ISS Today
22 March 2006



Congo’s landmark elections must be open to all and run by the rules to ensure the results are accepted, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Tuesday. The UN chief said a promise by European countries to send a force to help secure the polls…showed the international community was committed to the Democratic Republic of Congo.




After long deliberation, and no little procrastination, the transitional government installed in June 2003 has passed a constitution and determined that presidential and parliamentary elections shall be held in a series of polls beginning on 18 June this year. The electoral process will no longer be concluded before the legal end of the transition at the end of June, but this need not lead to a constitutional vacuum should the principal parties achieve consensus.
This is by no means a foregone, conclusion, however. Etienne Tshisekedi, the veteran politician who enjoys a considerable popular following in his native Kasai and in the capital, Kinshasa, urged a boycott of the voter registration process, with the result that many of his supporters are disenfranchised. It is probably too late to remedy this situation, and he has threatened to use civil disobedience to disrupt what will, under the best of circumstances, be a challenging exercise in terms of logistics and security.
The RCD-Goma has also fallen upon hard times in its unsuccessful efforts to assert itself as a national party rather than as a Kivu-based alliance with foreign backing. Under present conditions it is unlikely to fare well at the polls, and armed mutineers associated with it and under the command of General Nkunda have resumed the destabilisation of North Kivu.
The activities of Rwandan and Burundian rebel groups in the east of the country also provide an excuse for Kigali and Bujumbura to continue their profitable exploitation of the low-intensity conflict, and these countries genuine commitment to regional peace and the sanctity of internationally recognised boundaries is open to question.
In the north-east, rival militias continue to scourge the countryside and to these have now been added the depredations of the Lord’s Resistance Army, which gives Uganda a justification for cross-border forays.
In Katanga, militias armed by Laurent Kabila during and after his ascent to power have proven difficult for his son to control, and indecisive clashes have occurred between these forces and those of the new Congolese army (FARDC). Unrest in this region is of particular concern because the UN monitoring forces (MONUC) have virtually no presence there.
Nor should it be imagined that all of those currently enjoying privileged status in the transitional government might not eventually be numbered among the “spoilers”. All leading armed factions appear to have withheld substantial forces from the demobilisation, disarmament and integration process, probably by way of insurance against an unfavourable outcome at the polls, or to allow resistance against others attempting to overthrow the results. Parallel command structures continue to exist, and of the 18 brigades of FARDC troops planned to be available to secure the elections, only 6 are in varying states of readiness. The FARDC’s operational history to date has included so many instances of predation upon the population that it would seem unwise to put too much faith in their discipline or commitment.
This will leave the MONUC forces very thinly stretched at the most dangerous period of the transition. The EU has promised some modest reinforcements for a few months, but MONUC and the relatively well-trained Congolese police will have to bear the brunt of the job, even as they are involved in the massive logistical effort of assisting in the organization and administration of the polls.
In conclusion, we appear to be entering a decisive period in Congo’s history and, by extension, that of the entire region. This will not be the last, however, and the danger exists that the international community prematurely will see the electoral process, if successful, as a signpost in its exit strategy. Yet the holding of elections and the formation of a legitimate government are but the first steps on a very arduous road towards the formation of a responsible and responsive state.
We can only hope that the wealthier and more powerful members of the international community will see matters in this light, rather than being satisfied with having installed in Kinshasa an internationally recognised president whose principal task would be to sign the concessions and contracts necessary to the legal sanctioning of the exploitation of the country’s resources.


Richard Cornwell

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