2 December 2015

Congo-Kinshasa: Congo 2016 - Too Much to Lose, Too Big to Fail

Photo: MONUSCO/Sylvain Liechti
President Kabila.
opinion

Recently, the Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) President Joseph Kabila appointed special commissioners to provisionally administrate over the twenty-one new provinces created throughout the country, in order to create a "necessary climate favorable to the arrival of [each province's coming] new governors."

This shift in our political landscape no doubt serves as a strategic precursor to the local, provincial and national elections to come, which, without question and by November of 2016, will be perceived as an unprecedented, pivotal moment in our country's history.

And today, from the streets of Kinshasa, through the foothills of Katanga and along the coast of the Kivu, a frenetic energy and commitment to the reforms that democracy and effective leadership from it can bring has gripped our citizenry; it is a passion that I believe won't let go until democratic transition is a reality.

With an abundance of human capital, raw minerals in excess, including those that provide vital components for the world's smartphones, laptops and the electric grid native to the DRC and indeed our potential for hydro-electric power to provide energy across the country and if necessary, throughout Central Africa, hopes for the future could not be higher and anticipation for lasting change is no doubt warranted.

However, before such excitement can be actioned, we must acknowledge that the Congo has been marred by political tensions since the contested elections of 2011. From that time, the fact remains that none of the votes that were scheduled to be held had gone ahead, causing an outcry in the international community and perpetuating a stigma of a country embroiled by that which has held us back from joining the forefront of the global marketplace - corruption.

Indeed beyond the disillusionment fostered from the aftermath of the contested elections came further misrepresentation of our nation, one that, for all rights and for the reasons listed, should be Africa's largest economy, a diverse cultural beacon and a conduit for better business in Central Africa.

Although many may interpret the creation of new provinces in the DRC as a positive sign for the elections to come, there is no doubt cause for immediate concern. With a purported misappropriation of electoral funds by the Administration, even if by oversight, potentially delaying our citizenry's inalienable right as a democratic republic to have their voices heard at the ballot box, the international community is in no doubt justified in urging clarity, accountability and forward momentum for a smooth transition.

We must commend these global institutions, our State partners and their advocates that have spoken out on the pertinent issues that will shape the DRC.

The United Nations envoy to our nation warned this month in particular that Kinshasa was clamping down on the opposition while stifling the prospective electoral process to come, stressing the importance for governance to promote a credible commitment to media freedoms and political fairness.

In a report issued earlier this year by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, it is stated that "the possibility of violence ahead of and during upcoming elections in a number of countries of the Great Lakes region in the next few years, and the potential impact this violence can have on the region, should not be downplayed. As electoral processes commence, the United Nations must do everything possible to prevent election-related violence and I urge all governments to ensure there is ample space for free and open political discourse".

"At the same time, " the report continues, "I urge all concerned governments, opposition parties, civil society groups, and the international community to work towards promoting credible, timely, transparent, and peaceful elections throughout the region."

U.S. Undersecretary of State for civilian security, democracy and human rights affairs, Ms. Sarah Sewall, furthered this international trepidation regarding our democratic process, noting that there was a need to move forward with registering voters and with making and communicating preparations for ensuring security during the elections, in addition to the need to agree on an electoral timetable. She called for a dialogue to settle electoral issues while remarking that she thought the lack of preparation was a "conscious choice."

"The U.S. has been fully committed to moving the electoral process forward, providing $25 million to help support elections in the DRC, which is why it is so frustrating to see constant delays on the part of the institutions that should be moving forward to provide additional funding to begin the registration process, and otherwise taking concrete steps towards realizing elections," said Sewall.

To those believers in the Congolese opportunity, those that share the Génération Déterminée Movement's mantra of speaking out against injustice, ensuring democratic and human right principles are adhered to and abiding by a rule of law that works equally, for the many and not just the few, I offer my sincere thanks. To Ms. Sewall, Mr. Ki-Moon, Mr.

Kerry and Mr. Feingold, I ask that you remain vigilant in your commitment and continue to believe in our drive to be the nation we envision ourselves as on the world stage.

We know that beyond their words and actions, it is only together as a country that we can shape our Republic and its trajectory to be the competitive bastion of opportunity that it truly can be; as 2016 approaches, we are acutely aware that we as the DRC, are simply too big to fail and have far too much to lose.

Bernard Katompa is the President of the Génération Déterminée Movement in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The views expressed are his own.

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