Help Congolese realise dream

But that will only be the start of democracy in the DRC. Then will come the complex process of forming a Government that actually has both popular backing and reasonable regional support, and then the entrenchment of democracy in a country that is very large, where provincial loyalties often outweigh national loyalties and where so many armed men are likely to be losers at the ballot box.

Most African countries as they became independent, entered the democratic era or embraced multi-party democracy were fortunate to have just two or three serious nationalist or liberation movements that could be converted to ordinary political parties. The two-party system, or at least a system where parties split naturally into two potential coalitions, is largely entrenched now in most of SADC and voters have a real choice on election day of choosing whether to retain their Government or bring in a reasonably-well defined opposition group.

The DRC, after decades of one-man rule by Marshal Mobuto Sese Seko followed by years of warlords, invasions and civil strife, does not have this, or at least not yet. Vast numbers of parties proliferate.

What everyone must be hoping is that the voters will in fact create a two-party, or two-group, system, simplifying politics in DRC and allowing a normal democracy to develop.

But that is only one side of the problem. Creating a unified army, subservient to civil control with a monopoly of arms is going to be far harder. Other countries that came to independence, peace or democracy after armed struggle or civil strife – Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique and Angola – were fortunate in having to integrate only two or three armies and were equally fortunate, at least after the death of Jonas Savimbi, that these armies tended to have a reasonable division between their political leadership (who entered Parliament) and their military commanders (who became the generals and colonels of the new professional army).

The DRC has to bring in political warlords as army officers, a far more risky process.

So the DRC is going to continue to need a lot of help. And much of this will have to come from its regional organisation, SADC. The UN and the rest of the world will, no doubt, lose almost all interest in the country once the elections are over. Fortunately SADC has a wealth of experience to draw on, since many of its members have faced similar problems although at a significantly lower level.

For SADC has the biggest stake in seeing the DRC become a stable, prospering, democratic and peaceful country. The potential rewards for all, not least the people of the DRC, are immense.

If the DRC can be fully integrated into the SADC security, political, transport, telecommunications, agricultural, power and other networks a lot of potential future regional problems suddenly become a lot easier to solve and a lot cheaper to solve.

On the security side, SADC will suddenly lose the last major security risk to the region and the last part of the region likely to explode into civil strife or war. This will allow further reductions in defence spending and more money poured into social development, yet thanks to the SADC joint defence policies, still make any external aggressor think very very hard before even launching a bandit raid.

On the power front, the huge deficits in electricity generation that are looming and which seem to require large numbers of very expensive new power stations can be ameliorated, or even eliminated, by a joint development of Grand Inge, which when finished will almost double SADC’s power output at the lowest possible cost. The more stable the DRC is, the lower the risk of putting so many eggs into that one basket and the lower the cost of electricity to the people of the region.

Food production for growing populations can be met, in part, by development of the incredible Katanga plains, described as some of the best cattle and crop country in Africa, and a cropping area unlikely to be hit by global warming. The mineral resources of the DRC, coupled with the rich resources in much of the rest of SADC, will almost certainly bring the region to that critical mass of resources where rapid industrialisation becomes a great deal easier, especially if it can be coupled with adequate energy at modest costs by world standards and renovation of the old rail lines and river traffic.

It was the potential of the DRC to round off SADC economically, as well as the need to bring it within SADC’s security orbit, that pushed the SADC heads of government to admit the country in the 1990s.

The chance now exists to start fulfilling those dreams. The people of the DRC seem willing to give it a go. But the rest of us have to show the same enthusiasm and continue giving our support. It will need extra effort, but we will all win if we give it, and give it as a united region.

July 2006
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