Joseph Kabila has surprisingly decided not to run for president in the Congo's upcoming election. It's a positive development, but it doesn't necessarily signal democratic change for the country, Andrea Schmidt writes.
The suspense is over. Everyone had been eagerly waiting to find out whether incumbent Joseph Kabila would seek another term. He was constitutionally prohibited from running, but that had not stopped him from continuing to postpone elections that were originally scheduled for 2016. The pressure from the international community, and above all from civil society groups and religious organizations, was apparently enough to stop Kabila from seeking a third term. It is a positive sign for the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as its neighbors. It shows that it is possible to peacefully unseat entrenched despots.
The former interior minister and longtime Kabila confidant Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary will instead stand as the candidate for the ruling People's Party for Reconstruction and Democracy. Whether he will put forth an agenda of reform for the country and the wider region remains to be seen. It is already assumed that he will be Kabila's puppet, carrying on the legacy of his predecessor. The powerful state support available to him provides a significant election advantage.
Should the vote go ahead as planned on December 23, it will be a head-to-head race between Shadary and former warlord and opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba. Whoever wins will face huge challenges once in office.
Almost 60 years after the DR Congo gained independence, the country is in turmoil: an unstable security situation, more than 4.5 million internally displaced people, significant human rights violations, rampant corruption, nepotism, high youth unemployment and extreme poverty. Government infrastructure barely functions, and there are dozens of heavily armed rebel groups.
The electorate has a huge lack of trust in leaders. Up to this point, there have not been truly fair and free elections. One must hope that the DR Congo and its citizens can achieve positive change by electing a president who serves the people and provides a better future for the country.