Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Are we prepared for elections?

In theory we are now ten months away from presidential and legislative elections in the Congo, and yet it seems that compared with 2006 there is a lack of urgency and commitment to the process.

We have yet to see the new electoral commission (CENI) inaugurated, as legislators are still bickering about its composition. The revision of the electoral roll is ongoing in the provinces, but there have been many complaints about the lack of registration sites where people can register.

Compared to 2006, when there was a large international mobilization to support and observe the country's first multiparty elections in 40 years, from what I can see, there is little action among donors . The Carter Center apparently doesn't have the funds to set up a long-term observation mission like the one they deployed in 2006. National Democratic Institute (NDI) no longer has an office in Kinshasa, as the US government, its usual donor, has not provided it with funding for this election cycle. Only Open Society Institute (OSI) is trying to see if they can help set up a civil society network to monitor elections, like the RENOSEC and ROPI did in 2006.

As for donor governments, things are pretty precarious. President Kabila asked for $350 million from donors, but I think has only received pledges for $70 million from the European Union/Belgium and $4 million for the US government (I think that money may actually be going to IFES for voter education).

MONUSCO has an electoral division; in their October report to the Secretary-General they said they would ask for an additional $40 million for support to the elections; and the mission has already been providing 2-3 planes a day to the CEI to transport equipment and material around the country. The head of the mission Roger Meese has said repeatedly that elections would be one of his main priorities. However, MONUSCO is also under a budget squeeze, so it may not be able to provide as much support as it would like to.

Admittedly, I don't have all the information - please write in if you have more details about programs or funding to support the elections. In particular, the funding to the elections should be coordinated through the Projet d'Appui au Cycle Electorale (PACE) at the UNDP office in Kinshasa - I haven't been able to find any more precise information about PACE's current funding levels and programming.

Why this apparent lack of interest? Elections are not perceived as so fundamentally historic as in 2006, that is certain. Last time, elections were the culmination of the peace process, everything had been building up to that - and people desperately wanted to bring an end to the clumsy 4+1 power-sharing formula. By contrast, most donors are now in the throes of a financial crisis and the purse strings around the world are being tightened, as current debates in US Congress clearly show.

Also, the stakes of the elections appear lower to many. After all, what's the worst thing that could happen if we don't pay too much attention? Kabila might rig the elections, and many observers don't think that  armed groups and political parties have enough power to stir up too much trouble if that happens. Will the mess that the Congo is be any worse with a rigged election - or any better if a dark horse like Kamerhe wins, potentially destabilizing the country?

Of course, not only is that kind of attitude morally dubious, but we should ask ourselves if the consequences of rigged elections would really be so mild - true, neither Kamerhe or Tshisekedi has an army, and it isn't clear whether either could muster much popular unrest (although those pictures of the crowds going to meet Tshisekedi at the airport might indicate otherwise). But imagine a Congo in which the ruling party controls a large majority in all elected bodies, and not through an ungainly coalition that it has to bribe and coerce in order to get anything done, but - as it currently planned - a more hierarchical system with many fewer political parties.

The argument at the presidency is that such a PPRD-dominated landscape would allow them finally to get the job done, reform the state and promote development without being distracted by dozens of smaller parties and political lobbies. The problem with this argument is that there is little sign that the current government, even when it does have the ability, takes decisive steps towards meaningful reform - at least not in areas such as the security sector.

Is the current mal congolais due to the fragmentation of the political scene or something else, something that has less to do with electoral politics, but rather can be attributed to leadership and internal power dynamics within the upper stratum of decision-making? It seems that in areas such as impunity and security sector reform that the problem lies rather with the obsession with survival in a weak state, coupled the deep distrust in independent institutions - the reason that Gen. Gabriel Amisi, Gen. Olenga or Col. Zimurinda are not arrested followed accusations of corruption and abuse is that such action could prompt an insurgency within the army or a defection of the CNDP. The reason that Kabila's former chief of staff is not fired after his actions lead to a deadly plane crash in Kinshasa is because benefits of disciplining him are seen to outweigh the disadvantages. We should remember that Kabila's first lesson in office - delivered to him by his father's demise - is that you can be easily stabbed in the back by those closest to you.

All this is to say that free elections may not bring development or prosperity - in fact, I doubt they will in the short run. But the alternative is not great, either. And the long-term prospect of reform will be much better in a state with multiple poles of power and wealth than in one dominated by a just a few interest groups.


Anonymous said...

@ Jason

1. Kabila’s government has asked for nearly $3 billion to pay for his government. From my understanding, half of it is coming from China and the rest needs to be borrowed from somewhere. So a) who, or what institutions, constitute the “somewhere”? b) do you know if election funding is part of this broader request or separate?

2. For the various groups in the US’s “Africa constituency” (the grassroots groups, not experts), what or who should be their target to encourage more “interest” in the Congo? Obama Admin? State? Both? Neither? There is clearly a need, in my opinion, for a reordering of priorities among them away from conflict minerals and towards the elections but the key right now is the target(s).

(as we celebrate Dr. King’s- and Lumumba’s- legacy, let us remember that during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the target wasn’t the Montgomery Line- it was the Supreme Court...and to a lesser extent the good will of the broader american public)

3. Your analysis, as always, is sharp- but their is a gaping hole. Namely, what in your view is the role of the Congolese grassroots? We have just witnessed in Tunisia what happens when a population simply has enough. What of this here in the Congo? There is quite a bit of unrest from what I can see: the incident in Fizi, the situation at UKin, the teacher’s union strike, the crackdown of a march in Kanaga, etc. While you offer up the court intrigue in the Kinshasa towards the end of this piece, what is your thinking about grassroots activity among the population?

Thank you.

Robert Codescu said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

True Jason, free elections “may not bring development or prosperity… in the short run”.
Yet they are the first and mandatory step because free elections give the people a real chance to choose who they want as a leader for their country. The vote clearly establish a commitment from the candidates to achieve certain objectives and they know that, if elected, there will be consequences if they don’t work dutifully and tirelessly to succeed. This process indeed opens up the way to development and prosperity.
With free elections the electors who are dissatisfied have the power to sanction at the next election.
For both, elected leaders and those who have chosen them, all the promises made during the electoral campaign are like a compass, a “programme de gouvernement” to which they can refer to at any time. The winners of the elections have always, as said in the law field, “une obligation de résultats”. If they fail in delivering the expected results on the promises they have made during the electoral campaign, they will be held accountable. Without accountability, those in power turn sooner or later into dictators and their first goal is to remain in power, at any cost, serving themselves and the small circle they rely on in crushing their fellow citizens and bankrupting the country.
In the French daily Le Monde, Tierno Monénembo,a Guinean writer, started an article by the eloquent following sentence :
« Pauvre Afrique, hier, on lui imposait ses dictateurs, aujourd'hui, on lui choisit ses "démocrates". »
With a free election, we will have only ourselves to blame if something goes wrong !
The current “mal congolais” is due to say the least, to an unfit leadership without any love either for the Congo nor the Congolese people.
Julie M.

Anonymous said...


WOW...I can not believe that. How can you JASON have the gut to think, write and post such rubbish ? I know that you are not an expert as some think. You are a liar and racist lobbyst.

Jason Stearns said...

I wish you would read the post - I said that to suggest that elections are somehow not necessary or important is a morally dubious attitude. That means: Elections are a good thing; not providing adequate funding for elections is a bad thing. I was trying to understand why some donors do not perceive the need and urgency for the electoral process.

If you do not respect the code of the website - which includes not insulting other people writing here - then I will be forced to remove to postings.

Anonymous said...

@ Jason
I did not insult you, only doubt that you are an impartial DRC expert, I find your analyses very offensive and no true to the poor people of congo. You don't think that a fair election can bring development and prosperity ,what would then?.
You said again: Will the mess that the congo is be any worse with a rigged election- or any better if a dark horse wins, potentially destabilizing the country ? It does not sound like an expert analyses to me but a lobbyst.
You can remove my post if you feel like it.
Congo is heading to an unprecedented crisis, only a fair and free election can save the house.

Jason Stearns said...

That question you refer to is being asked by donors, not me. Immediately after that question I say that this is a morally dubious stance to take.

Rich said...

- Jason

God I wish I could have some of your calmness!

One of the problems Congo is facing is what I call the ‘rigged intellectual mutation’. I am not an elitist but I think there is now in Congo a situation whereby certain individuals, after reading some extremist blogs and listening religiously to the rhetoric distilled by those (Ngbanda) who were supposed to defend the Congo against any form of imposture, they think they can produce expert's assessments of what’s going on in the country. What a charade?

There is a big danger in Congo when a generation of self declared intellectuals (especially in the Congolese Diaspora) think they know better and if someone doesn’t agree with them, forces of hell must be unleashed on them. Some others are doing that simply because it is the only way for them to justify their unwanted presence in countries where they are seeking economic asylum.

As far as I’m concerned, Ngbanda and his acolytes should just keep a low profile because they were paid in millions and in blood to protect the Congo yet they failed and now they are saying a rwandan is ruling their country. Why didn't they prevent that from happening? They cannot turn round and say there is an imposture in the country when they failed to protect it in the first place. Nul ne peut se prevaloir de ses propres turpitudes.

You’re a very good man Jason and Congolese should be very proud of you when they are not shamed by what you, and many like you, are doing on their behalf.

Jason Stearns said...

@ Anonymous #1

1. This year, due to signing bonuses, the Chinese government accounts for around 1/3 of the donor aid to the Congo, the rest of the $3 billion+ comes from western donors, around $700 million I believe in direct budgetary aid, mostly from the IMF and World Bank.

2. Congress is important, as it controls the purse strings, but State and the IFI's like WB and IMF are very important as well.

3. There is unrest, but there is no strong, independent middle class as in Tunis - the labor unions are relatively weak and many have been co-opted by the government (since Mobutu's days), as with many student unions. The strongest grassroots network is probably the Catholic church, although it is also internally divided with many bishops supportive of Kabila.

Anonymous said...

One additional element to the grassroots is the stunning growth of evangelical church's. Indeed, next to cell phone use (another necessary tool in any grassroots effort with the elections) the growth of said church's has gone through the roof in the DR Congo.

And, as myself an evangelical minister who has been to a mission every year since 1987 in the Congo, I can assure folks that the grassroots in these churches are ready for some action. As are their counterparts here in the US to assist our fellow Christian brothers and sisters as we did in Sudan.

Senior Minister
Decatur Baptist Church
Decatur, GA

Anonymous said...

Hi there- * I agree with Jason, the strongest grassroots network is- and remains- the Catholic Church. The bishops who were supportive of Kabila are those working in the eastern part of the Congo and were longing avidly for peace. They were hoping that Kabila could bring peace to their region. More than four years later, the situation in the eastern Congo remains so desperate that a majority of them have already changed their mind.
Hi Bryce- * It’s true that the growth of the evangelical church is real. Our population is very receptive to the ways of evangelism but there are more divisions among the pastors of those churches than in the Catholic Church! Divisions due to ego problems and to money! I’m not sure what the situation is in the other parts of the country, but in Kinshasa, almost all those “men of God” are business minded and money is often the reason of churches foundations and splits (dimes and offerings). Evangelical men of God in Kinshasa are very sensitive to the visibility that comes with relations with the politics and unfortunately, they are not immune to the greatest disease in our Country: Corruption. Several of them received money to get their folks vote for Kabila in 2006. The great majority of them are pastors without any training or education in how to pastor a church or to shepherd God’s people. On top of that, in a country where employment is one of the rarest good, without generalizing, some in the population has found that entering the minister is an easy way up on the social scale.
The Sudan case is different. The population there had leaders who were leading in the fight for democracy and freedom. In Congo, the population is left alone. Beside Etienne Tshisekedi, (who just came back after a 3 year long absence from the country), we don’t really have any opposition leader so to speak. And I doubt that the pastors from the evangelical churches could successfully play this role. If anything, the Catholic priests are more educated and more politicized.
Julie M.

Rich said...

General Faustin Munene detained by military justice in Congo Brazzaville. Congo Brazzaville's security forces intercepted him whilst travelling to Dolisie a centre half way between Brazzaville (capital city) and Pointe Noire (second city of Rep of Congo).

I wonder what Ngbanda will tell those who feed their political stance from his speculation's bin.

The D R Congo needs neither new rebels nor additional warlords; but the Congolese elite must regain its role in society and propose a viable vision.

Jason Stearns said...

@ Bryce - I would second Julie on the evangelical churches. They are very important, but there is relatively little coordination between the various churches. I would say that the E.C.C. (Eglise de Christ au Congo) is probably the strongest umbrella organization, at least in the East, but I have yet to see them engage in politics in the last couple of years in a major way, at least not since Msgr Kuye was head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (yes, there was a TRC, most have forgotten about it). I think because they are institutionally not as strong as the Catholic church, these smaller churches feel more vulnerable.

Nonetheless, several protestant ministers have tried to enter politics - Theodore Ngoy and Fernando Kutino are probably the most famous recent examples. The first is in exile, the second in prison.

Rich said...

- Jason - Bryce & Julie

Are you people making assumptions about the source of a possible uprise a la Tunisia in DRC?

I think it will take a while again before such a thing takes place in DRC. In my opinion, this is because of what happened in the 1990s when the country was brought down to its knees with the students & civil society violent demonstrations topped by generalised pillages that wrecked the agonising economy and the war in 1996.

In all fairness, it can be said that the way Mobutu left power seemed like a great achievement for Congolese but it left behind a completely distroyed country and the consequences are still being dealt with to date.

Only a few years after that, politicians took advantage of that achievement only to spoil it by going back to square zero. We could see dignitaries from the Mobutu era coming back to office and the successive governments not being able to deliver changes the population hoped for after all these years of hard work and sacrifices trying to unseat Mobutu's regime.

Congolese have understood that politicians are quick to call upon the street to overthrow an incumbent when their own families are safe enjoying comfortable lives in foreign countries. Out of all the sacrifices made by Congolese, only a tiny minority of political leaders can identify to them. For this reason, I think Congolese are very cautious to engage, yet again, in massive protests that will see yet another politician take advantage of and not deliver the change.

The Congolese political class must work VERY VERY hard to hope getting the population on its side. When you have people like ngbanda or Bemba waiting in the shadow to seize any occasion to claim the paternity of an action that will see the end of the current regime, you can guess why a Congolese would rather get his/her hands dirty to win his/her daily bread rather than serving as a political proxy for opportunist politicians. The same can be seen in the desperate attempt to block the bill on the constitutional review. As I know the political class, many of these opponents opposed the bill because they wanted a 2 rounds election where the 1st round will help them get a quote for their political credentials (after the 1st round they will be able to put a price at their participation in a given coalition. Without knowing their polititcal weight it is impossible for them to give a price tag to their participation at any coallition). Everything is about money and not public interest.

After they’ve tried everything, Congolese would rather give a chance to the current process to bear its fruits rather than bringing down everything and start from scratch again. This has been the case for many years but never produced any meaningful results. The current process is the first of its kind for many many years; why not give it a fair wind and hope everyone will, in the end, be able to adapt to it, play fair and consequently triggering the changes and results the people strive for?

Anonymous said...


This is a real cynical view of the Congolese, Rich. Again, the people I know in the grassroots are ready to battle again. Perhaps this isn't the crowd you hang out with but I can assure you its there. It is really amazing to hear anyone say that this "process", however new, should continue on course. Not one Congolese (and I know many) believes that and if any does they should never lead the country.


Its interesting but your description of the evangelical movement is rather like that of the American movement. And, as you may know, evangelicals are quite the force in American politics. Well educated and elitist Americans don't like this force but that really hasn't stopped them from engaging and it is these very folks that gave us George W Bush.


Thank you but my point wasn't that the evangelical leadership would enter politics themselves. My point was that they would use their pulpits to encourage their congregation to organize for the elections. In our own country, we don't have many African American ministers serving in elected bodies. But do you deny their power over the Democratic party? Do you deny this similarly with white evangelical ministers in the Republican Party? I realize we have two very different countries but, again, my point here is a new insitutition that the Congolese TRUST is arising. To ignore its possibilities would, in my opinion, lead to some faulty analysis.


Anonymous said...


Hi Jason,
Im very interested in China-Africa relations, and in particular about Chinese aid.
I was wondering where you read / found out that China is giving 1 billion USD in aid to DRC?
It sounds like an aweful a lot of money.... are you sure the figure is correct?

Jason Stearns said...

That's what the budget says: - go to "exposé du budget."

The $1 billion, however, is in project, meaning that they are counting all the money the Chinese are spending through Chinese companies to build infrastructure.

Unknown said...

For more info on what's being done, go to

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