DRC on a knife’s edge
Windhoek – How do you run an election in a country that covers 3.6 million square kilometres Africa but with poor transport and communication infrastructure; 32 million registered voters; 19 000 Parliamentary candidates; and 10 Presidential contenders?
That is the task that faced the DRC this past week.
It was always going to be a difficult task and polling in the general election, which began on Monday, was extended well into the week.
Some doomsday accounts predict a resurgence of a war that claimed some five million lives.
Yes, some polling stations were attacked, people were killed in political violence and chaos generally marked polling in several parts of the country.
But analysts say a return to all-out war is a rather distant possibility.
Expectations are that President Joseph Kabila will successfully stave off the challenge of his main challenger, Etienne Tshisekedi.
Interestingly, this expectation is not shared by many Western media organizations, who are predicting that President Kabila will be out of office because he is “incredibly unpopular” (according to the New York Times) and “inexperienced” despite having been in that office for 10 years now.
This has had some observers asking why there seems to be such an obvious thrust by the West to push President Kabila out of office.
Many media reports have pinned the blame for the electoral shortcomings on President Kabila.
Scant attention has been paid to the fact that Tshisekedi has engaged in violent rhetoric, proclaimed himself President even before the polls, and told his supporters to stage prison breaks and teach the police “a lesson in front of their families”.
The answer, it seems, could lie in the DRC’s resources.
It is estimated that the country’s untapped mineral riches are worth US$24 trillion – a figure sumptuous enough to get any businessperson’s attention.
One blogger has written: “Maybe (President) Kabila has not facilitated as much looting of DRC minerals as he should have and the vultures now want him out.”
It seems there is even a hankering for a return to the days of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, who accumulated tremendous personal wealth at the expense of the nation in much the same way King Leopold did when he declared the Belgian Congo his personal fiefdom.
The Christian Science Monitor has quoted Nicolas-Patience Basabose of Le Congo Hebdo, a Congolese weekly based in South Africa, saying: “The Congo has been without proper infrastructure for decades under Mobutu, but the Congolese have never felt any poorer and unsafe than they do now.”
The Monitor goes on to say, “Many Congolese blame Mr Mobutu for having used Congo’s riches as his personal bank account, Mr Basabose says, but at least Mobutu had a political network of supporters and a broad-based organization.
“‘That alone, in the eyes of many Congolese, is far more than (President) Kabila has offered so far’.”
There is much at stake in the DRC, and virtually the whole industrialized world is watching developments there as they unfold; everyone rooting for a preferred candidate aware of the potential business deals that could follow backing the right horse.
The DRC has 80 percent of the world’s known reserves of coltan (also known as columbite tantalite) – a heavy metal used in the circuitry of cellphones and similar technologies.
The country also has 60 percent of the world’s cobalt and it is the world’s largest supplier of industrial diamonds.
There are many other minerals and huge forests for timber and other woods.
The rewards for investors willing to put money in energy, transport, communications, and water infrastructure is mind-blowing (only two percent of the DRC’s roads are paved).
It is this intense competition to secure a stake in such fabulous wealth that has had some people talking of a possible return to war in the country.
This past week, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution to renew an arms embargo and other sanctions against illegal armed groups in the DRC.
Resolution 2021, drafted by France, declared the Security Council’s “determination to continue to monitor closely the implementation of the arms embargo and other measures”.
The council voiced its “serious concern” over the presence of armed groups in North and South Kivu and Orientale provinces, which “perpetuate a climate of insecurity.”
But time is running out for the DRC.
President Kabila’s term officially ends this coming week and an office-holder must be declared.
There have been indications from opposition camps that should the date pass without an election result being announced, there will be civil unrest.
At the same time, Tshisekedi and his supporters have said they will not accept a result that returns the incumbent to office.
They have been backed in this by another Presidential candidate, Vital Kamerhe, who says the poll should be annulled.
Kamerhe is a former minister in President Kabila’s government.
“There can be no doubt as to the scale of the fraud, deliberately planned by those in power with the connivance of the national election commission,” Kamerhe wrote in a letter to President Kabila, the election commission and international bodies.
Already, at least eight people have been killed since polling stations opened on Monday for the DRC’s second democratic elections since Mobutu’s fall.
SAPA reported: “The election was supposed to mark another step toward peace, but if the results are not accepted by the population, especially the country’s fractured opposition, analysts fear it could drag DRC back into conflict.”
The head of the UN peacekeeping mission in DRC, Roger Meece, told reporters he had received reports of at least two polling stations being set on fire in Kananga Province.
Whatever the poll outcome, the DRC – and Africa – cannot afford the seeds of another war to be sown.