out of the Crisis

The DR Congo is facing a major political crisis over the 30 December election’s result. A recount would allow subsequent negotiations to take place on the basis of a clear understanding of who won.

A dispute over the results of the DR Congo’s 30 December election cast a dark shadow over what should be a historic transition of power but a surprisingly robust reaction by regional actors offers a genuine chance for a course correction. According to official tallies, opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi was the winner, but these stood in stark contrast to a parallel count by Congolese Catholic Church observers, which indicated a landslide for Martin Fayulu, another opposition leader. Data leaked from sources within the electoral authorities confirm the church’s figures, strongly suggesting an effort to rig the vote in favour of the opposition candidate more palatable to incumbent President Kabila and his allies. On 17 January, the African Union (AU) unexpectedly issued a statement questioning the official results, calling for a suspension of final results, and dispatching a delegation to Kinshasa on 21 January to help Congolese parties reach consensus on next steps. To both reflect the will of the people and avoid a dangerous confrontation, that delegation should push for a recount, so that subsequent negotiations on a way forward can take place on the basis of a clear understanding of who won. All international actors should throw their weight behind the AU’s initiative, appeal for calm and encourage the putative winner, Fayulu, to adopt a conciliatory approach toward his rivals.

On Sunday 30 December, millions of Congolese voted for a new president and provincial and national lawmakers. The presidential election pitted Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, the preferred candidate of incumbent President Joseph Kabila, against two opposition leaders, Felix Tshisekedi and Martin Fayulu, the latter supported by two political heavyweights, Jean-Pierre Bemba and Moïse Katumbi, who had been barred from contesting the vote. Despite repeated delays and the unwarranted exclusion of around 4 per cent of the electorate, balloting passed off in relative calm.

Since then, however, a major political crisis has erupted over the results. Before the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) released its official tallies, the Episcopal Council of the Congolese Catholic Church, known as CENCO, which had deployed some 40,000 observers to monitor the polls, reported that its parallel tabulation had revealed a clear winner and, though it could not legally name a victor before official results were proclaimed, sources close to the church confirmed a landslide win for Martin Fayulu. In contrast, the CENI’s provisional results, released on 10 January, indicated Tshisekedi was the victor, with 38.6 per cent of the vote to Fayulu’s 34.8 per cent and Shadary’s 23.8 per cent. The provisional results also showed President Kabila’s political coalition winning a large majority in of the national legislative and provincial elections, thus appearing to ensure his coalition’s continued political dominance.

By now, the CENI results have been widely discredited, viewed as the result of manipulation by the electoral authorities to secure a win for an opposition candidate that Kabila and his allies view as more conciliatory. Indeed, data leaked from the CENI makes clear that Fayulu decisively won, perhaps with as much as some 60 per cent of votes (similar to CENCO’s estimates). Fayulu has rejected the results and appealed to the Constitutional Court, which is generally regarded as pro-Kabila. By law the Court must adjudicate the election dispute by 19 January.

Initial reactions from Western and African diplomats were muted. Some Western countries questioned the CENI’s results, but many appeared to view Tshisekedi’s win as presenting a silver lining: Kabila’s preferred candidate had been roundly defeated, Kabila himself was out – no mean feat given his earlier determination to stay on – and perhaps the DR Congo could turn a page on the mismanagement and corruption of his rule. Declaring the vote a sham and trying to force a Fayulu presidency, they feared, could provoke a dangerous backlash from pro-Kabila forces who still dominate the security forces – a crisis for which they lacked the will or capacity to deal. In contrast, many surmised, backing Tshisekedi’s, or at least not rocking the boat, might strengthen his hand against Kabila, who it seems is intent to retain influence through parliament and the powerful security sector.

Moreover, it was unclear early on how the region would respond and, without African support, Congolese leaders could portray Western pressure as unwarranted meddling. African leaders began by reacting cautiously as well, calling for any challenges to results to be pursued legally and for consensus. That a statement critical of the elections by Zambian President and chair of the Southern African Development Communities’ (SADC) Organ on Politics, Security and Defense, was rebuked by some of his counterparts illustrated the depth of divisions in the region.

The surprise came on 17 January, when an ad-hoc high-level meeting of the AU put out the strongest statement from the continent. Saying “there were serious doubts” about the provisional results, it called for the “suspension of the proclamation of the final results [by the court] of the elections”. The AU announced it would send a high-level delegation on Monday 21 January to Kinshasa to “interact with all Congolese stakeholders, with the view to reaching a consensus on a way out of the post-electoral crisis in the country”.

The dramatic AU statement and forthcoming visit offer a path forward. The delegation should push for some form of recount or audit, potentially monitored by SADC or the AU, both of which fielded observers for the vote. Such a process could be concluded quickly, since electronic election data, transmitted by the voting machines, is available (observers’ vote tallies based on copies of results sheets in the polling stations might potentially be used to validate that data). This exercise should be conducted for presidential, parliamentary and local elections. Indeed, the starting point for any credible negotiations among Congolese leaders should be a clear understanding of who genuinely won on 30 December. All international actors should throw their weight behind such a process.

Of course, a recount presents risks. Politics in Kinshasa are already deeply polarised and a recount could divide them still further. It is unclear how Tshisekedi’s supporters would respond to having his victory, in their eyes, snatched away. Perhaps more dangerous still, President Kabila and his allies, particularly powerful figures in the security sector, could well resist, given the wariness with which they regard Fayulu, Bemba and Katumbi. Indeed, on 18 January, both the government and Felix Tshisekedi allies rejected the AU’s call to delay the proclamation of the final result of the presidential vote. The government accepted talking to the AU’s delegation but Tshisekedi’s party clearly fears being denied the presidency.

Yet if a recount carries risks, the alternative of acquiescing in the rigged results would be much worse. CENCO tallies and the leaked CENI data suggest the Fayulu ticket attracted almost two-thirds of the vote. Even allowing that some of those votes may have been cast more in protest at Kabila than in support of Fayulu, that still leaves a large constituency that would feel its vote stolen. Supporters of Fayulu and those of his powerful backers Bemba and Katumbi have not yet taken to the streets, but they could easily do so in the future.

The goal of African and Western leaders should be to both ensure that the will of the Congolese people is respected, and prevent a destabilising and costly confrontation. They can promote this outcome by taking several steps. To begin, they should strongly urge all Congolese parties to call for calm and eschew violence. The purported victor, Fayulu, and his allies have a special responsibility to reassure those in both Tshisekedi’s and especially Kabila’s camp. At the same time, the AU delegation should warn that if Tshisekedi’s inauguration goes ahead, it and the regional organisations of which the DR Congo is a member would consider punitive measures, including refusing to recognise the new government with all that would entail for those involved.

More broadly, African and Western leaders ought to combine diplomatic pressure for a recount with equal pressure for negotiations over a consensual political arrangement. This arrangement, which ultimately will have to be decided by the Congolese, could involve, inter alia, inclusive, broad-based power-sharing, a national unity government or the organisation of new elections after two or three years (as Lamuka, the coalition backing Fayulu, had originally foreseen).

Regardless of the precise formula, the outcome should allow the DR Congo’s leaders to leave their political trenches and work with their international and regional partners to begin dealing in earnest with the key sources of instability in large parts of the country and the dire socio-economic situation that most Congolese citizens continue to endure. If they act wisely, they at long last have a chance to do that.

Congolese National Police arrest a man in Goma, on December 27, 2018, during a demonstration against the postponement of the general elections in this area because of the Ebola outbreak and the mass killings of civilians in this trouble part of DRC. PATRICK MEINHARDT / AFP
Statement / Africa

DR Congo Elections: Reversing a Dangerous Decision

After postponing long-awaited elections, the Democratic Republic of Congo's electoral commission has announced a second delay in voting in some conflict-affected areas – until after a new president takes office. This decision disenfranchises 1.25 million Congolese and risks major unrest. The commission should rescind it. 

The latest twist in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s tortuous electoral saga may well be its most worrying and dangerous yet. On 26 December, the Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) announced that parts of North Kivu province in eastern Congo and Mai Ndombe province in western Congo would not vote until March, after the presidential result is announced and a new leader sworn in on 19 January. The CENI presented its decision as a straightforward response to insecurity and the Ebola outbreak in North Kivu and ethnic violence in Mai Ndombe. It is anything but. It would remove 1.25 million potential voters – many of them opposition supporters – from a 40 million electorate from the tallies. Coming amid widespread distrust among the Congolese opposition and civil society in the electoral process, it risks severely damaging the vote’s credibility and fuelling post-election protests. By alienating people in North Kivu, it is also likely to obstruct efforts to stabilise those violence-torn areas. International actors should join Congolese social and political actors in calling on the CENI to reverse its decision. Elections in affected regions should go ahead as planned or at most after a short delay of a week or two to ensure those votes count.

This was not the first of CENI’s controversial decisions. Already on 20 December, it had announced a one week postponement of the country’s long-deferred elections to 30 December, citing a major fire on 13 December in its main warehouse in the capital Kinshasa as justification. Its 26 December decision went much further, announcing that four constituencies – Beni city, Beni territory, Butembo city (all in North Kivu) and Yumbi (in Mai Ndombe province) – would not vote until March, effectively disenfranchising those voters in the presidential contest.

The CENI’s decision is highly questionable. Election authorities had ample opportunity to draw up contingency plans for voting in areas affected by an Ebola outbreak that began in August 2018. Moreover, campaigning had gone ahead and other normal economic and social activities had continued in Beni even after the Ebola outbreak. Indeed, in November 2018 the health minister declared that the vote could proceed without risking the disease’s spread. Tellingly, most of those excluded are in North Kivu opposition strongholds. In short, the delay appears driven less by concerns about the feasibility of voting than by fears in President Joseph Kabila’s camp that the opposition was gaining ground.

International actors should call on the CENI to rapidly reverse its decision.

Over the past two years, the government and the CENI have made progress toward holding elections, but only when confident of controlling the outcome. Throughout, international actors – relieved that Kabila decided not to seek a third term in office in violation of the constitution and lacking leverage over election preparations – offered only muted criticism as the CENI and other Congolese institutions skewed the playing field in the government’s favour, notably by excluding major opposition candidates and repressing opposition party activities.

But this latest decision is of a different magnitude. It merits a tougher response: by excluding so many potential opposition voters, it would severely damage the vote’s credibility. It also risks leaving a disenfranchised and angry community in North Kivu who will be more likely to support insurgencies. International actors, Western and African, should call on the CENI to rapidly reverse its decision. In those four constituencies, elections should go ahead either as originally planned or after a short delay – no more than a week or two – so that those citizens’ votes are included in the presidential and other contests.

National and Provincial Reactions

The election pits Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, President Kabila’s handpicked successor, against two main opposition challengers. The first, FelixTshisekedi, is the candidate of the Coalition for Change (CACH) alliance, which is an alliance of Tshisekedi’s UDPS (Union for Democracy and Social Progress) and the UNC (Union for the Congolese Nation), led by Vital Kamerhe. The second challenger, Martin Fayulu, is the standard-bearer for the Lamuka alliance, which is backed by opposition heavyweights Jean-Pierre Bemba and Moïse Katumbi, both of whom the CENI barred from as presidential candidates.

The initial one-week delay, announced on 20 December, was reluctantly accepted by the two opposition factions, the DR Congo’s influential catholic and protestant churches, and international actors. But both opposition blocks strongly criticised the subsequent decision not to hold elections in the four constituencies. They have not gone as far as to threaten a boycott should that decision not be reversed; instead, the UDPS explicitly said that elections should “go ahead in unaffected areas” while the Lamuka alliance has called for a national strike (ville morte). Both coalitions are aware that their base is angry at the CENI’s action, but neither wants to pull out at this stage, partly because they have repeatedly spoken out against delays that they believe would allow the government to prolong its hold on power. But the danger in this approach is that citizens and politicians from the Beni-Butembo area could feel abandoned not only by the government, but by the main opposition parties as well.

Beni is a Fayulu and Lamuka stronghold, a result of the alliance they struck with local powerbrokers from the Nande ethnic group; indeed, that is where Fayulu launched his campaign on 5 December. Lamuka has voiced concerns that delays to parliamentary elections in the four constituencies will make it hard if not impossible to calculate the electoral threshold, ie, the requisite number of votes for a party to qualify for parliamentary seats: that threshold is set at 1 per cent of the total vote, yet in theory this should include future votes from the four constituencies in which elections have been postponed. This wrinkle adds greater uncertainty and fears of manipulation to an already clouded process. The Lamuka alliance has questioned the legality of the CENI’s decision, but there is very little chance of effective legal recourse given the courts’ lack of independence.

The Catholic Church has also questioned the delay. The secretary general of the church’s influential Episcopal Conference pointed to other normal activity currently taking place in the area of Beni – including attending mass or going to the market – to suggest that the CENI’s postponement of the vote was unjustified.

The exclusion of Beni voters from the presidential vote, and delays to provincial elections, is significant not merely because many among them are Lamuka supporters. For several years, the local population has suffered atrocious violence, attributed mostly to the rebel Ugandan Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and the Congolese army; UN peacekeepers have done little to protect them. In that sense, Beni already is a symbol of the government’s inability or unwillingness to solve the country’s myriad security problems. Moreover, the Nande ethnic group in Beni has supported armed insurgents in the recent past. The CENI’s decision is therefore particularly combustible: it will heighten Nandes’ fear that they are being excluded from national politics and from holding positions of power in North Kivu province, where they are locked in fierce competition with government-backed Hutu politicians.

Widespread popular anger in that area could fuel existing local insurgencies or ignite new ones.

More broadly, the voting delay and exclusion of the four constituencies add to pre-existing deep distrust in election preparations among opposition leaders and civil society countrywide. Particularly contentious have been the CENI’s use of voting machines (electronic tablets connected to printers that produce voters’ choices on paper ballots in situ, while storing an anonymous electronic record of the votes); widespread reports of discrepancies on the voter register; and CENI’s rejection of international support despite now very evident logistical problems.

Getting Back to an Inclusive Election

If the CENI presses ahead, risk of turbulence will be high. Major cities will likely see large post-election protests, potentially met by a heavy-handed response from the Congolese security forces. The government’s recent deployment of military reinforcements in several important cities, including Goma, Bukavu, Lubumbashi and Kinshasa, suggests it is preparing a harsh response to any unrest. At the same time, if the Beni-Butembo area is excluded from the vote, prospects for stabilising the Kivu provinces would be severely set back. Widespread popular anger in that area could fuel existing local insurgencies or ignite new ones which could easily spread to other provinces.

To avoid such a scenario, the CENI should speedily announce that voters in the Beni-Butembo area will be able to cast ballots in time for their votes to count in presidential tallies. It should clarify its procedures and timeline for their participation, making clear any delay would be for at most a week or two. International actors, in particular the UN mission, international election observer missions, the World Health Organization and humanitarian actors already on the ground should quickly assess how to minimise any risk posed to the elections by the Ebola outbreak. If the CENI and Congolese government conclude that their capacities are insufficient, UN troops and police should be deployed to help secure the electoral process.

The stakes could hardly be higher. The forthcoming vote could mark a significant step forward: the first time the Democratic Republic of Congo experiences a transfer of power from one elected president to another. But an election lacking in fairness and credibility would do the precise opposite. President Kabila refrained from seeking a third term in large part due to concerted pressure from foreign leaders, particularly his African counterparts. Similar pressure is needed once more. Unless outside actors take a united stand, the government and the CENI are unlikely to shift course. If the vote proceeds and a new president is announced before large numbers of voters have had the opportunity to cast ballots, more than the election’s credibility will be at stake. So too will be the country’s trajectory as violence of Beni could spread throughout the country.