DR Congo: Is Peace in the Offing?
By Janice Sanya September 5, 2018
Turmoil continues to define one of the world’s richest countries ahead of its December 23, presidential 2018 elections. DR Congo has a chance to choose a new government that could change the course of its history that has been marked by different crises. The crises have, in turn, derailed the mineral-rich country from realizing its goal of becoming a strategic player both regionally and internationally.
The likely presidential aspirants are Jean-Pierre Bemba, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, Tryphon Kin-Kiey Mulumba, Vital Kamerhe, Moise Katumbi, and Felix Tshisekedi. Vital Kamerhe is a former president of the National Assembly, while Felix Tshikedi, the son of the former opposition activist, is currently the leader of the largest opposition party. Tryphon Kin-Kiey Mulumba’s participation surprises many because he had supported Kabila’s quest for a third term.
Jean-Pierre Bemba, an opposition and former rebel leader, has been excluded from the presidential race by the electoral commission of DR Congo on the grounds that the International Criminal Court (ICC) convicted him for bribing witnesses (witness tampering). Bemba had been accused by the ICC of crimes against humanity for murder, rape, and pillage committed in 2002 and 2003. The ICC released him when the majority of the judges ruled on his appeal. The Commission has likened this to corruption, which in DR Congo law, prohibits people from running for the presidency. It is still not clear if or how Bemba’s supporters will react to this move by the Commission to exclude him, his appeal notwithstanding.
Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, a nominee of the ruling party, is one of President Joseph Kabila’s loyal followers. Shadary is unpopular among the citizens of DR Congo. Apart from this, he was sanctioned in 2017 by the European Union for alleged human rights violations. Kabila’s government has endorsed Shadary and it is clear that if he is to run for the presidency, then the regime might still continue to affirm its influence on the country.
Moise Katumbi, the former governor of Katanga Province and former ally of Kabila, has also been barred from entering the country. In 2016, he was convicted of real estate fraud and an arrest warrant has been issued. He will be arrested if he returns to the country.
In his speech during the 2010 celebration of 50 years of independence, Kabila agreed to the fact the first five decades of the country’s independence had failed in delivering a Congolese society worth its enormous natural endowment. The new government will help determine a new vision for DR Congo.
In his book The History of Congo, Ch. Didier Gondola highlights the various constitutional regimes that have governed the country: the first republic from 1960 to 1965, the second republic from 1965 to 1990, the transition (a democratization period) from 1990 to 1997, and the third republic since 1997.
Congo in Retrospect
The First Congolese Republic, which came right after independence, faced what has been termed as ‘crisis of decolonization. Moïse Kapenda Tshombe, who served as the president of the Secessionist State of Katanga from 1960 to 1963, declared the independence of Katanga (Southern province) in 1960 leading to the spread of unrest in the country. Tshombe was supported by Belgium who sent paratroopers to reinforce security so as, in return, he safeguards her (Belgium) interests in the mineral-rich province. Joseph Kasavubu, the then Prime Minister Patrice Emery Lumumba turned to the United Nations (UN) for help in restoring the sovereignty and territorial integrity of DR Congo. The UN failed to expel the Belgian troops and end Katanga’s secession. According to Gondola, this crisis resulted in the disintegration of the administrative system, and the collapse of the state.
The Second Republic began in 1965 when General Mobutu Sese Seko took control of the failing government state in a coup ousting President Kasavubu. However, what seemed as a state-building process turned out to be a long reign of dictatorship. Mobutu’s regime lasted for 32 years. He gained control over state resources and ruled through sponsorship from foreign states. As much as he got support from other countries and International Organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in form of loans, he did use the resources to develop the country. In 1997, the country got suspended from IMF and in terms of infrastructure, only 15 per cent of the roads were passable. Of note, these roads had been inherited from DR Congo’s colonizers, Belgium. The negative effects of Mobutu’s rule such as violence, that led to looting and destruction of infrastructure made it impossible to attract loans. This led to the weakening of formal economic activity and the collapse of banking services.
The Third Republic, which has been in existence since 1997 has been characterized by violence and instability. Between 1996 and 1997, the first ‘Congo War’ broke out and Mobutu’s long-time rule was toppled by the late Laurent-Desire Kabila with the help of Rwanda and Uganda. In 1998, a second war broke out with participation from various actors like Zimbabwe, Uganda, Rwanda, Chad, Angola, Hutu-aligned forces, Tutsi-aligned forces, Sudan, and Namibia, among others. While some took part in the war in support of Kabila, others sought to overthrow him. Ahere (2012) notes that the war ended with peace agreements such as the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement (1999), Sun City Agreement (April 2002), Pretoria Agreement (July 2002), and Luanda Agreement (September 2002) that ultimately contributed to the Global and Inclusive Agreement of December 2002.
A New Dawn?
Endowed with natural resources – huge deposits of copper, cobalt, and diamond, DR Congo is easily one of the wealthiest countries in Africa. However, DR Congo’s protracted conflict has brought about devastation upon its people at social, political, and economic levels, and it is still one of the world’s deadliest crisis. Violence is one of the factors that have hindered growth and development in the country. The new president needs to consider several issues including conflict resolution and natural resource management to restore the dignity of DR Congo. The country deserves a revolutionary leader to bring the much-needed change. The world is keen on the imminent elections – will it pave way for change? With a history of chequered transfer of power, will these elections be any different? And, will the new president be any different in terms of uniting the Congolese people and uplifting its economy?
Janice Sanya is a Research Intern at the HORN Institute