I have been trying for the past few days to write the piece that I promised the readers of The Salon, analyzing the results of the elections in my beloved Congo (DRC), but the current events have made it impossible for me to make that analysis, because there are elements that effectively blur what seemed like a fairly straight-forward situation (as straight-forward as it could be in the Congolese context anyway).
Case and point: Yesterday, November 21, 2006, as the Supreme Court began hearing the electoral fraud case brought forth by the losing candidate Jean-Pierre Bemba, some elements that have so-far been identified as Bemba sympathizers, decided to wreck havoc on the site, creating a rioting mess that resulted in the "non-leathaly" armed police fleeing, the proceedings to be immediately stopped, and the Supreme Court buildings, as well as the Municipal buildings of the La Gombe district (Downtown) of Kinshasa to be either pillaged or set ablaze. If one goes to the website of the UN Mission in Congo (MONUC), one can see a short film of the events on the homepage. Now, below, this is what I had planned to talk about.
A little while back, my naive, and overly patriotic mind had seen as a historic moment for the Congo. And here, I am not talking about the elections at all. They have their importance, but that was not what I saw as nearly miraculous. It was in fact in July 2003. I was in Kinshasa, on vacation from University in the US, and I felt privileged to witness a moment that 5 years earlier, when I was evacuated from my own country, in 1998, at the beginning of "Africa's World War I", I could never have thought possible. That day, 4 Vice-Presidents were taking their oath of office, under the clamour of nearly all the Congolese people. After years of War, the 2 strongest rebel leaders (Azarias Ruberwa of the RC, and Jean Pierre Bemba of the MLC) were pledging to serve in the same government as - and more importantly, under the authority of - the leader of the very movement they claimed to have started their movement to topple, namely Joseph Kabila.
You have to understand. I lived in Kigali, through parts of the Rwandan genocide, and through all of the war that preceded it. One of the actors of that war was (some say still is) involved in the Congolese conflict, namely Paul Kagame. I had very little hope that this conflict could ever end, save the annihilation of one of the two warring sides. So to see that scene of apparent pledge to reconcile the country with itself... it seemed to be the beginning of a happy ending. Now I did have my doubts, don't get me wrong. But for once I had decided to give them all a fighting chance. To support them when I could, and to criticize them when they deserved it. And through The Salon, I have tried to do just that.
Now 3 years later, where are we? Well, let us take a positive approach first. The Congolese people have had the chance to see organized in their country the most expensive, and the most complex electoral process ever engineered on the continent. We have had the opportunity to experience some level (and I insist on the "some level") of freedom of expression, of assembly, and of opinion, which was unprecedented, save the 2 years of the National Conference in the early 90's. Congolese intellectuals got a chance to hear their political class talk to them, through such media as Radio Okapi. In fact Radio Okapi has allowed the people to hold their leadership somewhat accountable, especially at the local and provincial level, through "Okapi Action", a programme that invites these leaders and puts them on the hot seat of listener-sent questions. For the first time in a long time, our politicians could not help but to care about at the very least some of the demands of the people. All the people in the Congo had the opportunity of feeling its importance in the rebuilding of the new Congo, through the electoral process. And - we hope - the newly elected leaders will have no option but to take into account their constituencies demands, or lest they be rotated out of office in 5 years. These are all very positive outcomes of this process.
Nevertheless, the entire transitional process (from 1997 to 2006) has either unearthed or created a series of social and economical time bombs that will take all the dexterity of a mature people, and a mature leadership, to diffuse. First among these, is the systematic squandering of the country's natural resources through unconscionable mining and exploitation contracts. The country cannot survive on foreign aid. It needs to have the basics to slowly engineer a stable economy that generates a tangible revenue. The country's greatest asset - after its human resources - are its minerals, and its hydroelectric potential. The fact that some of those at the helm of the country in recent years have allowed the control of these resources to fall under the control of such shady companies as Anvil Mining, and Katanga Mining Co., as well under the monopoly-seeking hands of the George Forrest group, is an aberation that could amount to a crime of high-treason.
Secondly, there is the so-called "East/West" divide, between the Swahili-speaking East (Swahili has the largest number of first-language Congolese speakers), and the Kikongo/Lingala-speaking West (Lingala is the main language spoken in Kinshasa, in the military and in the administration under the Belgians, and Mobutu). Add to this mix the ever so volatile Luba-speaking center, and you have the recipe for a potential mayhem. But the fact is that, in their large majority, people are Congolese first. Congolese, with tribal allegiances, yes, but Congolese first. In fact the ethnicity-based tensions were very much present but negligible, before the Second Congo War; that goes to show how ill-intentioned, and power-hungry politicians and corporations can manipulate a desperate people into turning towards the extremes. More on that in another post. Additionally, some problems have worsened, such as the witch-hunts (and I mean that literally), the street-children phenomenon, and the fraudulent money-making-oriented "religious" movements.
All in all, we are left with a great deal of rhetoric, a lot of institutional and infrastructural deficiencies, a great deal of corruption (6th most corrupt in the corruption index), a lot of foreign eyes looking at us with interest and apprehension, a great deal needs to fulfill, and a complex political process towards an uncertain future. These general elections - especially the Presidential ones - were to lead the country into a new era of (quasi)democracy. For the first time in a while, we were to see past all the considerations that I have noted above, both positive and negative, and look towards a common future. One could say, we were to start anew. Instead, we saw a great deal of politics as usual. At the end of the first round, the two front-runners started shooting at each other, with the people left in the crossfire. The cycle of electoral protestations, repressions, and of political scheming, is always eager to restart at the first chance it is given. And now that the Supreme Court is being called upon to bring out its final verdict, to put an end to the cycle, and start anew... We, they, someone sets THE SUPREME COURT ablaze...
It is a far different image from the joyous and majestic image of that inauguration day we talked about at the beginning. The problem is, in my opinion, that in their great majority, the Congolese politicians are engaging in this process against their own wills. The problem is also that the people as a whole does not yet have a true understanding of democratic principle (at least in the Western form that we are trying to implement now). 40 years of dictatorship has taught the average Congolese person a political arena made of personalities and personal loyalties, rather than a political arena made of ideas and party platforms. When one's personal salvation is seen as directly linked to a particular person winning at some election, one is often ready to defend that person at any cost. We have seen this with both Kabila's and Bemba's supporters. We will not see a true change in the country until at least half a generation is - simply said - taught things differently.
In the mean time, I have been asked whether I trust the results of these elections. Well under the above cited conditions... I must say that the Electoral Commission exceeded my expectations. There was an apparent bias of much of the International Community for Kabila. And there may very well have been a bias for Kabila at the Commission itself. But there were so many layers of observers and witnesses, that I must believe that any levels of irregularities were likely minimal. I will wait for the verdict of the Supreme Court, and I will submit to it. But until then, I am inclined to believe that even absent the bias, Kabila was in a better position - being the incumbent, with a truly national audience - to win the election anyway. It is a darned shame that he did not do more to dispel the rumors on his origins, because that would have avoided much of the political drama we have seen. But until proven otherwise, the results seem (I insist "seem") fair and accurate. Now if someone could stop messing with our Supreme Court Judges for one second, maybe we could finally get on with things, and settle this once and for all.
If we work on the assumption that Kabila has been elected, he has a great deal of work, under a greater deal of scrutiny than he has ever been. Education is the priority of priorities - including his own; the guy should really learn Lingala for crying out loud. A sensible re-appropriation of national assets is also in order. A reorganization of the civil service, the military, the police, the national service, intelligence services, the Republican Guard is more than in order. (Re)Building roads in the country is in order, as well as regulating our airlines. Separation of Church and state should become a reality again, and not just on paper. And more importantly, the bill of rights MUST BE IMPLEMENTED. Rights and Freedoms MUST BE GUARANTEED. And all this must start withing the first year. Otherwise, it will just be a continuation of the current imbroglio, under the pretense of democracy. And that my friends, would mean the end of the Congo.
(This piece may be added upon and/or modified in the near future)