Discrediting Elections, Wasting Lives, Undermining the Congo

Now that the international press is packing its bags, having duly noted that Joseph Kabila “won” re-election to the presidency in the Democratic Republic of Congo, perhaps its a good time to ask what use this exercise has served? What need has it fulfilled? What itch has it scratched?

The nebulous entity commonly known as the “international community” has invested untold amounts of money in nudging things along to this point, but to what effect? Along the way, the people in the rooms where decisions about places like this are made seem to have forgotten that for elections to have real meaning and worth, they must have credibility. And in order to have credibility, systems need to be put in place, people trained, procedures checked and re-checked, robust safeguards against fraud instituted, guarantees of transparency put in place.

None of this was done. Not even remotely. So where does this leave us? It leaves us with a result that few can believe in. It leaves Congolese with a deepened sense of cynicism about democracy and about the attachment of the West to the ideals constantly touted and proclaimed. It rounds out another chapter in an increasingly long tome, a dispiriting book for which a serviceable working title might be: “Congo: A Chronicle of Bad Faith.”

Remember the other chapters? They involved things like failing to bother to disarm Hutu soldiers and members of the Interahamwe in United Nations-run refugee camps on the border of post-genocide Rwanda. They involved feigning to ignore that a war to overthrow Mobutu was in reality an invasion mounted by Rwanda and others.

They involved failing to use diplomatic muscle or even raise a voice of protest to stop a campaign of reverse extermination, of Hutu by Tutsi in Rwanda, and later go so far as to block efforts to investigate, ostensibly out of guilt for having failed to stop the horrible genocide of Tutsi by Hutu in Rwanda a few years earlier.

These chapters involved turning a blind eye to the dismemberment and plunder of eastern Congo by its neighbors. There have been many, many more chapters, but I’ve cited enough already for you to get the drift.

Where this narrative leads us to is a world of magical fiction where people pretend that having an election, without bothering to worry about the integrity of the election, will somehow improve “stability” and maybe even help advance “development” in a country that has only continued to sink in recent years; a place where in fact there is no real state worthy of the name.

The just-completed exercise has delivered little to nothing, and certainly not legitimacy to Joseph Kabila, whose answer to people who asked whether he planned to address the country about the results was reportedly something to the effect of “what’s the point?”

What, indeed, was the point of the election? A friend whose connection to the country runs deep answered the question this way: “Dredging silted parts of the mighty river or distributing helicopter cash would be more useful to the Congolese citizenry.” Groups like the Carter Center, and Western-funded governance programs, he said, should be wound up as soon as possible. “But with so many jobs and contracts at stake I suppose that is fanciful thinking.”

The Congo today is like a critically sick patient suffering from multiple maladies. It is time for us to recognize that some of its ills have been induced or at least favored by its would-be well-meaning partners.

5 thoughts on “Discrediting Elections, Wasting Lives, Undermining the Congo”

  1. Hmmm. Not quite sure what the target of this piece is. The Carter Center? (But why?) Western diplomats, for not investing the sums necessary to foster more robust elections? (But with whose cash?) Or the idea of holding elections at all, in a place like DRC? (In lieu of …?)
    Which people, more precisely, are in which rooms, doing what sort of pretending? (But amen to all that other s#@t, about the Clinton-era duplicity.)

    1. @David, I hope you honestly don’t know what Howard is talking about, because if you do, it is this kind of hypocrisy that some of us in Congo are tired of. If you honestly don’t know anything about what leaders in some Western countries do in our great nation, I suggest you hold on to your comments. By doing that, you are helping save a country.

    2. The comment you refer to about the Carter Center is a sentiment I’ve received from a friend and passed along in my post. The words are not mine, but I understand and sympathize with the frustrated feeling behind them; it is a feeling that is becoming more common as charades like this are allowed to pass.
      It may well be that holding elections at all in a place like present-day DRC isn’t a great idea, that building some basic institutions first, strengthening woefully inadequate infrastructure, providing more basic services to citizens, i.e. education, primary health care, agricultural extension services, etc., should be regarded as higher immediate priorities.
      This is not for me to say, and is well beyond the scope of this post.
      Pretending, though, means getting half-way behind elections, which is a catastrophically bad idea. It means providing just enough wherewithal to technically pull off the exercise, however, sloppy, chaotic, flawed or even stolen. Once the votes are tallied, however lacking in transparency the process, the enablers in the international community have no stomach or patience or political will for quibbling. Yes, they may issue some bureaucratic language about flaws in the process, but their basic message is: “OK, done. Now get on with it.”
      This discredits them. It discredits democracy as a process or ideal. And it sets countries like Congo back even further.

      I am pleased to note the Carter Center’s most recent statement on the elections, which deserve a wide reading: http://www.cartercenter.org/news/pr/drc-121011.html

  2. Excellent piece, Mr. French. As usual, your posts are very thought provoking in what is otherwise a highly repetitive conversation. As a Rwandan, and one of those “people called Hutu”, I lost hope in elections long time ago. My impression is that, nowadays, stability seems to be more of a focus. Democracy seems to have somewhat taken the back seat. Of course, this will be fascinating to watch, especially given the rise of China as a new global power–an area in which you have more expertise than most.

    The failures on Congo are without doubt many. And the west is a little embarrassed by them. Once again, window dressing solutions are preferred. Elections are part of this game, and being used as a way to legitimize unpopular regimes whether in Gabon, Uganda,E.Guinea, Rwanda, Ethiopia or the DRC. I personally do not expect the approach to the DRC to be any different.

    What we should be calling for, and it might sound cliche to some, is for the west to re-prioritize democracy. This might be the best strategy for them, given rivalry from the East.

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