Trailing in the polls, Félix Tshisekedi, a presidential candidate in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), managed an election upset at the surprise of virtually all observers. Data leaked by a NGO had shown his principal opponent Martin Fayulu had a comfortable lead with around sixty percent of the vote. The government’s candidate, although proclaiming early victory the day the election took place, was largely seen as coming up last by most estimates. Yet, the early information leaked to the press did not match the official results of the electoral commission. Tshisekedi’s victory is historic, as it is the first time an opposition candidate has won elections seemingly rigged in his favour. Furthermore, he is the son of a historic opponent of Kabila’s regime, which certainly attributes him some appeal.
Tshisekedi campaigned on several fronts: promising better wages, restored stability in the countryside, and an end to corruption. Few believe he will achieve as much as he promised, and skepticism is rampant throughout the country. Furthermore, reactions throughout the Congolese community across the world ranged from furious to defeated and dissatisfied.
The days following the election, the Congolese government blacked out all communications throughout the country, effectively turning off text-messaging and Internet, also adding delays to the results which were meant to come out the following Saturday. This was largely seen as a strategy to keep the peace by preventing individuals from communicating about the results and situation overall. Several analysts compare this to a playbook akin to Vladimir Putin’s, as evidenced by several events. First and foremost, by the delay of the elections because of “health issues” and unclear constitutional reasons, causing several conflicts within the state. Then, by the fixture candidate meant only to be a placeholder and simulate a plurality of choices, and finally, by the deal that seems to have been organized with Tshisekedi. Many see a ploy by the former president to maintain a hold on the state by proxy.
Opposition from Within
The new President of the DRC brings through his mandate some hope for change. Instability has marred the country going back decades. The worse being that the DRC has all it takes on its territory to be among the richest countries in the planet. It has the richest basement in the world, with resources such as cobalt widely used in cell phones and other electronics. These riches have attracted a lot of negative attention by larger powers such as China, Russia, the United States, and Canada.1
Improving the lot of the Congolese citizen will likely go through re-appropriating part of that wealth and taking back collective control of their land, at the very least reducing corruption as much as possible as the previous president had promised back in 2006. However, this is a lot to shoulder for the new government.
Tshisekedi in all evidence wants to improve the lives of the citizens, but he does not have the necessary majority in the legislative branch of government, largely seen as Kabila loyalists, to effectuate much change. He will have to work hard to convince these loyalists to change their positions on several issues. The most difficult challenge will be in removing Kabila’s protection, as he is seen as the benefactor of his presidency. To this end, the former president’s relatives have been targeted by pointed investigations for corruption. While not protecting them would be a show of independence, it is unlikely to happen.
Institutional and Economic Hurdles
Another challenge will be to capitalize on foreign investments within the country, mostly from Chinese firms attempting to develop new or maintain former colonial infrastructure. A way he could do this would be to convert jobs currently held by Chinese contractors to the local workforce, also reducing unemployment as a by-product. Congo does have a talent pool largely underutilized which could take over the maintenance of such infrastructure. But any building or re-building will necessarily come through a large reduction in the rampant corruption. This will also come from structuring institutions and setting boundaries to their powers while defining clearly the presidential limits and adhering to the constitution.
For instance, the police almost represent a criminal enterprise throughout the territory, plundering the population when given the chance. Its mandate should change to focus on serving the population instead of themselves and the governments. This can be done by implementing incentives focused on crime reduction. Additionally, the other arm of the government, the army is much better structured, if only because it needs to enforce the government’s will on the population. Hence, we are unlikely to see a drop in its influence. The tasks that Tshisekedi, and future leaders have ahead of them is colossal.
There are some pressures from foreign governments on the new president of the DRC. Notably, the European Union is putting some weight on his promises and has laid out its desire to see citizen’s situation improved. The African Union, which has led the charge in challenging Kabila and the electoral process seems at least satisfied to see a change of power, and a little hopeful that some change may occur. The United States also has supported a peaceful transition, placing troops in nearby Gabon, with the intent of preventing bloodshed. Of course, some larger interests may be at play here, but there does seem to be a genuine common desire to move forward and improving the lives of all Congolese citizens.
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