The DRC Elections: The Second Round
Howard Wolpe, Director, Africa Program & Project on Leadership and Building State Capacity, Woodrow Wilson Center
Caty Clement, Central Africa Project Director, International Crisis Group
Rick Neal, Advocate, Refugees International
On October 25, the Woodrow Wilson Center's Africa Program joined the Great Lakes Policy Forum in sponsoring a discussion of the second round of the elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo, scheduled for Sunday, October 29th. The event's panelists included Howard Wolpe, Director of the Wilson Center's Africa and Leadership Programs, Caty Clement, Central Africa Project Director with International Crisis Group, as well as Rick Neal, an Advocate at Refugees International.
Caty Clement opened the discussion by highlighting what went wrong during and after the first round of the elections. She stressed that, after the conclusion of the first round, security remained the top issue in the country, most acutely in and around Kinshasa.
Regarding the first round of the elections, she questioned the logistic preparations of the election, which she considered insufficient. To illustrate her argument, she noted the disappearance of millions of voters from electoral lists and the government's inability to keep track of the number of polling stations. These shortcomings are windows of opportunity for fraud and could have played an important role in the legislative elections, which were organized at the same time as the presidential elections. According to Clement, another missed opportunity of the first democratic election in the DRC is related to the role of the press. Currently, influential leaders like Kabila and Bemba own multiple news media outlets. Regulations passed by the High Media Authority have proved to be ineffective, as the Authority lacks any substantial means to arbitrate between opposing parties and enforce its rulings. Clement also focused her attention on the role of the new parliament which was designed with the help of the international community and constitutes a formidable tool to promote good governance. She concluded her presentation by offering three recommendations to the community of international donors, arguing that:
• The new parliament must have additional financial support in order to provide its members with training and skill-building opportunities;
• Security needs to be reinforced to permit a smooth transition once the European troops deployed to provide additional security for the elections leave especially as there is a high risk of armed conflicts erupting after the results of the election are announced on November 19;
• Efforts to alleviate the humanitarian crisis which is a result of the protracted violence must be increased.
Rick Neal continued the discussion by emphasizing the role of security as a prerequisite for solving the humanitarian crisis in the DRC. He reminded the audience that, since 1996, 4 million people have died and more than 1.5 million people are displaced as a result of the ongoing conflict. In fact, he argued that the year 2007 ought to see a doubling of the humanitarian aid by the international community. He identified two major priorities for the future government: increasing security and responding to the humanitarian crisis. These goals can be achieved if the new Congolese government raises salaries and improves the training for soldiers: as he noted, the current salary of $25 per month is insufficient, and encourages soldiers to supplement their income by taking from the already-needy population. Neal advocated expanding the role of the U.N. peacekeeping mission, known by its French initials MONUC, over the short term. This expansion would stabilize the political atmosphere, prevent further displacement of people and enforce an arms embargo against militia groups operating in the East of the country. Enforcing the embargo must be a collaborative effort involving Rwanda and Uganda, both of whom share a border with the DRC. In conclusion, Neal stated that tackling these three points will have a tremendous impact on stopping further displacement of people, helping people who are currently displaced and allowing displaced populations to return to their homes.
Howard Wolpe ended the panel discussion by stressing that Democracy is a far broader task than just elections. He noted that the DRC entered into the elections cycle with no trust between the key players. There is an absence of a common vision about the political "rules of the game" or on how power should be organized or shared. Wolpe emphasized that while electoral competition is a fundamental part of all democratic societies, recognizing a deep and fundamental interdependence is a prerequisite for creating a successful democratic environment.
Given these considerations, Wolpe believes firmly in the role of building leadership capacity as a mechanism to promote a positive democratic transition. He cited the experience of the Wilson Center-administered Burundi Leadership Training Program, which has been successful in over the past three years in assisting democratic transitions in that country. Leadership training programs help in several ways: they create trust among key players who for most part have operated in very separate environments for decades; they help rebuild consensus around the "rules of the game"; and they strengthen leaders' communication and negotiation skills. Changing modes of communication affect how opposing leaders relate to each other, encourage them to seek solutions and lessen confrontation. Wolpe noted that with the support of the UNDP and the international community, the Wilson Center had been organizing workshops to achieve these goals in Kinshasa, as well as in the volatile provinces of North and South Kivu. He concluded by noting that these elections are the starting point and not the ending point. The fundamental issue in such a context remains demonstrating the interconnected interests of Congolese leaders, thereby building cohesiveness.
Drafted by Roseline Fodouop Tekeu, Program Assistant, Africa Program