The DRC and the West: the cost of contradiction
The DRC remains a fragile post-conflict society divided in intricate ethnic, social, political, economic, and military lines. Kabila’s first presidential mandate rested upon a fairly democratic electoral process that guaranteed him an absolute majority in 2006. From that platform, Kabila astutely balanced the divisive lines that characterise the country’s society. Presently, the balance of some of those lines appears to have weakened following the 2011 electoral process. Thereby, the West is likely to be proven incorrect in its decision to support Kabila as the best long-term option to guarantee peace and stability in the DRC.
In contrast with the political record of his first tenure as president, Kabila will face bigger challenges to control the DRC’s internal political dynamics in the next five years. His party failed to win the majority of seats in the National Assembly. Kabila’s response was to secure the creation of a complex coalition with a variety of parties to maintain political control over the National Assembly. Nevertheless, that solution remains untested in a fragile democracy like the DRC, and it can considerably hamper the efficiency and range of the workings of the National Assembly and the executive.
Additionally, Kabila had to reshuffle his government following the elections. He planned to continue to deposit all his faith in Augustin Katumba Mwanke, and make him the main mediator with the coalition parties, and the key-man to establish a solid governing platform for his presidency. Katumba Mwanke was his master strategist in the previous five years, who had become the de facto number two political figure in the DRC. Unexpectedly, he died in a plane crash in February 2012. The event compelled Kabila to swiftly correct the balance of power of those closest to him. He appointed a largely technocratic group of ministers under the leadership of Augustin Matata Ponyo as Prime Minister. As a result, Kabila’s grip on his government remains ambiguous, which portrays an uncertain future for the country’s political stability.
Kabila emerged from the 2011 presidential electoral process evidently weakened by the loss of political legitimacy. That development inspired his rivals to take action to progressively discredit his authority. The first signs of the emerging serious break in DRC political stability materialised in the North Kivu province following the actions of Jean Bosco Ntaganda. Bosco Ntaganda is a former Rwandan rebel indicted by the International Criminal Court, who joined the DRC army in 2009 as part of a peace deal with rebel groups active in the East of the country. In April 2012, he deserted from the army, and used the support of a like-minded rebel group composed of fellow deserters – the Mouvement du 23 Mars (M23) – to take control of large areas across the North Kivu province. Together they started to spread chaos across the Eastern DRC province. Their actions caused mass population displacements and threatened to instigate one of the worst political, military, and social crises in the region over the past decade.
Kabila is attempting to advance with an effective response to the exploits of Bosco Ntaganda and M23 in North Kivu. However, he has considerable limitations. The DRC army remains largely untrained and lacks unity. Furthermore, Bosco Ntaganda and M23 enjoy the full support of the Rwandan government, and superior army, as confirmed by the recent United Nations (UN) report on the North Kivu crisis. Paradoxically, the UN report exposes not only Kabila’s limitations to resolve the North Kivu crisis, but also the West’s double-standards regarding his presidential re-election process. The West endorsed Kabila as the best option to maintain peace and stability in the DRC. Yet, the US continues to arm and train the Rwandan army as a close military ally in the region, and the UK and the US remain Rwanda’s largest international aid donors.
THE COST OF SUPPORT
Despite the grave irregularities that characterised the 2011 DRC presidential electoral process, the West endorsed Kabila as winner. The West regarded Kabila as the best vehicle to secure peace and stability in the country. However, the present political situation in the DRC suggests otherwise. In the months that followed the elections, the country became politically unstable. After the loss of political legitimacy in a fraudulent electoral process, Kabila lost the majority control of the National Assembly, saw the departure of his most trusted aide in the previous tenure, and had to form a new mostly technocratic government. As a result, his political authority weakened considerably.
In turn, Kabila’s loss of political authority led to a progressive break in peace in the already volatile East of the country. The actions of Bosco Ntaganda and M23 pose a serious threat to peace in the DRC and the Great Lakes region. It remains unclear how the North Kivu crisis will be resolved. Yet, it appears that concerted action from the West is now crucial, as its double-standards approach to Kabila’s presidential re-election become more evident.
If the West does not review its approach to the DRC presidential election, it risks to impair the democratic process and governance in the country. The cost for the DRC would be extensive as it could:
- Undo the remarkable democratic progress following the 2006 presidential elections; – Disenfranchise further the citizens from the construction of a solid state structure;
- Affect the strengthening of institutions at the local, provincial, and state levels; and, – Transform the 2011 presidential election process into a simple political tool at the hands of Kabila.
The West should strive for coherence in its relations with Kabila and the DRC, and address the country’s presidential election in correlation with the principles that it claims to advocate – democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. Accordingly, the pursuit of the policy to endorse Kabila and return to ‘business as usual’ with him and his government seems improvident. Instead, the West should promote the re-examination and recounting of the election results, offer its support to the democratic winner of the presidential election, and devise a consistent foreign policy towards the DRC and the Great Lakes region that prevents conflict and fosters sustainable peace.
Tiago Faia is a recent PhD graduate in Africa-EU relations from the University of Bath, UK.