Cape Town — The Democratic Republic of Congo risks descending into violence and a national crisis as the country heads for elections in December, says a new report.
The International Crisis Group (ICG) warns that if violence and a badly-run election exclude many citizens from voting, the result would be “a huge setback for the DRC’s effort to chart a more democratic future and in the longer-term a path out of poverty and war.”
The last elections in 2018 secured the country’s first peaceful transition of power, bringing President Félix Tshisekedi to office. In a report published on October 30, the ICG says that although security has deteriorated in parts of the country, and a mineral boom has failed to improve people’s lives, Tshisekedi has strengthened his position “by adding several political heavyweights to his coalition.”
The report adds that although the opposition hopes to take advantage of Tshisekedi’s weaknesses, “it is fragmented and faces considerable obstacles, not least of which is how to campaign in this vast country with extremely poor infrastructure.”
Among challenges to smooth and peaceful elections identified by the ICG, it lists:
• Rising political tensions, with the National Independent Electoral Commission facing logistical challenges and showing little regard for transparency;• Fighting between government forces and insurgents from M23 (the 23 March Movement) in North Kivu, as well as insecurity elsewhere;• The enforcement of a form of martial law in two eastern provinces and the suppression of protests and meetings elsewhere; and• The “acute risks of abuses by the security forces when election campaigning gets under way.”
“Other risks include clashes between party supporters; an uptick in attacks by armed groups in the east and around Kinshasa; and violent disputes at polling stations if officials refuse voters their rights or force them to pay to cast their ballot,” the ICG adds.
“In addition, there is a strong risk of electoral tensions spilling over into clashes between rival communities already at loggerheads over issues such as local leadership, land use and access to mining sites. All these risks are heightened by irresponsible inflammatory language both on- and off-line.”
Richard Moncrieff of the ICG’s Great Lakes Project urged the government, politicians and civil society to “unite against the alarming rise in inflammatory rhetoric from some politicians who exploit hatred towards certain communities and neighbouring countries, particularly Rwanda, to strengthen their political base.”
He also called for transparency from the electoral commission with a view, if necessary, to postponing the election.
The report in addition urged the government to keep its security forces under control, to minimise restrictions on political meetings, to ensure regional balance in the recruitment of security forces, to respect political freedoms in areas where it has partially lifted martial law and to provide enough funds for the electoral commission.
The ICG also had advice for the international community. The group’s analyst for the region, Onesphore Sematumba, called on other nations, in particular “African powers influential in Kinshasa, as well as Western actors” to encourage the government and opposition “to find compromises on contentious issues and stand ready to offer mediation if the results are contested.”