The international community—particularly the United Nations and the United States— has voiced concerns over the fraudulent nature of the November presidential elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), but have remained silent about President Joseph Kabila’s continued brutality against peaceful demonstrators.
We’ve been following the situation in Congo because of the extreme and ongoing violence in the east. However, we are increasingly concerned about Kabila’s actions, which threaten to escalate violence in other areas, particularly in the country’s western capital city of Kinshasa.
Since the election results were announced, Kabila’s security forces are accused of having arbitrarily detained and murdered opposition activists and politicians. Last week, police used tear gas to block a peaceful march by Christian groups protesting alleged fraud in the November polls. Meanwhile, opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi — who maintains that he is the legitimate leader of the country — is under unofficial house arrest.
Contested poll results have enabled the ruling party and its allies to preserve their parliamentary majority. Provincial elections have been postponed indefinitely due to the flagrant fraud exercised by the party.
Despite evidence of violent repression and irregularity within the electoral process, Kabila’s government has received little or no pressure from the international donor community, including the United States. In fact, the U.S. government has allegedly recognized Kabila’s victory in the disputed elections.
In an ideal world, the results of the November polls would be contested and elections reorganized. However, this measure is untimely and politically unfeasible. Realistically, the emphasis must be placed on reforming the electoral body for future elections and pushing Kabila to engage with the opposition to find a peaceful resolution to the current political crisis.
It has been noted that the World Bank is considering suspending aid to DRC, a significant initiative by the donor community to pressure Kabila’s government towards broader reforms aimed at sorting out the current political impasse in the immediate term. According to the International Aid Transparency Initiative, 50% of the Congolese national budget comes from foreign aid. This means that Kabila must be attentive to demands from donor countries, especially the U.S.
The recent election fiasco presents an opportunity for donors to build consensus on the political reengagement of the Congolese government and to agree on measures that must be taken to promote peace, stability, and democracy in the DRC. Aid flows should be backed by political pressure to keep the government accountable to these goals.
Kabila’s actions should not be endorsed. Instead, the Congolese government must be held accountable. Pressure must be leveraged by the donor community to help change the country’s current trajectory. Otherwise, the war-torn nation will be headed for increased instability that will further hinder its already troubled recovery process.