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A decade after the end of its brutal civil war, the Democratic Republic of Congo is still grappling with political instability and uncertainty. When voters in this large central African country went to the polls in presidential elections, a leading opposition candidate called on supporters to “terrorize the government.” We examine what’s at stake in the contest and the aftermath.
- Ofeibea Quist-Arcton NPR Foreign Correspondent
- Thierry Vircoulon Project Director, Central Africa; International Crisis Group
- Laura Seay Assistant Professor, Political Science, Morehouse College (Atlanta, Ga.)
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast what went wrong at last weekend's Hot Chocolate 15K/5K race at National Harbor? But first, democracy at work in the Democratic Republic of Congo election results are expected to roll in today in Congo, a country whose tortured history is more often associated with the term kleptocracy.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIt's just the second democratic election to take place there since the civil war ended. The prelude wasn't pretty, reports surfacing this week of poll workers being slugged in the face and ballots being burned. In the weeks before the contest a leading opposition candidate called on his supporters to terrorize the government. All of which is why observers are concerned about violence erupting regardless of the outcome.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us to explore what's at stake and why the international community should care is Laura Seay, professor at Morehouse College. She writes the blog "TexasinAfrica." She joins us from studios in Atlanta, Ga. Laura Seay, thank you for joining us.
MS. LAURA SEAYThank you. It's a pleasure to be here.
NNAMDIThierry Vircoulon is the International Crisis Group's project director in Central Africa, he joins us from Nairobi, Kenya. Thierry Vircoulon, thank you for joining us.
MR. THIERRY VIRCOULONThanks a lot for having me.
NNAMDIAnd Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is a foreign correspondent for NPR. She is in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, thank you for joining us.
MS. OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTONGreetings, and good evening Kinshasa time.
NNAMDIOfeibea, preliminary results for this election are due today. I've heard that trucks of riot police are patrolling major cities in anticipation of violence breaking out. Thousands of people have already fled the capital in fear. However early reports suggest that President Joseph Kabila is in the lead with more than two-thirds of the votes counted. What do you expect will happen today if he holds on and can you begin by painting a picture for us of what's happening on the ground there now?
QUIST-ARCTONWell, Kinshasa has been more or less a ghost city today. It's a bustling, bustling capital of this central African nation, the giant in the heart of Africa, but today many people stayed away from work. Yesterday, people left work early and I think a lot of people were doing a lot of shopping for food and other essential goods then were staying home to see what would happen today.
QUIST-ARCTONLate last night, the Independent Electoral Commission announced more partial results which, as you said, showed President Joseph Kabila (unintelligible) votes tallied so seemingly (unintelligible) commanding and even a lead that cannot be bettered by any other candidate and of course (unintelligible) positioned presidential rival is Etienne Tshisekedi so (unintelligible)...
NNAMDIOfeibea, you're breaking up on us. We're going to have to see if we can get a better signal from Ofeibea Quist-Arcton. So allow me to turn to Thierry Vircoulon in Nairobi, Kenya. It is my understanding that the current President Joseph Kabila is getting somewhere between 46 and 50 percent of the vote. Ofeibea's voice dropped when she was saying that. Can you enlighten us, please, Thierry?
VIRCOULONYes, that's definitely the news that has come out from the electoral commission since the beginning, since they have started actually releasing incomplete results. It's actually a very difficult process to announce a result. Just right after the vote, actually both the ruling party and the main opposition party, the party of Etienne Tshisekedi, claimed victory and even the party of Etienne Tshisekedi started releasing its own results.
VIRCOULONSo that's the reason why actually the electoral commission decided to release its results, incomplete results in order not, to prevent that opposition party says well, I won the election and here are my results. And as you know Kinshasa is very much a stronghold of the opposition and that's why actually the situation is quite tense there.
NNAMDIIndeed I was about to ask you where is the leading opposition candidate, Etienne Tshisekedi getting most of his support from. You've already indicated that he apparently has a strong base in Kinshasa. Where else?
VIRCOULONYeah, it's not only Kinshasa, actually Etienne Tshisekedi is coming from the Kasai. He was born in that area and it's basically his strongholds are in Kinshasa and the two Kasai provinces. What can we suspect is actually he will also have a lot of supporters in some western provinces such as Equateur and Bandundu.
VIRCOULONYou must remember that in 2006, there was a clear political cleavage between the east and west when it came to the vote. The eastern part of the country will be for President Kabila and the western part of the country will be for the opposition. We may see that kind of cleavage again.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join this conversation, you can call us at 800-433-8850. What do you think is at stake in the current election in Congo and why do you think the international community should care? 800-433-8850 You can send email to email@example.com or go to our website, kojoshow.org, and make a comment there. Laura Seay, you wrote recently that there's nothing less than Congo's legitimacy at stake in these elections. Why do you feel that way?
SEAYYeah, that's a great question. The main issue is that there's not really what we would call a social contract in the Congo whereby the people and the government have an agreement that the government will manage the country on behalf of the people for their welfare.
SEAYSo for example, when money comes into the DRC government, whether it's through the form of taxes, which there aren't many of those collected, but are tariffs on trade or foreign aid, that money is not typically used to provide public services, things like making water and electricity run, running the public schools, keeping hospitals open that sort of thing. Instead, it is often siphoned off in very large percentages by politicians at the top of the pile and they kind of distribute that money through patronage systems throughout the country.
SEAYAnd so the problem for Congo is that, you know, we would normally say -- like, in the United States, we say that the government derives its legitimacy from the consent of the governed, that is we all kind of have this tacit agreement with our government that we will accept the limits on our liberty and pay taxes in exchange for protection and various different services. But in the Congo, that doesn't exist and so the only basis for legitimacy there is sort of just everyone's agreement that this is the government and it's rightfully ours.
SEAYAnd part of that happens through the electoral process and if the Congolese people don't have confidence that their votes were counted fairly and there is reason for Congolese to be very concerned that their votes are not going to accurately...
NNAMDIWell, what's the nature of those concerns? Because the 2006 elections attracted a lot of international attention, they seemed to have been run relatively smoothly all things considered. But you seem to be skeptical that a smooth election was even doable this time around, why?
SEAYBecause we -- well, it's a different dynamic this time around. Tshisekedi sat out the last elections. He boycotted those elections and so you did not have mass dissent on the scale that you have this time against Kibila's rule. There's also a lot of disillusionment and disappointment with the president's role, a feeling that he did not live up to the promises that he made in 2006 as far as rebuilding the country, rebuilding infrastructure and bringing in more security.
SEAYAnd so because this sort of discontent exists this time around you know Kabila changed the constitution because he knew that he would not be able to win more than 50 percent of the vote in a runoff and so this around the winner only has to have a simple plurality of the vote, whoever gets the most votes is going to win even if that's only 30 or 40 percent of the vote.
SEAYAnd you're going to see a lot of discontent with that particularly in the western Congo where as Thierry has noted, the base of support for Tshisekedi is very strong.
NNAMDIAllow me to go back to Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, we've got her back on the phone again. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton there is some skepticism as to how the results of this election will be received especially if the incumbent president Joseph Kabila wins. Any indication at all that there is likely to be unrest after this result is made public?
QUIST-ARCTON(unintelligible) is very bad, but I think what might be the reaction to the (word?) election when the results are announced, if (unintelligible) I'm sure you heard that there has been vote fixing, that it has been a fraudulent process and that they will not accept a result that gives the presidency back to Joseph Kabila. They've been saying that for almost a week now. That's why the atmosphere here in Kinshasa and in other parts of the country incidentally is so tense because people don't know what's going to happen as you heard this is the first democratic election the Congolese themselves are organizing.
QUIST-ARCTONBecause there's such a big UN peacekeeping force here, the elections in 2006 -- and I was here for those too, but really the international community were helping Congo to organize elections. This time, it's been more of a Congolese process and many people said it was too (unintelligible) it shouldn't have happened this quickly which is (unintelligible) with logistics being such an issue with so few paved roads in such a gigantic country but it was always going to be a problem trying to deliver all the voting materials by river, by foot, by truck, by air.
QUIST-ARCTONSo now the elections have been held and people are now waiting to see whether their ballots are the truthful ballots as the Catholic bishops put it. They said the election commission must, must proclaim the truth, the (word?) Congolese voters. Many people are worried because they don't know what's going to happen. The opposition is being as we've seen very (word?) . It says it will not accept Joseph Kabila if Joseph Kabila wins. Joseph Kabila's presidential says, you know, we have won (unintelligible) and if there is any unrest disturbances or violence that they will crack down with the police first and there are riot police patrolling Kinshasa today.
QUIST-ARCTONAnd if necessary with the army and we are told that there have been soldiers pouring into the city including the (word?) Guard, which is, of course, loyal to the president.
NNAMDIIt doesn't sound like a pretty picture. We're going to have to take a short break Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, thank you very much for joining us. When we come back, we will continue our conversation on the election and the election results in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you see potential for the political unrest in northern Africa and the Middle East from the so-called Arab Spring to spread to countries like Congo in sub-Saharan Africa? Call us at 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're talking about the current election in the Congo, results of which are coming out today. Our guests are Laura Seay, professor at Morehouse College. She writes the blog "Texas in Africa." She joins us from studios in Atlanta, Ga. And Thierry Vircoulon is the International Crisis Group's project director in Central Africa. He joins us via Skype from Nairobi, Kenya. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Laura Seay, I'll start with you this time.
NNAMDIWe read where the New York Times reported that the election commission in Congo is dominated by supporters of President Kabila. We just heard Ofeibea Quist Arkton talk about the preparations that are being made in Kinshasa with the police and possible Army reinforcements. It would seem that they are preparing for unrest. Do you think that is more than likely to happen?
SEAYUnfortunately, I do. Yes, the city is heavily dominated by Kabila supporters and its head Pastor Ngoy Mulunda, is a close, personal friend of the president. He serves in some of a capacity of his spiritual advisor and is also one of the founders of the President's Party, the PPRD. So, you know, before the elections even started, many said this was not going to be legitimate. There's no way it can be fair because you don't have a neutral figure in charge of running these elections and of tallying the votes. And the widespread perception in Congo and in the international community is that whether Kabila legitimately wins or not, he will not leave office. And that Tshisekedi supporters in Kinshasa and elsewhere in the country are unlikely to accept that result.
SEAYAnd it's important to note that it is possible for Kabila to win, given that he doesn't have to reach the 50 percent threshold. But that claim is rejected by most opposition supporters and by many Congolese in the Diaspora and the feeling there is very strong that he is likely to declare victory and that if he does that people are going to take to the streets and they are going to engage in violence.
INTERVIEWERHere is Obina (sp?) in New Carrolton, Md. Obina, you're on the air, go ahead please.
OBINAYes, hello, Kojo. How are you guys doing today?
NNAMDIWe are well.
OBINAOkay. I'm really interested in the topic about DRC because Kabila taking over from his father has not been able to unify the country, bringing an end to the violence and killing that has been going on in the Congo for a long time. So I do not expect him to win the election, if it has to be free and fair, because I think many Congolese are tired of the killing and the raping. And everything that's going on there which he has not been able to resolve. But being an African dictator as his father and most (word?) in Africa, he's going to do everything to make sure that he remains in office, even if he's going to plunge the country deeper and deeper into crisis. So this is what we are seeing in a lot of African countries, though some countries are making significant progress. I can remember the election that went on in Nigeria, like, earlier this year...
NNAMDISure. But, Obina you make a depressing point regarding the Democratic Republic of Congo and I'd like to turn to Thierry Vircoulon because the BBC ran a headline recently if Congo was really the world's worst country and of course what Obina was referring to was the fact that they were under a dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko that was followed by a dictatorship of Laurent Kabila, who was the father of Joseph Kabila. If Joseph Kabila maintains power, Thierry, in this election, will he have much power to change anything after it? Will he have the desire to change anything?
VIRCOULONWell, I think we will definitely witness a consolidation of power if he's reelected. I mean, it's very logical because actually his first mandate, or his first real mandate because he was president during the transition that it was slightly different. And he hasn't been able to really assert his authority on the whole country. There are still some active militias in the eastern Congo. As we can witness now, there is a stronger opposition in Kinshasa and in the western part of the country. So I am worried that if he's reelected, we will witness a power consolidation and I don't believe -- think that those elections can be a game changer when it comes to the (unintelligible) problem of the DRC.
VIRCOULONAnd I would just -- like an example, there was no screening of the candidates for the legislative election actually this year. No screening and no criminal screening and then you have a militia leader called Ntabo Ntaberi eastern Congo, who ran the militia called the Mai Mai Sheka who, last year, were actually accused of raping 160 women in the territory of Walikale. And this guy, actually, he's running as a candidate for the legislative election. So I don't think we will see a change of political personnel and also the (unintelligible) .
NNAMDILaura Seay, eastern Congo, which Thierry just mentioned is a place that's become synonymous with chaos as the home of the world's biggest United Nations Peace Keeping Force. By one study an estimated 48 women are raped every hour in that region. How are Kabila's political fortunes linked to what's happening there?
SEAYThey're very significantly linked to what's happening in the east. In 2006 the east was Kabila's base of support and he won districts out there, you know, with 90, 99 percent of the vote. I lived in the East D.R.C in 2006 and there's no reason to doubt that those numbers were concocted. He really did have that strong level of support. And the reason is that he ran on a platform of being the candidate of peace and development and reconstruction. So he made a lot of promises, some of those promises have been fulfilled. You do see things like roads have been paved, primarily by the Chinese, in places like Beni and Goma. But there's still a high degree of violence, particularly, as you've noted, of sexual violence directed against women and girls and also, unfortunately, increasingly against men and boys.
SEAYAnd development hasn't happened at the level that easterners expected and security hasn't improved to the level that they expected. And so, because of that Kabila has lost a significant amount of his support in the eastern provinces. Now, he still does have some support but the nature of the crisis there, people are just kind of fed up and they're much savvy voters this time. They're not willing to take Kabila or any other candidate that their word. They're not willing to, you know, accept a t-shirt from a candidate and vote for that candidate because they received a t-shirt or because they received $5.00.
SEAYSo it's a real problem for Kabila and I think he's aware of that and I think his supporters are aware of that. We do have reports of irregularities last weekend, Masisi territory, which is in North Kivu and has historically been a very violent area and there are members of the CNDP, which is a rebel group that has, at least theoretically been integrated into the army but still is very much independent. CNDP members forcing citizens to vote for Kabila, basically taking to the poles, forcing them to vote. If they refuse to, they would take away their voting cards and go and vote in the civilian's place. So it's still quite a tense situation out in the east.
NNAMDIAnd what is the likely role influence of the Congolese Diaspora? We talked about whether or not the international community is paying significant attention to what's going on in the democratic republic where the known natural resources are valued around $24 trillion. You wrote recently that a strong segment of the Congolese Diaspora has tried to generate opposition support and that members of that Diaspora are writing press releases in English, so they're clearly designed to attract the attention of the international audience. What accounts for that dynamic and is it having any impact at all?
SEAYYes, the Congolese Diaspora is highly engaged, both through the things that you mentioned. They've also been staging protests over the last couple of days in Brussels and Johannesburg, other areas where there are large concentration of Congolese living in those areas. The role, you know, the Diaspora is heavily biased toward the opposition and particularly favors Tshisekedi, you know, almost overwhelmingly. There is support there. Whether that causes a change in the outcomes in the election in D.R.C or whether it precipitates a change in the international community, is not so clear. International leaders tend to not give a lot of credence to the voices of the Diaspora and tend, maybe not, to take their claims as seriously as they might from their own diplomats or from voices on the ground.
SEAYBut, you know, if you just read sources from the Congolese Diaspora you're going to get the impression that overwhelmingly number of Congolese only support Tshisekedi, which is a bit off base. It's true the Diaspora does, it's true that family and friends of the Diaspora do support that and are very opposed to the president but there is much more diversity of opinion on the ground in Congo and it's quite a more complicated picture than the one the Diaspora has painted so far.
NNAMDISo much of Northern Africa and the Middle East has been swept up in the so-called "Arab Spring" this year, democratic movements that have risen up against authoritarian regimes. But here's what Demu (sp?) in Manassas, Va. has to say. Demu, you're on the air, go ahead please.
DEMUYes, I just say thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak.
DEMUThe Congo -- that Arab Spring will never work over there because for institutions like the World Bank and IMF, those are the biggest problems in Congo. They never want to have, like, a strong government there that can have a talk. And that's why this instability in Congo start since the '60s and we never had a strong government and the problem is not the Congolese people, but those international institutions. That they never let (unintelligible) .
NNAMDIWhy, in your view Demu, the international institutions like the World Bank and the IMF, not want a stable government in Congo? Why would they not want a stable government in Congo?
DEMUThe parties, because we know what is going on over there. Because...
NNAMDINo, no, we don't know. You tell us what is going on, in your view.
DEMUThey're stealing. They're stealing mineral from the country and the only way they can do that is the government is not able to control anything and that's what is going on in Congo.
NNAMDII am pretty sure that minerals are being stolen in the Congo. I am not as sure that is the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund that is stealing those minerals. But I'd like to hear Thierry Vircoulon, talk about why it is as Demu says, there can be no Arab Spring in the Congo, presumably because there would be widespread repression and, in Demu's view, that international agencies are -- the international community is interested in having any kind of Arab Spring suppressed.
VIRCOULONWell, obviously the conditions, political and sociological conditions are quite different. But we must remember that the revolution in North Africa have been basically been done by the urban youths and what we are witnessing right now in Kinshasa is also the mobilization of urban youths and the popular rejection of the status quo and the ruling party. So there are some similarities, but I think it is very difficult actually to compare the Arabian world and what's going on in the DRC. I would rather compare it actually to the other election that happened in Central Africa.
VIRCOULONBecause in October, you had the election in Cameroon, you had the end of the year election in Chad and in Central Africa and you have also Ugandan elections. In all those four elections, the incumbent president have been actually reelected. Why? Mostly because the opposition actually was too weak and the voters were actually disenchanted, both by the ruling party and by the oppositions. This is not the case in the DRC right now. We're seeing -- we're witnessing the fact that actually there is no disenchantment towards the opposition and towards Tshisekedi who made his come back to the country after several years of absence and that I remember that we see a lot of people were saying that he's now a nobody in the country or people will not even recognize him. We see that it's very different. So in Cameroon and other countries, the opposition was quite divided. The opposition is divided in the DRC but we see (unintelligible) some moves actually for a more united front.
NNAMDIOkay. Thierry Vircoulon is the international Crisis Group's project director in Central Africa. He joins via Skype from Nairobi, Kenya. Thierry, thank you so much for joining us. One last question for you, Laura Seay, before you go. I'd like to have you weigh in on the notion of why there can or cannot be an Arab Spring in Democratic Republic of Congo?
SEAYWell, I think the points that Thierry has just made are very key. We are witnessing something going on in Congo and...
NNAMDIObviously it won't be an Arab Spring, it will be a Congo Spring. But go ahead.
SEAYRight. It would be a Congo Spring or an African Spring, which you know, if we want to get technical about it, most of the Arab countries that experienced the Spring actually are in Africa. But, you know, there's some kind of political awaking. I think Thierry is absolutely right. It is absolutely going on in D.R.C. right now and people are not willing to put up with the status quo anymore and they are starting to demand that the government actually govern on behalf of the people and in service of the people. So I don't think that we are far enough along to say that there will not be a Spring there.
NNAMDIAnd I talked earlier about the influence of the international community, and I'm running out of time very quickly so I'm going to make a u-turn and come back here to the United States. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd this week dug up a blog post that you wrote some time ago about Newt Gingrich and the thesis he wrote at Tulane University, about Belgian education policy in the Congo and colonialism. You said his approach -- and I guess this is where we get to the nature of the international interests that one of our callers was obviously suspicious about. You said that, Newt Gingrich's approach was basically a glorified white man's burden take. What did you mean by that and do you see anything different in the Gingrich for President that we're seeing today?
SEAYWell, I'm not an American politics analyst so I'll be careful on that one. But what I can tell you from reading the dissertation, which I read for research purposes, a lot of my research has to do with education in D.R.C., it -- he saw colonialism as something that was good for the Congo ultimately. That helped to modernize the Congo and bring it into the modern world. That view is obviously dated from today, I think you can argue that it was also date at the time that he wrote it. But he saw the education system there as something where the Belgians tried to help the Congolese modernize and he does acknowledge some of the flaws in the system, but I think overall, he takes a much more favorable view of that system than I do.
SEAYAnd, you know, sort of saw it as an important effort, maybe if not an entirely successful one, whereas I would criticize that effort as absolutely horrendous and having setup the Congolese for very difficult self-governance after independence. This question, you know, of whether the international community wants the D.R.C. to be weak, I think is really a misperception. The international community spends of billions and billions of dollars supporting Congo every year, paying for the peace-keeping mission, providing international aid, providing healthcare assistance and education assistance.
SEAYThe international community, most leaders there want nothing more than for the government of D.R.C. to get its act together, to start providing services for the people and to take this burden off the international community and for Congo to be a functioning and stable place. But that is going to take commitment from the country's leadership in order to get there and I'm really not sure what Newt Gingrich would say about that.
NNAMDILaura Seay is a professor at a Morehouse College. She writes the blog "Texas in Africa." Laura Seay, thank you so much for joining us.
SEAYThank you. It's been a pleasure.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, what went wrong at last weekend's Hot Chocolate 15K, 5K Race at National Harbor. If you were a participant or supposed to be one, you can start calling, 800-433-8850. Let us know what your experience or send us a tweet at kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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