Dubious elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

No reason to celebrate

by Dr Peter Küpfer

After the announcement of the election victory of Felix Thisekedi as the new Congolese president, European media published pictures of cheering people on the streets of the big Congolese cities. But in this crisis-ridden country there is no cause for jubilation. This is shown by a brief look at the previous elections. President Joseph Kabila, now stepping down, was brought to power in January 2001 as interim president without democratic legitimacy after his father (see box, note 1) Laurent-Désiré Kabila had been shot dead by one of his bodyguards. Laurent-Désiré Kabila had come to power by force of arms in the 1996/97 war. After two subsequent legitimation elections in 2006 and 2011, which observers described as highly suspect of forgery, his son Joseph, in open violation of the constitution, remained in his position as head of state of this huge African country since 2016. The now held elections have before been postponed three times over the past three years. Finally, they were scheduled for March 2018 and after further short-term postponements they were eventually held on the second last day of the year, on 30 December 2018

pk. The map shows the mineral deposits in the east and southeast of the country as well as the main areas where the major international mining companies such as De Beers and others are prospecting. But the two invasions of 1996 and 1998 have further complicated and dramatised things. The dotted line traces the official ceasefire line in the 1998 war. It can be seen with the naked eye that the Rwandan-Ugandan invader militias (RCD and MLC) were primarily targeting Congolese mineral resources and not allegedly “securing the border” to Rwanda. To secure the border, this army would not have had to travel more than a thousand kilometres inland. Today, after more than 20 years of terror, the militias of Rwandan and Ugandan observance, which are still active in North Kivu, plunder above all the “wild” coltan mines, the proceeds of which they throw undisturbed onto the world market. Thus Congo “pays” for the war itself, which has its downfall or at least its Balkanisation as its goal, while Rwanda under Kagame basks in the glory of an emerging country that has its infrastructure under control.

According to official figures, 38.5 million voters took part in the current presidential election. With Felix Tshisekedi, whom the official Congolese electoral committee CENI (Commission Electorale Nationale Indépendante) described as the winner of the current presidential election, the former President Joseph Kabila has now been replaced by the son of a long-time opposition figure, the founder of the Congolese Socialist Party1, Etienne Tshisekedi.
According to the official election results, Felix Tshisekedi, the candidate of the Socialists and their electoral alliance CASH, achieved 38% of the votes. However, the opposition’s candidate being awarded with the highest chance of winning was another one: Martin Fayulu (electoral alliance LAMAKA). According to CENI, he won 34% of the votes, while the candidate of the ruling party FCC (Front Commun pour le Congo), Emmanuel Shadari Ramazani, received only 23% of the votes.
Tshisekedi’s announced election victory surprised many independent observers. Domestically and abroad, Martin Fayulu was expected to win the most votes. Fayulu was considered by many to be the most resistant candidate to the traps of corruption. He was also considered to be the candidate who mobilised the most people at the election events. He was a hope for many voters and was called the “Soldat du peuple” (soldier of the people). However, Martin Fayulu is a businessman, a Master of Business Administration by training, who made a steep career to the highest administrative levels at the oil company Exxon Mobile. In his election campaign he stressed the “new Congo”, he declared war on corruption and, unlike his predecessors in office, did not want to put mining rights at the disposal of international mining companies again. According to him, his personal friends include Dr Denis Mukwege2, who recently received the Nobel Peace Prize for his dedicated work in the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, where he has been treating women systematically raped by armed gangs in Eastern Congo for years. However, Jean-Pierre Bemba also belongs to his closer circle of friends. He is the former mercenary leader of the MLC (Mouvement de Libération du Congo), who during the annexation war of 1998 terrorised large areas of North Kivu from Uganda, later also Central Africa, with witnesses accusing his troops of terrible war crimes against the civilian population. Bemba was one of the four vice-presidents under Joseph Kabila after the 2006 Sun City Peace Treaty. He was later arrested in Brussels and had to face a long trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison for crimes against humanity. His lawyers have now obtained a retrial. The judges referred to procedural deficiencies and subsequently acquitted the Congolese long-time warlord for lack of evidence. However, his conviction for bribery of witnesses remained, so that Bemba could not run for office himself. Taking a politician with such a troubled history on board throws a peculiar light on Fayul’s election promise to devote all his energies to a “new Congo” and in particular to the fight against corruption. Immediately after the announcement of the results, Fayulu filed a lawsuit with the Constitutional Court for electoral manipulation, which, surprisingly, has since been rejected.

Well-founded doubts in the legality of the elections

Nevertheless, numerous commentators of the events in the country, in constant crisis since its independence in 1960, suspect that the current election results do not reflect the will of the majority of voters, but (as in the previous elections!) is based on a priorly agreed distribution of power.
In cautious formulations, but clearly in the matter, the respected Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the country, which itself has put together an army of 40,000 independent election observers, has expressed their doubts, together with the Protestant Church and a civic initiative (Symocel): The figures published by the National Election Commission (CENI) 10 days after the ballot do not match the votes actually cast at the ballot box, the CENCO (Conférence Episcopale Nationale du Congo) announced at the beginning of January. “The true winner of the elections is known to the Episcopal Conference,” was stated in the communiqué, but no name was given. The reservations of national and international election observers regarding the current elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo are mostly identical to those raised in the previous “elections” in that country. They are deeply connected to the structures and living conditions of the people who have been shaken and bled white for so long, whose average income is just over a dollar a day, with a life expectancy of less than 40 years. How on earth should democratic elections be carried out in a country where the majority of the population lives drastically below the poverty line, where schools have been abandoned for years, where in the east a war has been perpetually going on since 1996, sowing fear and terror everywhere, in a country where villages and towns have been hardly reachable for more than twenty years because of the permanent crisis and the dilapidated condition of the streets, where there is no reliable register of the voters and where passports and votes can be bought (if not through blackmailing!)? These issues, having been raised by the Congolese opposition for years, were also raised during the current elections. Doubt was raised in the running up to the elections also about the use of electronic voting machines, in which only the number of the name of one of the three official candidates had to be entered. The government justified the widespread use of the machines by arguing that tons of paper could be saved. Observers objected that, with an illiteracy rate of still more than 30% of the population, electoral secrecy was not respected (Illiterates had to resort to the services of a government-appointed electoral helper who operated the machine for them). Also, such a system is very vulnerable to fraud. Due to the outbreak of Ebola and therefore a general curfew in the Kasai region, millions of voters were not able to cast their votes. Also in these elections the country did not have officially accredited voter registers available.

Political murder in close succession

Encouraged by Western industrial powers, truly democratic conditions have never been aimed for so far by the hitherto powerful in this country. The first and only truly democratically elected Prime Minister after the Independence Celebration (June 1960), bearer of hope Patrice Lumumba, had not been in office for three weeks when the American secret service, together with its British and Belgian offshoots, launched a war of secession that lasted for  three years and robbed young democracy of its vital forces. It started in the resource-rich province of Katanga, whose treasures (copper, gold, diamonds, uranium and rare earths) the West wanted to secure for the future, enforced by means of a brutal proxy war with mercenary armies. In its bloody course Lumumba was (as we know today: with the approval of the then American President Dwight Eisenhower) brutally murdered by Belgian military just a few months after the warlike secession of Katanga.3 The plane, with the then UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, who was desperately striving for a diplomatic solution to the so-called Congo turmoil and on his way to the crucial secret conference venue (in today’s Zambia on the Katangian border), with an elaborate truce proposal in his pocket, was shot down by a military aircraft, as recently reported in relevant reports in respected media. The General Secretary and the entire crew were killed.4 This political murder was declared an accident and went down in history as such (among other “accidents” of the kind). As a “solution” to the long-standing Congo confusion, the secret services mentioned then magically pulled Sese Seko Mobutu, at that time colonel of the Congolese army, out of their pockets. In fact, his military coup was prepared a long time ago. This solution drove  the Congolese people betraying all their hopes, into a leaden dictatorship lasting until 1997 with the blessing of the Western economic powers and correspondingly profitable mining rights. Then a so-called “rebellion”, also fomented by Western intelligence forces and equipped militarily and logistically by Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, put an end to the Mobutu regime in a blitzkrieg. With the two Kabilas (Laurent-Désiré Kabila and Joseph Kabila), two figures had been sitting at the head of the country for almost 30 years who had participated in the war controlled by Rwanda (it was in fact an intervention intended and supported by the West, which was to lead to the Balkanisation of the country) of 1996/97 and who carried a heavy share of responsibility for the atrocities in Eastern Congo caused in these years. Both were not rooted in the country and were regarded by insiders as well as by the vast majority of Congolese themselves as puppets of the new powerful American man in Africa: Rwandan President Paul Kagamé. He has been called a war criminal by numerous observers for years, based on incriminating facts. Under his command, his troops fired at the huge refugee camps in North and South Kivu in 1996. Hundreds of thousands of helpless refugees were killed, either directly or indirectly, as a result of these actions, thereby brutally violating international martial law. Nevertheless the USA, the EU and many European governments, including Germany, pay homage to Paul Kagamé as a wise African statesman of a “new generation”.

Analysis of a meritorious patriot

After the announcement of the election results Honoré Ngbanda, President of the Congolese Patriotic Movement Apareco (Alliance des Patriotes pour la Réfondation du Congo), has issued a public appeal to the Congolese people, urging them not to be blinded by the manipulated play of the Congolese nomenklatura.5 The new rulers of post-mobutist Congo around father and son Kabila were forced upon the Congolese by the military alliance of Rwandan, Ugandan and Burundian troops. The opposition had already allowed itself to be blinded, came to arrangments with the new regime and received concessions in return. This had now been repeated with Felix Tshisekedi, the new president. A strong indication of this is to be found in Tshisekedi’s speech after the announcement of his election victory. There Tshisekedi said the remarkable sentence: “We must no longer regard Joseph Kabila as an enemy, but as a partner”. Like Bemba, Joseph Kabila was involved in the war actions that turned the whole of Eastern Congo into an insecure zone and led to its de facto Balkanization. As president, both he and his father obstructed and then stopped investigations by the UN into the atrocities committed by the so-called “rebel troops” among the civilian population, first by the ADLC under Laurent-Désiré Kabila and then by the RCD (Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie) among various warlords mainly controlled and equipped by Rwanda. If the newly elected president calls military leaders, responsible for the events of the recent two Congo wars, partners, there is little hope for the birth of a “new Congo” by these elections.
Also above the new government the sword of Damocles of the previous camarilla, complying with the new strong man of Central Africa, Paul Kagamé since 1997, is hanging.  According to Ngbanda, the citizens of the plagued republic should not be confused by the election spectacle: There cannot be free elections in an occupied country. The current elections in Congo are not an expression of a real change of power, but of a redistribution of existing power relations that has not been publicly declared. In Ngbanda’s clear words: by shuffling and by fraud (“… le résultat des imposteurs”).    •

1    UDPS Union for Democracy and Social Progress, Foundation at Mobutus times
2    cf. Küpfer, Peter. Dangerous aggravation of the situation in the Congo. On the urgent appeal of Dr Denis Mukwege, in: Current Concerns, No 20 from 24 August 2017 [https://www.zeit-fragen.ch/en/editions/2017/no-20-21-aout-2017/degradation-dangereuse-de-la-situation-dans-le-pays.html]
3    De Witte, Ludo. Regierungsauftrag Mord. Der Mord an Lumumba und die Kongo-Krise, Leipzig 2002
4    As for example in the German magazines “Die Zeit”, “Der Spiegel”, et al.
5    “Honoré Ngbanda invite le peuple congloais à tirer les leçons des élections”; www.youtube.com/watch?v=NTjcSgv37JA. Honoré Ngbanda was minister with changing dossiers in recent years of Mobutu. In his book “Crimes organisés en Afrique centrale. Révélations sur les réseaux randais et occidentaux” (Paris 2004), he meticulously traces the dramatic events, which culminated in the two annexation wars of 1996/97 and 1998/99 of allied states against the Congo and led to its de facto occupation and exploitation. Today, he is a prominent and recognised critical voice on the new Congo confusions.

Chronological table

30.6.1960: Independence of the former Belgian colony. A few weeks later: Secession of the copper province of Katanga, “civil war” until 1963. “Congo confusion” (until 1965).
17.1.1961: Murder of the elected Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba by the Belgian secret service.
24.11.1965: Military coup and seizure of power by Joseph Désiré Mobutu/Mobutu Sese Seko.
18.10.1996: Foundation of the Alliance des Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Congo (AFDL) under Laurent-Désiré Kabila and its invasion of eastern Congo with the support of Rwandan, Ugandan and Burundian troops.
May 1997: After Blitzkrieg across the Congo, the AFDL under Laurent-Désiré Kabila seizes power.
November 1998: Military intervention of the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie (RCD) on the Kabila regime (supported, equipped and controlled by Rwanda and Uganda) with rapid advance far inland. With the military support of Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia, Kabila can stop the advance. The war officially lasts until 2003. Unidentified military forces, most of them controlled by Rwanda, continue to harass the civilian population in eastern Congo to this day.
16.1.2001: Murder of Laurent-Désiré Kabila by one of his bodyguards. As his successor “his son” Joseph Kabila1 until then unknown in the Congo, is appointed.
2.4.2003: Peace agreement of Sun City (South Africa). Establishment of a transitional government under Joseph Kabila with exponents of the various wings of the RCD (Warlords!) as vice-presidents (such as Jean-Pierre Bemba).
29.10.2006: Multi-party elections under international “supervision”. According to official figures, Joseph Kabila is elected president with 58% of the votes. The opposition (Etienne Tshisekedi) boycotts the election and criticizes irregularities, even massive forgeries.
28.11.2011: Second multi-party election. According to official figures, the ruling President Joseph Kabila received 48.95% of the votes, Etienne Thisekedi (father of Felix Tshisekedi) 32.33%. The credibility of this result has been questioned by various commentators.
30.12.2018: Current elections (postponed several times since November 2016). According to official figures, the majority elected President Felix Thisekedi with a clear lead, while the results of the parliamentary and senate elections are said to have produced a two-thirds majority for the government (FCC). The results caused worldwide astonishment, among the opponents of the Kabila regime (by Rwanda’s grace) indignation and so far fruitless complaints.

1    Whether this is really a son of Kabila is controversial. Joseph Kabila was a confidant of the man who led the Blitzkrieg of 1996, the Rwandan civil war general and later commander-in-chief of the Congolese (!) army (since 1998), James Kabarebe.