President Obama's call for timely, credible, and peaceful elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2016

Eric Kamba meeting former President of Zambia, H.E. Rupiah Banda who led the Carter Center delegation in DRC's presidential election in 2011
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Eric Kamba with former Zambian President Rupiah Banda.

[Commentary]

Will Congo have free and fair elections next year?

On March 31st, 2015, President Barack Obama called President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).  The White House readout of that call says that he  “emphasized the importance of timely, credible, and peaceful elections that respect the DRC's constitution and protect the rights of all DRC citizens.”  The people of Congo took to the streets and died fighting for such elections in 2011, and in March of this year, they did so again, in anticipation of 2016.  

Congolese National Police and President Kabila’s Republican Guard shot at least 42 people in the streets of Kinshasa, the DRC capital, and Goma, the capital of North Kivu Province, because they were protesting President Kabila’s plans to have neither timely, credible nor peaceful elections.   The Democratic Republic of the Congo, is arguably the most resource rich nation on earth and consequently the site of the most lethal conflict since World War II.  Despite its unparalleled wealth, it has one of the lowest human development indexes on earth. 

“Timely” was a significant choice of words. Last year Kabila’s supporters floated a proposal to change the DRC’s constitution so that he could stay on past its two term limits. The proposal sparked so much protest that it was withdrawn.

The rights of DRC citizens were severely abused in the 2006 and 2011 elections.

In 2011, the Carter Center found that “the provisional presidential election results announced by the Independent National Election Commission (CENI) on Dec. 9 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo lacked credibility.  The CENI had announced that President Joseph Kabila had been elected with 49 percent of the vote, followed by Etienne Tshisekedi with 32 percent.”

Just this year, the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo decided to create 15 new provinces in the country. Thus, 26 provinces all together. Timely, credible and peaceful elections cannot be envisioned in a country where new parliamentary districts, with different demographics, are created just before the elections to serve the interests of those already in power. If and when this situation happens, President Kabila will have a justification for not organizing the election, citing for example, the lack of funding or other reasons, as he sees fit. Strategically this would constitute his third term.

Even if the presidential elections were organized today, the fact that the clergyman Malu Malu is back in business is worrisome. After the disaster he caused when presiding over the latter Electoral Independent Commission (CEI) in 2003, the clergyman Malu Malu was again appointed as the head of the new National and Independent Electoral Commission (CENI).  By accepting this role, Mr. Malu Malu has gone against the will of the coalition of the Congolese churches (CENCO) and that of the Vatican. In Congo, no one believes that the coming election will be free, fair and transparent, in part, because of Father Malu Malu's friendship with President Kabila and his political party.  In order to get good results out of these elections, Malu Malu must be replaced by a neutral person. 

The DRC is arguably the most resource rich nation on earth and consequently the site of the most lethal conflict since World War II. President Obama’s signature Senate legislation, the Obama Congo Relief, Security and Democracy Promotion Act of 2006, was an attempt to bring peace to the DRC by stopping the Rwandan and Ugandan incursions that have destabilized DRC since the first Congo War of 1993.

The Obama bill passed the Senate unanimously and passed the House on a voice vote, but few  Americans have ever heard of it, so there has been little to no political pressure for it to be enforced. 

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