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

Friday, April 22, 2011

Donors wary of involvement in Congolese elections

With only seven months to go before elections in the Congo, donors are trying to calibrate their political and financial involvement in the polls.

One forum where this is playing out is the UN Security Council, which will have to renew MONUSCO's mandate in June. At a recent meeting of the Contact Group - a coordination body of the country's main donors - members of the Security Council pushed for a stronger UN role, perhaps even going so far as being the official arbiter of the elections, similar to the UN mission in Cote d'Ivoire.

Others, however, think this is a bad idea. This includes the leadership of MONUSCO, which wants to confine the UN role to logistics and support, while leaving monitoring and oversight to NGOs and other international bodies. Since the new chief of the mission Roger Meece arrived, MONUSCO has been at pains to reestablish a good working relationship with the Congolese government on issues such as protection of civilians and security sector reform. Its leadership is worried that being an arbiter of the elections will put it in a confrontational relationship with the government, undermining its other work. In addition, members of the UN, as other diplomats, now increasingly believe that Kabila will win through a combination of rigging and a divided opposition, so why risk your good standing in vain?

At the same time,  EU parliamentarians have discouraged the EU foreign minister from even sending an election observation mission to the Congo. Their argument for disengagement is different from that of MONUSCO, however: they say that the process is already so compromised that the election will not be free and fair, therefore sending an EU mission would just legitimize a fraudulent election. Plus, it would be too expensive - nearly a quarter of the EU's annual budget for these kinds of missions.

I think there are some dangerous logical fallacies at play here. The following argument does not, in my mind, make much sense: "The elections will be rigged anyway, so we shouldn't send observers." It is precisely because there are serious questions about the process that neutral observers should be sent. If there is serious rigging, the mere presence of such observers in the Congo will not legitimize the vote - on the contrary, a clear documentation and denunciation of fraud will make it clear that the vote was not free and fair. If they do not send observers, ironically that could end up legitimizing the process, as few outsiders will be there to state the facts.

As for MONUSCO's mandate, the matter is more complex. I find the argument that the UN can't jeopardize its good relations with the Congolese government a slippery slope - once we begin to refrain from criticism to keep in our hosts' good books, when do we stop? And the notion that we can separate civilian protection and the reform of Congolese institutions from the elections is not straight-forward: The Congolese government has not shown much sincere interest in reforming its own institutions over the past five years, who is to say that just because we don't press them on elections they will do it in the next few years?

On the other hand, the situation in the Congo is very different from that in the Ivory Coast. The Congo is a sovereign country with a democratically elected president, as opposed to 2006, when elections took place at the end of a peace process. If the Congolese government does not want MONUSCO to be the official arbiter, and there are no such calls from the opposition and civil society, the UN should not take on that role. However, there are other options that could be equally important: the formation of a centralized monitoring group of donors, which together with civil society could gather information of human rights and electoral abuses; help making sure the logistics are in place throughout the country so people can vote; and help level the access to the media for all political parties through the UN Radio Okapi.

These elections have the potential of being more controversial than the 2006 polls. While none of the opposition candidates is affiliated to an armed groups, as was the case 5 years ago, this time the incumbent is arguably less popular than he was in 2006. In general, it's disappointing that some of the people who are supposed to help Congolese elect their representatives are treating the elections as a foregone conclusion.


Anonymous said...

I must agree with Richard the excuse by the European union that the elections will be rigged anyway no matter their participation is a lame one.

The European union and Belgium have ways to 'persuade' the Kabila government that if there's outright poll rigging,then there will be consequences.

Unless they have another reason that we are not aware of for wanting the Kabila government to 'win' the elections

Jason Stearns said...

We are on the same wave length.

Anonymous said...

In a meeting recently hosted in South Africa in preparation of elections in DRC and attended by representatives of Congolese Political Parties, the Political Opposition did bring up the idea of MONUSCO playing a UN role similar to that of the Ivory Coast i.e. to confirm election results. In doing so however the Congolese Political Opposition must have assurances that MONUSCO will be as neutral in this role as their counterpart in Ivory Coast was; this question is raised as Roger Meece was perceived as being pro-Kabila along with Louis Michel when he was Ambassador in 2006. Has he evolved since 2006? Your blog stating MONUSCO's position i.e. that they do not want this role because they want to remain in the Kabila regime's good books looks like certain fears regarding MONUSCO's neutrality are close to the truth? A slippery sloap indeed...

Mark @ Israel said...

If the Congolese government don't even bother to change for the betterment of their country then why would the UN or the EU take so much effort to help them? Isn't it time that this government stand on its own? Let them conduct their own elections and rule their own country. If they need help, then they would most probably ask.

Anonymous said...

Mark i doubt they will ask for any help, but it seems apparent that CENI has moved and gotten "help" from the Russians

Mwafrika said...


Anonymous said...

Anonymous - you write 'Unless they have another reason that we are not aware of for wanting the Kabila government to 'win' the elections'

So what could that reasoning be, for example?
Do you think of anything specific, or is this notion just speculative - born out of mistrust? How can one accuse the EU of some hidden agenda one is even "not aware of"? Name it, please: What could the EU and Belgium gain from Kabila staying in power another Congolese government could not provide?


John F Moore said...

This is an excellent post, and an excellent blog. I would like to invite you to join Government in The Lab as a contributor. If you are interested, please mail me at john at thelabinboston dot com and I can give you more details.

Keep up the great work.


Richard Mwamba said...

To Anonymous (cheers). How can we understand that Congo via Kivu has become the world Capital of rape and murder when the UN has the biggest contingent of troops ever deployed since its inception. Women and the underage girls are raped every second in the eyes of UN agents and what do you think their agenda is in the Kivu? Why is there reshuffling of military personel in the Kivu, the indigenous congolese officers are being replaced by rwandan officers and no one has courage to ask why or condemn! All the minerals are illegally exploited in the Kivu and shipped to Rwanda, traded there in the eyes of UN officers. What do you think their agenda is? There are more deaths in the Congo, not related to hunger and civil war as alleged by UN and western media, than the 2 world wars, the hollocaust and the USA civil war combined? Congo faces an unjust war, a war of occupation. UN confirms rwandan troops are in the Congo to fight interamwe, but for over 15 year of this rwandan occupation, supported by UN, they have never captured a single interamwe! What do you think the UN agenda is in the Congo, when the congolese human rights agents are assassinated every day and there is no emergency UN security council meeting to denounce Kabila's abuse of power? Sanctioning abusive powers in the middle east is worth it by the UN than sanctioning abusive powers in Congo!

Rich said...

- Richard

I'm sorry but I think you are now taking far too much liberty with the truth.

In Congo women are not only raped in Kivu, domestic violene is endemic in the Congolese society. Until you look at the bigger picture you will not be able to provide a realistic assessment of this social phenomenon.

Yes Congolese male violence against women can be inflated by armed conflicts but you need to see how women are treated in places like Mbuji Mayi (where there is no armed conflicts) or in certain Congolese tribes in order to set out a more realistic context.

As for the presence of Rwandan soldiers I think you are simply being a bit over simplistic in your assement of certain facts.


Anonymous said...

I find the EU position very disappointing. Even though the odds are heavily stacked against the emergence of a real competitor to Kabila, this does not mean that the elections cannot be used to open a space for badly needed dialogue, and provide a platform for the airing of political platforms and programmes. The Congo needs this oxygen, which in my view explains the importance of some form of support to the electoral process (beyond observers). The reality however is that the Congo is slipping fast off the international radar, and the position of the EU probably reflects those of others who prefer preservation of the status quo, even if that means more years of the Kabila administration with. About MONUSCO: the last years of MONUC were characterized by ineffective leadership and reluctance to call a spade a spade. Lack of backbone undermined its credibility viz Congolese leaders, who scoffed at its weakness. How does a policy of more prostration actually help a chapter VII peacekeeping operation with a mandate to ask tough questions?

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