Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Countdown to elections: D-19

The Salon has taken - and indeed still is on :) - a break, but necessity has it that I must write a bit about these upcoming elections. As our friend BRE put it, It's Showtime!

So what is, indeed, the pre-electoral situation in my beloved Congo? Well, first of all, as the Salon's very own Exiledsoul wrote, it is not a very healthy environment for journalists:
Historic and Democratic Elections:
  • Constant threats against journalists.

  • The murder of Franck Ngyke & Hélène Mpaka (the trial starts[fr] tomorrow) and now Bapuwa Mwamba (more in French here). All in the space of 8 months.

  • The authorities expel RFI journalist[fr] Ghislaine Dupont to prevent [fr] her from covering the elections. Eh they knew what they were doing, since RFI is widely listened…

  • Opposition candidates and political parties voiced their concerns on transparency and fairness. And who gathers everyone and tries to appease the situation? The one and only Omar Bongo. oh the irony!
Part of the reason why I asked ExiledSoul to join The Salon, was because of the fact that she had the ability she has to bring a bit of wit to this whole thing. As she says in that post, I did accuse her of being too cynical. And to some degree I still think she is; I have just come to respect that healthy level of cynicism, as the situation has evolved in my country.

If you read my previous posts, I have generally been very hopeful for the entire peace and electoral process, despite acknowledging the shortcomings along the way. In fact, I felt a particular warmth when I saw the first electoral billboards in Kinshasa (on the net, of course. I am outside Congo). I am still looking forward to the elections, but I now take my hope with a big grain of salt, for a couple reasons. First of course, as stated above, the treatment of journalists does not reflect the environment of a society going towards democracy. Neither does the treatment of opposition candidates [fr], whether on the streets, or in the media.

Aside from this, I was disheartened by the emergence of the concept of "congolity", the radical nationalist concept aimed at making some people more Congolese than others, therefore more deserving of rights and privileges. This is the type of attitude that led to the catastrophe in West Africa's eldorado, namely Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), with the concept of "Ivoirity"; it is also the kind of attitudes that I fight against in the Western world where I live, and I was acutely disappointed that it arose in my country. It is exactly the type of underhanded, populist and contentless electoral arguments I was hoping not to see.

Then there is what I can only call the mining scandal, that has been going on almost behind closed doors in the country. Many of the country's mineral resources (copper, cobalt, diamond. gold, etc) sites have been indiscriminately sold-off to foreign private companies, with little or no opportunity for public scrutiny, and under an extremely questionnable mining code. It is almost as if those now in power were trying to sell-off the mines to their Western corporate supporters before an elected Parliament could change the code - in case, of course, they lose the elections.

And this all brings me to a more general issue of mine: 40 years of nepotism mentality. The election will hopefully be a source of change and renewal for this mighty nation, but the larger problem will be to modify the engrained negative practices that have flourished for so long throughout the country. Corruption, "Madesu ya bana", cult of personality, corrupted interpretations of customs and traditions, dangerously blind faith in religion from the poor and powerless, and many other things that have allowed the continued enslavement of the Congolese people, between the 1870s to about... 2006, will be tough things to eliminate/adjust. Which leads me to ask: Are the elections really all that they are cracked-out to be? Not only will it not solve the problems of the country, it will simply hand them over to a new team, which - with the questionnable manoeuvers we have recently seen in the country - will most likely consist of some combination of the same general group of people who is now in charge. Where is the long-awaited change going to come from? I wonder...

And assuming the elections are somewhat free and transparent, and there is some change, the new institutions will have the daunting tasks of:
  • Building/Rebuilding a now quasi-inexistent body of infrastructures, to bring the Congo to be at the very least at par with its African neighbours (particularly in terms of transportation, production, healthcare, technology, education)

  • Getting the general population - and most of themselves - to accept the rule of texts and laws at face value, and consider them binding

  • Giving the wider Congolese population an accurate idea of the outside World

  • Recreating a viable - and free - public education system

  • Repair the damage brought to the fabric of the Congolese identity, and deal with our scheming neighbours

  • Reconcile the very few haves, with the super-numerous have-nots

  • Do away with Ethnicistic, Tribalistic, and xenophoic attitudes

  • Reestablish true sovereignty over the territory, the people, the resources, and temper significantly the domineering impetus of our Western friends

  • Recreate a sense of African identity, and Global citizenry among the general population

  • And overall recreate in times of peace and freedom, a nation that was often held together by strength and oppression
It is no small task at all, even if the elections were free and fair, and the new leaders legitimate. My source of hope was always Timor-Leste, because they were coming from chaos, got help, and seemed to function well. We have recently seen how that went. And their elections were perfect, with tearjerking moments, and heartfelt promises, etc.

Now that there are numerous irregularities in the elections in Congo, and the International Community seems hellbent on organizing them, regardless of the situation on the ground - who can blame them: they have been shelling-out a lot of money, and seeing his record, they stand to gain a lot more if Kabila is elected - I cannot help but wonder if any of the above-stated vital needs will even be remotely addressed. I am still wondering...

D-19. Oyo ekoya, eya (Alea Jacta est)!


Black River Eagle said...

I knew that you would "step up to the plate" and take your turn at bat. Obviously there are an awful lot of things to be fixed in the DR Congo and it is going to take a very long time to get it right.

The elections won't fix anything, they are just the beginning of a very important process. The mineral and other natural resource wealth of the DR Congo is vast, but they are NOT sufficient to cure all of the economic ills and needs of the 50 million plus people who live in the DR Congo today. This perceived mineral wealth is not even enough to improve the lives of 10 million people in the DRC even if the money obtained from the sale of these resources were divided equally amongst a fifth of the population. Think about how much investment is needed BEFORE mining and oil and gas exploration, extraction, processing, and export can even begin to turn a profit for the state and the much needed private investors. You're talking about zillions of bucks (Euros or dollars) needed to just get going. Seen the price tag on a major hydroelectric power project lately, even when you use lots of slave labor as the Chinese did for their recently completed "engineering wonder" on the Yangtze River?

Get past the elections this month so that a legitimate elected government is finally in place in Kinshasa, and then all concerned parties can focus on who is doing what to whom for how much etc. Shady contracts with foreign companies can be corrected or trashed, thieves and criminals who steal from the state can be arrested and tried in the courts of the land. Corrupt politicians found to be guilty of crimes against the state and the people can be forced out of office and tried in the courts of the country as well. This includes people in the highest offices of the land right up to the office of the President. That's what your new constitution guarantees the people when it is properly upheld by the courts, law enforcement entities, and the law makers (the elected Parliament of the DRC).

What none of us want to see happen in the DRC this summer is that the situation descends further into the dark abyss of ethnic (tribal) rivalries and religious fanaticism and brutal murders and revenge killings that we all can see in present day.... Iraq! $400 million bucks for these elections plus $1.2 billion per year for the MONUC budget is peanuts compared to that money pit.

Make it work down in the Congo and I guarantee you that you won't regret these elections and the involvement of "foreigners" from the despised West.

BTW: how much is the "East" doing to help the DRC get through this important and difficult period? In financial contributions terms and boots on the ground to help with security there? MONUC will be excluded in your answer of course, as we (the U.S.A.) pay for the lions share (approx. 25%) of that UN peacekeeping mission budget.

TheMalau said...

Brother BRE,
I will start with your last "BTW" statement. There is no redeeming value to the West having questionnable practices, by the simple fact that they are there, and the East is not. When the West was colonizing my continent, and enslaving some of my people, the East wasn't there either.

Now, I am very aware, and I believe I wrote it, that the elections cannot be a solution by themselves. My problem, BRE, is that these elections are looking less and less "free and fair". I am neither delusional, nor naive. I realize that things are never perfect, or kosher. But I think we should all strive to limit the shortcomings, and I am sorry, but the current administration is not doing that. In the contrary, they seem to have gone to extreme lengths to shut those people that could represent a true alternative to them, out of the process.

See, BRE, Cameroon, Gabon, the other Congo, and Tchad technically have democracies, with regularly scheduled elections, but people do not really have any power or say, ultimately. Biya, Bongo, Deby and Sassou are still there. But if that is the type of democracy we are aspiring to, then I would rather - I am not kidding - stay with a dictator, and not spend the taxpayers, and Western taxpayers money to stage phony elections, with predetermined outcomes. I want my people to have a real choice, the first time they get to vote in their lifetimes. Is that too much to ask?
You made the argument that we should get past these elections and get a legitimate government. My point here was that I am less and less sure of the legitimacy of the government that will come out of these elections. And in those conditions, shady contracts are more than likely to remain after the elections. This will be like Independance day, in 1960, when we became independent, by all the Military officers were still Belgian, and still treating soldiers like infra-human beings.

Finally, natral resources. Yes, they cannot solve all our problems. But right now, they are not even going to alleviate the problems of that 10m of the people that it could. They are filling the pockets of Georges Forrest, and the Katanga Mining Co., Anglo-American, and Chevron, while my people are dying. I know we are supposed to be detached cold-hearted realists, but does that seem fair to you?

Don't get me wrong. As much as I am quite social-democrat, I am for Social Market Economy (operative being "Market Economy"). I have no problems with foreign investment. I welcome it. But I expect the people who invest in my country to follow basic rules of decency, and respect the law, instead of buying the government out.

An elected government will change all that? How? We have the same situation as Hamid Karzai. They will rule in Kinshasa, and have very shaky control of the interior. And if it is the same team as those that are there now, they like the chaos, to fill-up their pockets... Not a very inspiring prospect.

If you see some light in that, please share it with me, because it is getting very depressing.

Black River Eagle said...

A very good response (and rebuttal) to statements made in my comment. Either way it goes, many of us in the West and elsewhere will continue to stick with you and assist in any way that we can.

As far as pre-determined outcomes for the elections in the DRC, let's see what happens on election day. Perhaps the 24 million voters in the DR Congo are not as gullable and "dumb" as many people who write about the Congo often describe them. There is a big difference between being illiterate and being stupid you know.

Don't be depressed, be alert and engaged with what's happening in the runup to the elections and what remains to be done after the elections. If your candidates for President and parliamentary seats don't win this time around, work hard with key entities in the DRC to make sure that very good and capable people have a fair chance to win in the next elections.

Whatever you do, don't just sit on your a-- and comiserate. Fight for the rights of your people damn it. Fight like Hell... without resorting to violence, of course. Use your head, not your hands and bullets.

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