Congolese politics, usually full of fire and scandal, seem devoid of hope these days. The presidential and legislative elections were both so badly botched that it is apparently impossible to figure out who won what. And yet, there is little hope of any far-reaching solution. The donors are divided, with the United States "deeply disappointed," the Belgians wanly congratulatory, and the South Africans outright buoyant. In the meantime, the opposition has not been able to mobilize any significant protests, largely because they are arrested/beaten/tear-gassed. While the Catholic church has announced a major demonstration on Feb. 16 - the twenty-year anniversary of the "March of Christians" of 1992 - it is unclear whether kinois, the residents of Kinshasa, still have the capacity to mobilize on a large scale.
The latest sign of this despondency is an initiative reportedly mooted by Washington in recent days: a power-sharing agreement. According to various sources in the opposition and US government, the proposal that has been put forward in the past several weeks would have the opposition sharing power with President Joseph Kabila, either by forming government under a UDPS prime minister, or by getting a fair share of ministerial positions. The only problem is: neither Etienne Tshisekedi or Mr. Kabila seem to be interested (Vital Kamerhe and Kengo wa Dondo have apparently expressed interest).
It is difficult to see how such a power-sharing deal could be pushed through, given the divisions among the donors and Kabila's opposition (he is having hard enough a time managing the quarrels within his coalition without giving half the cabinet positions to the enemy camp). Nor is it clear whether this would make right the glaring flaws of elections; one could argue the opposite, that it could undermine the creation of a strong opposition and just postpone the troubles for a couple of years - the consensus among many Africans is that neither Kenya nor Zimbabwe have been great successes, and that Cote d'Ivoire managed to dodge a bullet by avoiding a power-sharing deal.
But for those who would immediately cry foul, let's consider the options. They aren't pretty:
- Declare the elections null and void and hold new polls. In an ideal world, this is probably what should be done. Both legislative and presidential elections were deeply flawed and, except for electoral districts where there is little doubt which MPs won, should probably just be reheld. This could be done at the same time as provincial and local elections, currently scheduled for March but which will almost certainly have to be pushed back to August or September due to delays. But the larger question is: Would Kabila accept this solution? Of course not. And donors, who could apply financial pressure, face a serious collective action problem. None of them seem in the slightest interested in this option. So should we pursue this path, even though it appears hopeless, just out of principle? Advocates of this path are hoping that the demonstration on February 16 will provide traction.
- Give up on the presidential polls and try to salvage the legislative elections, as well as the subsequent polls. A few weeks ago, this seemed to be the approach. Ok, so the presidential polls were a debacle, but perhaps we can save the legislative ones - American election experts arrived and the CENI suggested they were stopping compilation. However, now CENI has indefinitely postponed announcing the results, the foreign experts have departed, saying they weren't able to observe or contribute in a meaningful manner, and many of the legislative ballots have been compromised by weeks of storage in unprotected warehouses and compilation centers. So how can the legislative elections be "saved?" It's unclear, at least to me. As for the following polls, the donors I have spoken with do seem to agree that there have to be changes to the CENI before they continue to fund the rest of the election cycle; many would like to see Mulunda Ngoy resign. I have also heard some say that they want to use the election fiasco to get leverage on Kabila: "we'll let you off this time, but now carry out the reforms you have been promising (justice, security sector, etc.) or we will cut aid."
- Do nothing. Nobody will say this, but it is a possibility. But consider this scenario: Kabila manages to get his coalition to agree on a distribution of seats in parliament and imposes himself over the divided opposition. His coalition forms a majority in parliament, forms a government and makes some key concessions (governance reforms, bringing in opposition parties, reforming CENI). Already, the moderates around Kabila seem very sensible, ignoring Tshisekedi's calls for an army mutiny. What will donors do then? Prevent the consolidation of democracy and not fund the rest of the elections? Withdraw aid and punish the Congolese people?
Which brings us back to the power-sharing deal. If these reports are true, the Americans should be applauded for at least not just giving up (which is apparently what the Belgians have done) and accepting the botched polls. But will it work?
Jason Stearns is the author of the book, Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa, and the blog,Congo Siasa.
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