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 realÂ 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 helicopterÂ cash would beÂ 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 haveÂ been induced or at least favored by its would-be well-meaning partners.