Congo has a new president, and by Friday, it might have two.
On Tuesday, incumbent President Joseph Kabila took the oath of office after the official results from Nov. 28 elections were confirmed by the Supreme Court. The court confirmation closed the door on any investigation of an election process that international observers called “seriously flawed” and full of irregularities.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement expressing the Obama administration’s “disappointment” with Mr. Kabila’s decision to take the oath of office without conducting a review of the electoral process. The European Union also expressed disappointment and said the EU would “reevaluate” its support for Congo in the coming year.
The South African government and Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, meanwhile, congratulated Kabila. Mr. Mugabe, the only foreign head of state to attend Kabila’s oath of office ceremony, said that Kabila had “won thunderously against [opposition leader Etienne] Tshisekedi. This must send a clear message to those who had other ideas.”
Now all eyes have turned to Mr. Tshisekedi, the opposition leader. Mr. Kabila has deployed Army tanks on the streets of the capital, Kinshasa, to prevent protests, and Tshisekedi’s spokesman has said the opposition leader still intends on taking his own separate oath of office on Friday.
"I consider myself from this day on the president elected by the Congolese people,” Mr. Tshisekedi reportedly told his supporters on Sunday.
“I ask you to be calm and serene because a winner doesn't get agitated, does not worry, to the contrary, he remains calm,” [he was quoted by Congo News Agency as saying]. “As for those who are causing our troubles, starting with Mr. Kabila, I ask all of you to look for him, wherever he is in the country, and bring him to me alive. Whoever brings me Kabila here, handcuffed, will receive a very big prize. Also, Mr. Kabila’s government is dismissed from this day on. All officers, lieutenants, corporals and soldiers of the Congolese armed forces, I order you to obey to the legitimate authority. The same goes for the national and sovereign police force.”
In his investiture ceremony, Kabila promised to create more jobs, reduce Congo’s dependence on the mining industry for revenues, revise the rules for foreign investors in mining, boost agricultural production, and to respect human rights.
Reporters in Kinshasa say the streets were empty and quiet after Kabila declared a national holiday. But Tshisekedi, who is popular in Kinshasa and other urban centers across the Democratic Republic of Congo, has called for national strikes to protest what he calls a fraudulent election.
Official results from the Nov. 28 election show that Kabila won with 49 percent of the vote, compared with Tshisekedi’s 32 percent, but massive voting irregularities, including high turnout in certain pro-Kabila precincts and violent intimidation by both sides against rival activists were cause enough for outside observers like the Carter Center to declare that the elections “lacked credibility.” Tshisekedi refused to appeal the final vote tally to the Supreme Court, saying that most of the court justices were hand-picked Kabila supporters.
It is this level of doubt among significant numbers of Congolese that led the US government to call for a review process.
“We believe that the management and technical execution of these elections were seriously flawed, lacked transparency and did not measure up to the democratic gains we have seen in recent African elections," a State Department statement said.
"We strongly urge all Congolese political leaders and their supporters to act responsibly, renounce violence, and resolve any disagreements through peaceful, constructive dialogue."
The next move in this game of brinksmanship now belongs to Tshisekedi. Will he urge his followers to take the street? If he does, will Kabila urge the Congolese Army, police, and his own presidential guard to use deadly force against protesters?