Wednesday, September 27, 2006

DRC: Promises, agreements, alliances...

The Salon is back, up and running. And it seems there has been both a lot of change in Congo, and a lot of the same. Only Congo can pull that off so well. First, the latest in a long line of "agreements": Kinshasa to be 'gun-free town' pledge DR Congo rivals ::: 25/09/2006: "KINSHASA, Sept 23, 2006 (AFP) - The two men bidding to become the Democratic Republic of Congo's first democratically elected president in over 40 years on Saturday pledged to make the country's capital, Kinshasa, a 'gun-free town.'

Officials acting for DR Congo's current President Joseph Kabila and his rival for the post, Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba, signed an 'act of engagement' promising to reduce the number of firearms circulating in the city.

'We, the delegates of the headquarters of the President of the Republic Joseph Kabila and the Vice President in charge of the economics and finance committee Jean-Pierre Bemba (...) on the 23 September 2006 signed an act of engagement in favour of a city province of Kinshasa without weapons,' said a statement released Saturday by the United Nations mission in the DRC (MONUC).
I hope to God that this one will be respected, but my own common sense, and recent History make me very skeptical of the sincerity of this agreement. This bunch's track record on respecting the letter of the law, or staying true to their word, is abismal... at best! So for a while longer, the people of the DRC have to rely on a - already over-solicited - lifeline of hope.

In the mean time, Congo now has an elected Legislature (lower house)! That is a reason for at least moderate celebration. This is the first elected multi-party National Assembly in 40 years! Does it mean Congo now deserves the first "D" in its English acronym? No. But it is interesting to start seeing party politics at play, just like you see it in other countries that are known as democratic. The games of political alliances has started. With President Kabila's AMP having the largest number of seats, but being just short of absolute majority, no one party/coalition is now in charge in Parliament. This is where the second round of the Presidential comes in handy.

Indeed, both the candidates that came in 3rd and 4th position in the first round - namely "The patriarch" Antoine Gizenga, and the young "son-of-a-dictator" Francois-Joseph Mobutu Nzanga (b.k.a. Nzanga Mobutu) - have thrown their support to Kabila in the 2nd round. One can therefore expect - in fact Gizenga's lieutenants said this expressly - that both the United Lumumbaist Party (PALU) of Gizenga, and the Union of Mobutuist Democrats (UDEMO which still sounds like an oxymoron) of Mobutu Jr., will be influential members in a new coalition with Kabila's Presidential Majority Alliance (AMP), to to form a stable majority in the lower house of Parliament. There are rumors of Antoine Gizenga expecting to be the country's next Prime Minister, with Nzanga Mobutu in a high position, such as Foreign Affairs, or Defense. Wait and see...

On the other side, the group that looks poised to become the official opposition in Parliament - those that support Jean-Pierre Bemba - have also taken further steps to unite , grow and consolidate their coalition. They even have a new name: "Union pour la Nation" (UN), which maintains the "Authentic Nationalism" feel - a.k.a "Congolite" - that Bemba has strived to give to his campaign (with great success, I might add). Hearing the debate between the main party hacks of both sides on Radio Okapi, it seems as though the Kabila camp wants to portray Bemba as the troublemaker, the uncontrolable opportunist, facing Kabila, the quiet, responsible, thoughtful, and now experienced Kabila. The Bemba side portrays Bemba as the "Mwana-mboka" or "true son of the country", with the country's real interests in mind, as opposed to Kabila, a person with a "doubtful citizenship", and largely inexperienced, and thoroughly distant from the common Congolese people. During the first round, the Bemba side used extensively the association of Jean Pierre Bemba imposing persona, and his Province of origin (Equateur), and the fact that his sister is married to Mobutu's son, to draw supporters from all the nostalgics of Mobutu, and the apparent strength and prestige the country enjoyed during his reign. This - implicit, yet blatant - re-appropriation of Mobutu's image may actually be one of the reasons why Bemba's brother-in-law (Nzanga Mobutu) decided to support Kabila instead of him...

And this brings me to a crucial point: Ruling classes follow similar patterns everywhere. They all crave 2 things: getting perks and advantages, and staying in power as long as the people will be duped - or doped - enough to let them, so they can continue to get those perks and advantages. That is the reality we - well at least I - have witnessed everywhere we go, even here in the US (do we seriously have to talk about the incumbancy rate in the US Senate?). The difference is simply to what extent they are willing to go to convince - or maybe impose to - the people to maintain them in power. In Congo, the ruling class has tried the dictatorial way, now they are trying the "voting thing". In the candidates to Presidential and Legislative elections, a great number of the people who participated, actively boycotted and/or won (or their spouses, or their parents, or their sons) have been at the political helm of the country in one form or another, for the past 50 years - we are talking Lumumba, Kasa-Vubu, Nguz, Bemba, Kyungu, Gizenga, Kamitatu, Lubaya, Tshisekedi, Mobutu, Kabila, etc (If you don't know them, look'em up). 45 years after independance, we even have one of the founding fathers (Gizenga), who ranked 3rd in the first round of the Presidential elections. I believe that the expectations of change that analysts have for these new institutions need to be scaled back, to take into account that the democratic process has given legitimacy to the leadership without necessarily purging it. In other words, many of the promises, agreements, alliances, debates and appearances of democracy, are just a humble beginning, that opens a POSSIBILITY for change, but are not really a change in themselves. When people realize this, then people can finally be optimistic about the prospects for the country, and understand the pressing need to be "eagerly proactive" in order to make those prospects a reality. Will we rise to that challenge?

I wonder...

Mine is just one point of view. Here is another, from Eye on Africa, and his (Mvemba's) interview with Fareed Zakaria.


Alice said...

For an alternative look at SA’s politics check out either of the two links below:


exMI said...

WEll, I hope for teh Congs's sake that the elction works out to more than putting a new paint job on the same old heap.

Jonathan Edelstein said...

So if Gizenga becomes PM, will that make him Lumumba to Kabila's Kasavubu? :)

Black River Eagle said...

Only a few days to go before the runoff election for President of the DRC. You guys (Congolese bloggers like Mvemba and yourself) deserve a medal for service to your country during a critical and historical period. Posts like this one is the reason why.

It's showtime (again)! Hope that the voting goes peacefully and that the candidates and their supporters accept the results.

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