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DRC: Looking for Democracy After Post-Election Clashes

The blogosphere takes a look at violent clashes between two presidential candidates that last month gripped Kinshasa for 3 days. Some analyze the causes of the violence, others assign blame. Bloggers also discuss the upcoming presidential runoff andthe results of the legislative elections, while some try to devine the country's political future.

Post-Election Violence: Who's to Blame? What Does it Mean?

On August 20th, Congolese election officials declared that no candidate in the July 30th election had received the required majority, and that a runoff would be held between presidential candidates Joseph Kabila, the interim president, and Jean-Pierre Bemba, the interim vice-president. The announcement sparked a violent confrontation between Kabila's presidential guard and Bemba's private security forces.

At The Salon, Ali M. has four entries on the post-election violence. In one, Ali M. tries to account for the motivations behind the violence, which “seems to be no advantage whatsoever, strategic or otherwise.” He offers a number of internet links to others’ analyses of the violence, but finally concluding that it was, at its root, a matter of greed:

“there is a generalized lack of leadership at the helm of the country, and that petty personal interests continue to direct the actions of the various political movements that control the country. The armed “elites” are not ready to relinquish the quasi-totalitarian control they have over the life and death of the general population, their influence in the country, and more importantly, the hold on whatever portion of the country's wealth that they have garnered over the last 10 years or more. No one likes to give up their golden goose. Ultimately, this – IMHO – is a tale of unrestrained greed. But I am open to other views.”

Kim Gjerstad, a Canadian blogger who runs a small business in the Congo, writes, “Democracy is not a local fabric. The polls aren’t as much as who will win the presidency, but if the opponents will accept the results peacefully.” Kim also has a photograph of the remains of Bemba's helicopter, destroyed by Kabila's Republican Guard.

Anthony Katombe, who blogs at Prince du Fleuve Congo, reposts an article by an independent journalist based in Washington that claims the CIA thinks Kabila is responsible, and that there was an “international plot” (Fr) against Bemba.

A number of The Salon‘s readers offer their own take. Jonathan Edelstein, who blogs at The Head Heeb, comments that since many of Kabila's supporters expected to win the first time around, and since both allegations of elections irregularities and high support for Bemba were concentrated in Kinshasa, Kabila's forces may have thought Bemba was rigging the election. Bill from Jewels in the Jungle thinks it possible that neither candidate is in full control of their militias. Mvemba, however, does not believe that the presidential guard would have acted without Kabila's explicit consent. Fred who blogs for Extra Extra is suprised that the violence only lasted for three days, and was relatively contained. The conversation also turns to a debate over MONUC – the United Nations Mission in the Congo – its funding, management, the problem of peacekeepers working in foreign cultures, and a sexual misconduct scandal.

In his analysis of the clashes, Katombe writes that both Kabila and Bemba have accused the other of instigating the attacks, and that while in the end, there was no “winner,” it is Kabila who suffered the biggest loss, namely, the confidence of the West:

Mais qui est le gagnant et qui est le perdant de ces affrontements ? Tous les camps ont perdu des hommes. Bemba a en plus perdu le matériel, dont un hélico. Mais Kabila semble avoir perdu le socle de son pouvoir : l’ouvert soutien occidental. Même si quelques médias belges continuent de faire du zèle de samouraïs défendant une forteresse tombée, la presse occidentale, dans sa majorité, s’est mise du côté des faits.

In these confrontations, who has won and who has lost? All camps have lost men. Bemba also lost a heliocopter. But Kabila seems to have lost the base of his power: the open support of the West. Even if some of the Belgian media continues to mount a zealous defense [of Kabila] in the manner of Samauris fighting to defend a breached fortress, on the whole, the Western press is on the side of the facts.

Mouélé Kibaya, another UDPS supporter and strong critic of Kabila who blogs at Le Pangolin, draws several “lessons” from the Kabila/Bemba clashes:

1/ Ni kabila, ni Bemba ne sont des démocrates convaincus, seul le pouvoir compte à leurs yeux

2/ que le peuple congolais ne compte que pour des chimères

3/ que le processus commence à échapper aux promoteurs occidentaux et qu’il est temps que le peuple reprenne davantage son pouvoir

4 / que les vrais démocrates congolais prennent position pour faire aboutir le retour réel de la souveraineté au peuple.

1/ Neither Kabila nor Bemba are convincing democrates; for them, power is the only thing that counts

2/ The Congolese people are, for them, just an illusion

3/ The process is beginning to falter in the eyes of its Western supporters and it is time that the people take back their power

4 / The Congo's real democrats are in a position to bring back true sovereignty to the people.

Detente

Ali also comments on Joseph Kabila and Jean-Pierre Bemba's meeting on Wednesday, the first since the August clash. He is skeptical that “two…warlords meeting in it of itself, will actually improve the situation.”

Meanwhile FLK at DR Congo Election warns that “The confrontations that pitted that private guard of the vice president Jean Pierre Bemba against the Republic Guard are a fire that can reignite at any moment of the conditions that caused it continue.” (Fr)

Supreme Court Ruling

Ali comments that the Congo's Supreme Court finding that the intial run-off date, October 29th, is unconstitutional is hardly “shocking,” as a BBC report suggests:

“…the Supreme Court had no other choice, as the constitution and the electoral law are both pretty clear – albeit unrealistic – about the fact that the second round of the presidential elections must be held 15 days after the official announcement by the Supreme Court, of the final results of the first round.”

The Electoral Commission has asked the Supreme Court to make an exception, he writes, as mounting a runoff poll so soon after the announcement would pose impossible logistical challenges.

Kabila or Bemba?

The Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) is a straunchly anti-Kabila opposition political party that supported the candidacy of its leader, Étienne Tshisekedi, for president. Some pro-UDPS bloggers have been sizing up the remaining two candidates (of an election that had more than thirty) and ask how the UDPS should fit in in this new political climate.

Le Pangolin predicts several possible outcomes depending on whether Tshisekedi decides to publically support Bemba or continue his silence.

Katombe, in a comment at Le Pangolin offers strong support for Bemba over Kabila:

“je crois que bemba est le candidat qui est allé très loin dans les promesses relatives à la démocratie. il s'est liée concrètement avec le peuple en dénonçant les dérives des policiers, promis un procès équitable pour les cas kuthino, eddy kapend et cie,…

sur ce plan, il rejoint parfaitement le combat de l'udps et ne pourrait que bénéficier du soutien de ce parti.”

“I think that bemba is a candidate who has gone the extra mile with respect to his democratic promises. In denouncing police abuses, his promise of a fair trial in the case of kuthino, eddy kapend et cie, he has shown that he is strongly connected to the people”

In this way, he links up perfectly with the UDPS's fight and can only benefit from the support of [the UDPS]”

Legislative Election

While the presidential race received the most mainstream media attention, the July 30th election also saw polls for the National Assembly.

Of the legislative elections, Le Pangolin notes that no party received a majority, and offers a variety of coalition scenarios and their implications for balance of power under either a Kabila or a Bemba presidency. (Fr)

In light of the violence and polarization surrounding the presidential contest, FLK puts his hope for Congolese democracy in the National Assembly, a body which he says will enjoy much broader public support than whoever becomes the next president.

…l’Assemblée nationale doit devenir au moins le socle de la représentation nationale et jouer le rôle de catalyseur démocratique du pays en attendant les autres élections. Je souhaite qu'il emerge un groupe des membres de l'assemblee nationale qui pourait etre en mesure de prendre les choses en mains enfin de permettre le train electoral a arriver en douceur a son arret. Etant la seule institution nationale qui aurait le mandat populaire, ses membres doivent etre capables de parler au nom de celui-ci, revendiquer ses droits, et faire respecter son attente.”

“The National Assembly must become the foundation of national representation and play a role of democratic catalyst while we are waiting for the other elections. I hope that that in the National Assembly there will emerge a group that can be in a position to take matters into their own hands and allow the electoral train to arrive peacefully at its final destination. As the only national institution that will have a popular mandate, its members must be capable of speaking in their name, of asserting their rights and respecter their expectations.”

Finally, on the topic of legislative elections, Rayne Vandunem writes about Jean-Pierre Chalupa, the Congo's only white candidate, noting that the fact that Chalupa (who won ultimately one the race in his district) is white barely raised so much as an eyebrow in the DRC while doubts about Kabila's “Congoness” (he was raised in Tanzania and speaks fluent English) sparked a major controversy in the presidential race.

Last Word

Congolese bloggers and Congo-watchers constitute what may be the most active network of blogs in Africa. Mabongo Kavueta, a reader of Le Blog du Congolais wonders why these words aren't being put into action.

Un bel article mais pourquoi nous pouvons pas nous organiser pour une véritable révolution globale dans notre pays? Une campagne de formation et d'information s'impose.Il nous faut une vraie méthode de lutte et nous reprendrons notre pays de mains des criminels et des assasins qu'on nous fait passer pour des démocrates.Que ceux qui sont à l'étranger mettent en place une véritable technostructure aynt comme but la mise en chantier de cercles des qualités pour une réflexinon et une action concrète pour sauver le Congo.Mettons tous nos moyens humains et matériels en jeu pour instaurer une véritable démocratie dans notre pays.N'attendons pas demain.

A nice artice but why can't we organize for a truly global revolution in our country? The situation calls for a training and information campaign. We need a real way to fight and to take back our country from the criminals and murders who pass for democrats. Those who are abroad should put in place a technical infrastructure whose goal is to support circles of men and women of authority to brainstorm and develop a concrete plan of action for saving the Congo. Let's put all of our human and material means in play to set up a true democracy in our country. Let's not wait for tomorrow.

1 comment

  • Wow! What a roundup Jennifer. Thanks for all of this information on post-elections news and commentary down in the DR Congo. The Congo Crew of blog authors (and readers) have come a long way in the past year, a very long way indeed. Compliment (Fr., noun). Trés bon!

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