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

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Further blows to the democratic process

On Thursday, the national assembly elected its new leadership, placing Aubin Minaku at its head. However, the process was controversial, as the opposition is claiming that the majority manipulated the vote and discarded the candidates it had proposed.

According to the assembly's by-laws, the seats in the various offices of the assembly are distributed in proportion to the strength of the political coalitions. Since the opposition has around one third of the 500 seats in the assembly, they were given two of the seven positions in the office: the second vice president and the deputy reporter. These positions were supposed to be given to the two strongest opposition parties: the UDPS and MLC, who had nominated Samy Badibanga and Angelique Milemba, respectively. These candidates were backed by the other main opposition parties, as well.

However, the majority substituted the opposition candidates for two other MPs of their picking: Timothée Kimbo (UDPS) and Tshimanga Bwana (ADR). Both are in theory in the opposition - or at least not officially part of the majority - but are not recognized as legitimate candidates by the rest of the opposition.

In a meeting with opposition MPs, Aubin Minaku himself lamented the process, but said that he had no say in how things had unfolded. Some MPs speculate that members of the ruling party who oppose Minaku arranged the coup so that Minaku's legitimacy and relations with the opposition would be compromised, while others just thing this is a sign of the hardline position of the ruling majority. The mood within the opposition was so bad that in their denunciation, they accused Kabila of being a traitor; some MPs didn't even want to refer to him as the president, just the "autorité morale du pays."

Either way, this is a bad sign of how the ruling party intends to deal with the opposition. After the flawed elections, some thought that Kabila would be anxious to secure his legitimacy by reaching out to the opposition and encouraging them to participate in the democratic process. Far from it.

In the meantime, the opposition is suffering a crisis of its own, with Etienne Tshisekedi officially invalidating the seats of 33 of its 42 MPs who decided to participate in the national assembly, despite their leader's call for a boycott. Also, Christian Badibangi, another opposition heavyweight, broke ranks with the rest of the opposition by endorsing the election of the assembly's new leaders.


blaise said...

I've been wondering for a while: why can't they (opposition) use legal venues to get what they want? I believe that bringing cases in court combine with international pressures will be more effective than the actual policy of empty chairs.
a lot of people assume that Kabila is unsophisticated as a politician but I think we shouldn't underestimate his will to cling into power. Bryce's insight in his psyche is fascinating since it's opened new unforeseen possibilities and motives.
So far, he got the upper hand. He outmaneuvered a lot of crafty politicians as far as I can tell:
- yerodia and the uncles = LDK assassination's trial
- Kagame, Rcd, Mlc, Udps = sun city
- Nkunda, maybe Bosco = Rwanda's normalisation
- Uganda = international's court indemnisation
- etc.
He still has more surprises in store, I bet.
I believe that the opposition should start to do some heavy lifting now, some thinking out of the box. If they keep up with those infighting Kabila will go for a third term, I'm sure about it.

Anonymous said...


Yes, a lack of charisma should not be confused with an absence of sophistication regarding J Kabila. Again and again he has proven himelf quite skillful at outwitting his opponents.

I tend to agree with you regarding the empty chair strategy being adopted by ET - from this vantage point it seems to be playing into the hands of the parliamentary majority. The US government has repeatedly tried to nudge him into a course correction to no avail. He chose to snub Didier Reynders by refusing to meet with him. I'm sure he has his reasons...but what he realistically hopes to achieve isn't readily apparent (at least to an outside observer).

It is painful to watch the UDPS apparently disintegrating before our eyes. Obviously 33 members of the party, who worked hard to get elected and feel a responsibilty to their constituents, have broken with their leader. Parties are built to outlast individual leaders; it may be that the UDPS simply has to reconstitute itself around a new generation of leaders. The UDPS, the MLC, and other opposition parties all need to broaden their constituent bases.

In any event, the DRC seems to have moved from an uncontested authoritarian system to a contested authoritarian system. Theorists like S. M. Lipset argue that a true democratic transition requires certain requisite economic and social conditions like rising per capita GDP and widespread literacy rates. Other theories focus on access to a vibrant media and an engaged civil society.

In the DRC the absence of a dominant middle-class is an impediment. However, there is a vibrant media and a very engaged civil society. The World Bank just published a country assessment that is quite positive with regard to the DRC's economic outlook in terms of sustained GDP growth - so I try to see the glass as half full rather than half empty.


Rich said...

Jason -

I was really disappointed but what can you do?

I guess there will be a lot more arms twisting in this legislature. For this reason, if the parliamentary opposition is banking on playing 'militantism' rather than politics/diplomacy/flexibility then they are in for a very long and painful arms twisting session.


Anonymous said...

@blaise- i think you raise what is perhaps the most important question, brother: what are the goals of this opposition? i really do hope they begin to figure this out for only then can they put together a legislative strategy that is "outside of the box". I keep thinking this is some version of Republicans very effective "no" strategy but, to a degree, that requires an echo-chamber a la Fox News and i'm not sure something like that exists in the congo. perhaps using the church's to broadcast their efforts in the assembly? i don't know but they need goals.

@bruce- entirely agree with everything and the glass is half full. all political parties need a constituency, right? it would be great if the opposition recruited supporters from the peasantry. i mean, it would encourage the parties to be more democratic, help expand them, and generate new leadership. plus, given peasants are the clear majority, it could lead to policies that lead improving agriculture and life in the rural areas which that World Bank identified as a key area for sustained growth in the Congo.

i guess we will just need to see how this all plays out.

does anyone know which political party seeks rural support?

i'm not clear on this....


blaise said...

@ Bruce,
It's indeed sad to see that rigid ideology seems to dictate the Udps overall strategy.
The purpose of a political party is to conquest and hold on into power.
The opposition's role is to show a better alternative.
I don't understand the strategy that is guiding the UDPS and co. because from 2001 to 2012 there is not a lot to show for. JK is more powerful today than 10 years ago when he didn't know who to trust.
I wonder why the Fec doesn't take stewardship of the economic situation. They should band together and define a strategy to grow and expand. I will think it will be a good business practice to do so.

blaise said...

Another think I noticed is that everybody want to be the boss.It's anecdotal but that what split Wenge Musica,lol.
There is too many cowboys, not enough indians. I think that as long our politicians will put serving themselves first instead of the people or the country, we will keep having those problems.
@ Jose,
I believe that Palu is the closest one that will be close to seek rural supports but he lack national exposure.
I still think the Fec should gain some weights and become a force for change.

Anonymous said...

I would like to disagree with many arguments posted before me. What happened with these appointments in parliament should teach the "opposition" parties which are still clinging on a utopia of democracy in the DRC. In fact, there is no democracy in DRC, because simply there is no rule of the law. The only rule is dictated by Kabila backed by his security forces. Seriously, do you see a judge of any court in DRC ruling against Kabila or members of his biological family? I would like you to compare like with like, stop comparing the DRC with other countries where there is a minimum of Democracy.

How seriously do you expect a fair democratic game from such chaotic elections. No one, including Mulunda, would ever knon the results of those elections, Kabila is in power de facto, Tshisekedi probably made a huge mistake by taking part in these so-called elections, that is why he is in this cul de sac.

Concerning the UDPS MPs, why do you think all of them made sure to have Tshisekedi's pictures of their campain banners? The answer is simple, without Tshisekedi's endorsement they would not compete with wealthier candidates.

These 38 UDPS MPs are symptomatic of the Congolese political "elite", people who have no sense of pride. How seriously can you affirm that Tshiseked is the winner of the elections (this is still to be demonstrated) and at the same time sit in an institution which recognizes Kabila as the winner, this borders on insanity.

Finally, Kabila rules over mediocre congolese political "elite", fortunatley these people are no way representative of the majority of Congolese. Just think, "How the supreme court of justice can confirm CENI's result without taking possession of elections PV? (Proces Verbaux)"

Tshisekedi should not be the scapegoat, he tried his best at "78", this should be a challenge for all of us.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, I’m not sure I entirely agree with Stearns.

So, yes, the opposition lost a pretty important battle. But this is more an optical victory than a political one in my view.

The opposition, if it can get its act together, has quite a few more battles ahead that look promising:

- the rules: the NA recently adopted them and while I’m fairly certain they help the majority they will need to be adopted in each session. If, for next year, the opposition figures out a way to increase its bargaining position to, say, require a budget to be passed with a higher vote threshold this would be a clear victory and begin to rebalance power between the Assembly and the Government. Or, they could pass some version of a filibuster.

- amendments: the opposition, as a means of increasing their bargaining power, can tie up legislation by passing amendments to everything. This would force the majority to debate everything and, given the extended debate, encourage the media to cover its precedings more closely which would have the effect of weakening public support for the majority.

- hearings: from my understanding, any MP can call a hearing about anything related to any proposed piece of legislation. The Congolese are considering a very controversial agricultural law that will, in effect, nationalize landholdings. If the opposition can cause enough of a stink about it the resulting media pressure could atleast encourage the government to moderate its stance before final passage. Or, using hearing power, they can investigate corruption which can also dent the armor of the majority/Kabila. The former approach could also endear the opposition to foreign investors which would mean more $$$ for their parties since they are locked out of the patronage system.

- provincial elections: at some point they will occur because the Assembly needs Senators, right? Well, let’s assume those elections are more “fair”. If so, we could see the opposition with atleast 40 of 100 seats and, if they work hard enough, 50. Should that happen, Kabila would not be able to amend the constitution to extend his term and we also get to a Legislature that can check the power of the Executive- a major victory for any democracy and particularly the Congolese.

- a national issue/amendment campaign: as it stands, the DRC’s Constitution does not provide for impeachment or the recall of officials. Well, given most Congolese cannot stand their politicians, what if the opposition introduced an amendment to recall officials with a tax on civil servants and mining companies to pay for recall elections? If they did this right now and campaigned nationally on it- hold hearings on it, rallies, media interviews, focus groups, etc- they could nationalize the provincial elections and potentially win most Senate seats. The measure would, ofcourse, likely fail but winning in politics doesn’t always mean winning seats.

The basic idea here is how do we clip the power of the majority and increase the independence of the Legislature over the Presidency AND increase support for the opposition?

To be clear, all of this will still mean the majority and Kabila will likely get their way on most things. But doing any number of these things WILL increase the bargaining power of the opposition and, most importantly, set them up very nicely for the provincial and 2016 elections.

It will also help deepen democratic culture and institutions in the Congo which is a major responsibility of ANY opposition ANYWHERE.

The opposition lost this battle. But there will be others if they can get to some measure of agreement about goals, strategies, and legislative/issue tactics as I’ve laid out.

- D

(full disclosure: I am a political consultant for Democrats in mostly Republican-dominated states. Thus, I get paid for increasing minority power in legislatures. I am also working with UNC and MLC officials on some of these ideas. You should know, Blaise, that the UNC and MLC DO believe working with FEC is critical)

Anonymous said...

Entirely agree with D. The opposition lost THIS battle. There will be others and more importantly they will learn how to ACTUALLY BE an opposition using various parliamentary tactics.

Anonymous said...

We might need an insight into Etienne Tshisekedi's psyche....anyone ?
What I appreciate about the man is the consistency; even if it has led to nothing so far.
I would personally refuse to participate in any political system that is so flawed and stacked up against the minority (=opposition). The past few months have showed that:
- The "international community" will always support the person that best preserves its interests
- There are NO institutions immune to the president patronage and arm twisting influence
I just do not see where deepening democratic culture/institutions will come from...
With the tacit support of US, France and others, young JK will last a long time. My bet is that the main contribution of this parliament will be the extension of the presidential term to 7 years and the removal of the term limit.

Anonymous said...

I really don't believe the international community supports JK because he's wonderful or because he's created this great business environment for multinationals. Neither is true.

The West "supports" him because the opposition, in the main, cannot come up with a coherent set of goals for the nation, produce leaders they can trust, and cannot earn the confidence of the Congo's neighbors. Say what you will about JK but, broadly speaking, you get what you pay for with him.

As long as you have Congolese opposition leaders who have issues with capitalism and engage in rhetoric that alarms Congo's neighbors you will have the "Kabila clique". I hate to be blunt but that's just how the world works. Don't like it? Overthrow the regime or start a mass movement like Egyptians/Tunisians/Libyans. Outside of playing an inside game, violence is the only other option.

Anonymous said...

For the last 15years the UDPS has proven to be one of the most dysfunctional and desorganised political parti in the country,as long as they continue to be a one person dictatorship don't expect anything from them. The UDPS function like a cult ,Ya CHICHI makes all decisions and no one has the right to challenge or question his decisions .and if you try to give a different idea you became a traitor and get expelled from the parti. anyone who has been following the UDPS will understand that the UDPS plan was to come to power by a popular uprising in KINSHASA and not by a popular win at the ballot box. And that's the reason why they have neglected and never bother about the rest of the country .they never plan to became an opposition parti in parliament because their plan was for a CONGO SPRING.and that's the reason why they din't care about forging alliances with ether oppositions because their plan was to loose the presidential race ,declare CHISEKEDI the winner then drive KABILA out of power by popular uprising in Kinshasa. Sins that plan did not succeed ,do not expect anything else from the UDPS.
If you are expecting the UDPS to sit and vigorously challenge the AMP in the parliament ,you are just dreaming because that's not their plan and under CHISEKEDI that's not going to happen.

Anonymous said...

@ Anon 11:35 AM.
Couldn't agree more with the options: mass movement or inside game. I am not sure about the latter though; as the most congolese politicians are either corrupt or without principles...generally both !!
To be consistent with some basic principles, Congolese have the right to select leaders and not to have to put up with ones that haven't delivered. Just for the record, I have yet to read any "coherent set of goals for the nation" from JK. It has been bad leadership all the way, except that everyone (West, neighbouring countries,etc) is fairly happy while the vast majority of congolese remain hungry and without security.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for these flurry of posts, Jason! Also, Ernest Sugule Kangoyangala sounds like an awesome leader in the making.

I also want to second D’s posts and strongly suggest that violence really isn’t the answer here. The are more battles ahead and let’s not get too down on this lost one.

I also agree Etienne was likely hoping for some kind of “spring” and that he needs to go so other ideas/leaders can come to the fore. He’s a good tactician but a VERY bad strategist.

Here’s my two cents on getting to the rule of law in the current dispensation.

The rule of law always emerges as a result of conflict, correct? Think the Magna Carta. King John of England was as capricious and arbitrary of a ruler as any in history. Well, tired of the constant and shifting tax loads they had to bear, his nobles- the “civil society” of their day- said ENOUGH. They demanded that John get their consent before demanding yet more taxes and, should he fail to agree to this, they would rebel and put on the throne a French King. Well, John thought this was treason of the highest order and England descended into a Civil War. The nobles won, John agreed to the terms, and for the first time in European history a King’s powers were deemed NOT to be arbitrary and that he, like all others, was bound by laws and the Magna was signed. Ofcourse, this didn’t last too long and the English- under Cromwell- had to engage in yet another civil war but this is how England and other nations clipped the power of their rulers and established the Rule of Law.

If we take armed insurrection of the table in the Congo, the opposition has two options, I think.

Option 1: Engage in the kind of things D’s suggesting. They way I read D’s comments is to try to use parliamentary maneuvering to frustrate the will of the majority and increase the bargaining power of the opposition. The aim would be to make the Assembly more independent and serve as a check on Kabila. We shouldn’t dismiss trying something like this even with Kabila’s ability to bribe everyone. Even if it was something like giving budgetary power and resource contract signing power to the Assembly would garner the support of everyone. Think about it. Would a corrupt MP prefer to dispense the spoils himself or in a committee? Or by command of Kabila?

Option 2: Work to take over a few provinces in the upcoming elections. Perhaps here the opposition in the Assembly uses parliamentary tactics to hold up things the majority wants to pass and, as a means of getting what they want, remove the ability of the President to appoint governors. Well, if the opposition controls more provincies they can engage in a variety of activities to hold the central government/Kabila accountable and put a check on central authority.

Option 3: Start a mass movement. The doctors and public servants are on strike, yes? Well, how could that expand? How could that be used to really unite the Congolese around a core set of demands? How could the doctors break bread with unpaid soldiers? Miners? The Church? Basically, everyone shares the same grievance- lack of consistent and good pay- and the root cause is the system, right? The patronage system, yes? There is plenty to organize around but the key is really trying to link everyone up around a core set of clear demands.

My two cents.....


Anonymous said...

Most of the 33 UDPS members who defied CHISEKEDI and desided to sit in the parliament did so for only financial reasons. And since the AMP has the cash ,12 month from now half of them(UDPS )will be voting with the majority.KABILA knows and understand that the reason why most Countries in our neighbourhood(Angola,Rwanda,Congo Brazza,Gabon...) have been attracting more investments is not because they are democraticys and respect human right and the rule of laws,but its because they have strong man in power and investors hate uncertainty that comes with a weak presidency. KABILA has learned from his mistakes and I don't think he is going to continue being called weak and sending investors away just in the name of democracy.for the Congoles democrats the struggle is going to be long and Chisekedi's endless boycotts has just mad it more longer and harder. Rendezvous in 2021.

Anonymous said...

Please leave Tshisekedi alone and start touching on the real issues: why the constitution was changed, who rigged the election, why minutes of polling stations are still to be published, why Reynders is defying basic rules of logic to support Kabila,...Tshisekedi is not the problem, Kabila and his chronies are

Anonymous said...

@ Anon 12:25 Uncertainty is a combination of poor security (for people and goods) and an unpredictable legal and business environment. A good example is how oil exploration blocks in the lake Albert were attributed by Uganda and the DRC. The former will be extracting oil from 2016 onwards and the DRC: rendezvous 2021 ?.
Most of the significant investments in Angola, Gabon and Congo-Brazza relate to oil. Rwanda is positioning itself as a hub for Congo's natural resources that Congolese seem either unwilling or unable to exploit. Investors are very aware of the DRC's many weaknesses; thats why they stay away. They know that in order to get mining rights in the Kivus,for instance, they must talk to Rwanda and not JK, who is too...weak.

Anonymous said...

I'm mostly with Bruce, here.

There is no middle class in the Congo to effectively block the aggression of the political class.

Thus, the route to a better democracy is encouraging a better economic environment which will expand this class and, down the road, they will demand better government.

As long as government main means to get rich we will not have democracy. Must be other way for ambitious people to make money and this means more business.

Just easier to convince Kabila to help trader or small farmer make more money than ask him to respect their rights.

Anonymous said...

A great quote from the head of the Malawi Law Society before Banda took power:

"Any machinations by any group of persons to assume the powers and duties of the President of the Republic in contravention of our clear constitutinal order amount to unconstitutional assumption of power and thus constitute the high crime of treason on the part of such individuals."

In so many ways, that single and clear demand was enough to ensure the rule of law prevailed in Malawi and, with it, the hope of african democrats everywhere....even the DRC.

Why any foreign investor would prefer this over the instability of one-man rule is simply foolish.

Anonymous said...

Banda's rise is illustrative of what needed in Congo. She is not former rebel, or kin to elite in Blantyre. She rose on her own as activist for women causes, then founding her own business, than civil society leader, then elected official, then minister, and now President. She entered politics to HELP others and SERVE others. Who in Congo came up similarly? Congo problems not just about leadership but also our organized life outside of politics. Organized life teaches you how to serve for the greater good. We need this more in Congo to produce more good leaders. - Marie

Rich said...

Sorry this may read a little bit off the topic; however, I thought I'd share it with you.

While many of us are looking at the many failures of J Kabila we often forget to look at how wide the network of his loyal has grown since 2001 or even 2006.

It is a fact that there are so many reasons why to get rid of JK at the head of DRC and hand it to someone else... However, in a country where state does not exist it will always going to take time to build some form of consistency in implementing any long term plan.

In the following link, the reporter gives a few names of people who have been in J Kabila's circle for some years now but I am sure that many more are missing and here I am referring to security and army personnel as well as many of his partners and close allies in the international community. Also, J Kabila's network continues to recruit new members everywhere... whilst the opposition seems set for further divisions...

This just gives you an idea of the task the opposition needs to achieve, either as a group or an individual, before they can have realistic chances of shaking the foundation of J Kabila's power.


blaise said...

@ D,
interesting insight you have here. I hope those parties are working hard to push JK on the ropes. The opposition need to "faire feu de tout bois".
So far, JK is weakened but still throws some good punches here and there.
- I think the opposition should first unite,build a platform( anti MP), create a new brand, with a simple name and message.(like the red shirts for Thailand or the ladies in white for Cuba).
- The next step should be a national redeployment. Politic is an expensive business, one need powerful backers ( or unlimited access to the State's coffers), maybe the FEC first than foreign aids as long as it's in accordance with the law. They should have a local message for all the sectors they are covering in order to gain people supports.(how about talks show?)
- They should be on top of every situation and develop social services in order to assist those abandoned by the government.(So far they are quiet: nothing about Kivu or people kick out Angola)
- the last step should be a all out " juridical's harassment" : take to the courts any violation of the law. I know there is a lot of skepticism regarding our judiciary but you will be surprise of the outcome of some low profiles cases.
The overall idea is to pull the MP in several direction in order to put them off balance. They won't win every time.

blaise said...

@ Rich,
we were probably writing the same time,lol.
That was a great video! You always got good stuffs in store.
I totally agree with your assertion of the uphill battle the opposition had to engage in order to defeat the MP. Yet again, that video prove how ill prepared the opposition is.
I noticed a striking parallel between how JK was elected and the way Vladimir Putine come back to power. Same scenario: efforts and money invested to elect the president and control the parliament, neglect of local elections.
The big difference between Russia and us is that the opposition in Russia took advantage of people discontent to win local elections like mayors of towns, locals assemblies leaders. Our opposition doesn't seem to understand the importance of controlling a province and having a real impact on people life. Instead, being in Kinshasa seems to be their only goal.

Anonymous said...

@rich- as the youngin's say these days "you always got the good shit!". How do you find these gems?!! Great video man.

@D- good to hear. I had an email exchange with folks at NDI and, from my understanding, they are considering more assistance for UNC. So, if you can help that's great!

@blaise- entirely agree. i've often wondered what a hamas/hezbollah- type organization could do in the congo- minus the suicide bomber stuff ofcourse. alot of the evangelical groups occupy this space in the congo, however, so i question if that would work in the congo's cultural mileau. but i think your strategy is right on. hit the MP in all directions. like a multifront war or something. and yes, they will definitely need $$$ and the FEC seems like a good place. and the more "local" their efforts the better since they need deep support out in the provinces since that's where the votes are.

or perhaps build political machines like we had here in America back in the day? so, take over provinces/districts/small cities and then, in exchange for votes, you give supporters jobs, clinics, upgrade schools, etc.

well, perhaps that would just replicate what happens in kinshasa out in the provinces so maybe not a good idea. honestly, the level of corruption machines in America engaged in would make the congolese blush.

anyway, i agree with the sentiment about Ya Tshchi. he's a victim of the system but its also true his ideal for the congo is, well, too idealistic. and his main gamble- a Congo Spring- totally didn't happen which speaks volumes about his skills as a strategist. and, in the congo's nasty political space, you must be a good strategist- not simply a good tactician. its simply time for new leaders from a new generation.

@marie- that's a good point. while there are many challenges to associational life and organizing in the Congo its has got to happen if the country is to generate new leaders who don't emerge from the bush with a gun or have been part of the "grand theft" that is the kinshasa elite. the one bright spot in the congo is civil society/associational growth. this is VERY important and while not all of them are great this growth is critical to a better congo.


Anonymous said...

The Congolese opposition should learn from the Venezuelan opposition. After scambling for years to figure out a strategy for beating Hugo Chavez, they finally seem to have gotten their act together. For the first time, they actually have a shot at winning the upcoming presidential elections. Over the years, however, they continued to challenge Hugo Chavez in the parliament and in local elections.

UNC's lovefest with "the Brazilian model" should include a visit to the north of Brazil to ask Henrique Capriles how the Venezuelan opposition has come back from the embarrasing days following the 2002 coup attempt to looking like serious contenders for the presidency.

The key ingredients were: building national political organizations and running them with transparency (e.g., open primaries), winning regional and local elections and using those offices to groom leaders, and, most importantly, uniting all major opposition partis behind a platform and a candidate.

In the so-called "authoritarian democracies" like Venezuela and Iran (and probably Congo), the fact that elections are held with some pretense of transparency offers reformists and opposition partis an opening through which, overtime, change may be forced upon those in power. Venezuela may be on the verge of such change. Congolese opposition leaders should take note.

Anonymous said...


Yes, organizing rural Congolese is an under-represented constituency that all the parties need to address. D mentioned agenda-setting and the land tenure issue - the proposed law and its potential consequences would resonate with rural Congolese from all corners of the country. Other issues of concern to rural populations would be school-fees and access to healthcare.

Gender issues are important as well. My observation growing up in rural Bandundu province and Bas-Congo was that women engage in much of the agricultural production. It would be women who showed up at our house (walking the several kilometers to get there) on a daily basis selling produce and eggs and so on. You would go to village markets and women would be running the market stalls.

That entrepreneurial spirit and intiative among Congolese women was something that struck me at the time. I recently read an article about ET and his wife holding a conference on women's empowerment and equality for rural women - so there are politicians putting these issues on the agenda.


Patrick said...

I have been reading arguments about the opposition lack of political strategy and vision for the DRC (as if the MP had one but that another issue...). This argument would have been fair had there been a level playing field for all in the DRC.
I have also been reading discussions about how the opposition should now focus on winning local elections. Again, this is dependent on a fair and transparent CENI, which will not happen. Besides, a provision (written in very generic terms) in the Constitution allows the president to dismiss an elected governor.
I just fail to see where the political/civil society checks and balances will come from to help deepening a democratic culture. It will certainly be a long process. How long ? I do not know.
We should never forget that at the root of the situation is a flawed electoral process intent on helping the current leadership to remain in charge. I am personally convinced that it will be repeated at local level as well, with the blessing of the gang of three (Belgium, France and the USA).

Patrick said...

One final point: the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS in french) in Algeria built a formidable local support network, which proved very efficient after the 1987 Tipasa earthquake in Algeria. Altough very influential at local levels, their national electoral win in 1991 was annulled and Algeria paid for it with a long and bloody civil war.
As long as you don't have an impartial, transparent and a professional political structure, the changes that we all wish for Congo won't take place.

blaise said...

@ Patrick,
I think the story about the FIS is interesting in several levels but there are some fundamental differences with the case in the DRC:
- Algeria's army is a structured army with clear chain of commands. They have a say in politic. I don't think it's the case in DRC.
- the civil war was mainly bloody because of the GIA, movement opposed to the FIS and the Government
- the FIS created the ISA to strengthen his hands during negociation with the government because they were marginalize as interlocutors (like the UDPS in Sun city versus RCD and MLC)
Contrary to your conclusion, I think change will take place with the emergence of an organized middle class. The relative success of the FIS prove that with patience(they preached from mosque to mosque) and organization, a group can prove to be a formidable adversary to even a powerful army(what is not the case in DRC).
I hope that the opposition learned their lessons from the previous election. I think it's harder to cheat on the local level versus on the national level. Russia proved it yet again with Putin winning the presidency but his party losing in several local elections.
The strategy for the opposition should be to unite and spread their forces in order to monitor all the polling stations. They fail to do it in the first election although everybody knew that the MP will cheat.

Anonymous said...


great post and a few rebuttals on my end:

"I just fail to see where the political/civil society checks and balances will come from to help deepening a democratic culture."

i think a few of us have been suggesting a few tactics (with blaise and d offering strategies and mel context). you are correct that there is no effective "check" on the arbitrary nature of kabila's power. well, if the opposition nationalized the provincial elections around any set of core issues- the agriculture law, recalling officials, reforming CENI, devolving power,etc- they could take control of the senate.

and that would be checkmate, friend.

i also disagree with you that the coming provincial elections will be as crazy as the the presidential/parliament ones.


a) the DRC needs aid to run those elections. Do you seriously believe donors are going to fork over millions for a repeat of November? in this era of austerity and conservative resurgence in many of these nations?

b)this whole "get Bosco" (and Kony) push from the West is also tied to making clear reforms in CENI. and the clearest proof of that is that the new National Assembly has put doing so on the agenda.

now, as others have said, this all depends on whether or not the entire opposition can come to some clarity on goals and messaging which, ofcourse, is always a challenge.

but that doesn't mean it won't happen.

the path to effective checks on Kabila's power- and with it democratic reform- lay before the opposition.

the question in my mind is whether or not the opposition chooses to wallow in its self pity or grab these opportunities.

what supporters of Etienne/UDPS fail to realize is that absent an armed insurrection- which they have taken off the table- you don't get to the rule of law in an environment without it with one man or slogans trumpeting it.

it requires institutions.

well, they have the option of taking part of one over- the Senate- before them OR provincial governments.

i think its time they grab one or the other- preferably both.

also, it is true Kabila can dismiss governors. but he cannot dismiss entire provicial legislators. so, imagine if the opposition takes over 3 or 4 provinces and begins to demand they get their 40% renumeration from the central authority and sue the government if kinshasa refuses to hand it over? or imagine if they refuse to hand over tax revenue to the national treasury? or refuse to house soldiers? in all these cases it would require kabila to deal and, in the process, check his ability to engage without their consent.

now, i realize the concern over devolution has been the often rebellious nature of these attempts in the past (Kasai, Katanga, etc). but how has centralizing power in Kinshasa worked out for the Congolese?

the opposition HAS opportunities here and, again, if they continue to wallow in their predicament it will pass them by.

the rule of law doesn't occur in a vacuum or out of thin air.

it needs to be fought for through institutions.


Anonymous said...

I agree with much of what Patrick is saying but the idea that donors will fund another round of fraudulent elections is preposterous.

Donors may be cynical but they are not dumb. Noone trusts the Congolese to, on their own, run another round of elections without major and deep reforms to the process.

Anonymous said...

This might sound like a stupid question but, given their hasn't been an election for Senators, which happens in tandem with provincial elections, how can the Congolese Parliament sit?

Does anyone know?


Anonymous said...

@ April 14, 2012 1:25 PM

I want to stridently disagree with the contention that a “strong President” is critical to investing in the Congo. I speak from international and actual experience. Last year, I retired as a senior executive with the ADM Corporation which, among many products, is the largest grower and processor of commercial cassava in the world with over 200,000 acres under management. Our cassava holdings in Columbia, Brazil, and, increasingly, West Africa produces cassava, which we then create cassava starch in factories in Mexico and Germany, which we then sell to food processors throughout the world. Three years before I retired I met Dr. Oscar Kashala at a conference. Deeply impressed by this ridiculously brilliant man, he encouraged us to invest in the Congo. After engaging in the necessary research and cost benefits analysis, I instructed our team to encourage the division to open negotiations with the Congolese government. After nearly 5 months of negotiation- way to long for any investors patience- we gave up. Why? Because it became very clear to us that the government in Kinshasa was simply unwilling to engage in good faith whatsoever primarily because all the relevant ministers and those below them were more interested in their own cut of the what was still a proposal. The bottomline line here is noone in the world trusts the Congolese. With the countries you cite they are surely corrupt but they know how to deal and earn the confidence of investors. They also do not engage in constant “reviews” of contracts and, by and large, respect existing agreements. As others have pointed out, the political system Kabila presides over creates a black hole of mistrust and side-dealing that is anything but “strong”. And, as a result, only the truly desperate want to invest in the Congo. The political risk is way too high so much of the world avoids the Congo. The Chinese are slowing figuring this out as well since the Congo has not been paying its obligation from the minerals for infrastructure deal. How many countries is the Congo going to deceive and anger before they are entirely isolated from world trade? Now, we could ignore all this right and just give it a go. But if we put a farm outside Kisangani, how are we going to get our produce- quickly and efficiently- to port? Where are we going to get irrigated water from? Regular electricity? Cheap fuel for the equipment? I am sorry friend but on so many levels investing in the Congo is simply filled with way too many risks for it to be profitable. And all of this is the direct result of its leadership. Perhaps small investors are willing to brave all these challenges. But large ones? Not happening. We need strong institutions and laws that respect property rights- not strong men with guns

blaise said...

@ APRIL 15, 2012 1:45 PM,
it's a pity that a lot of those ministers see their interests first before the country interests.
Maybe Mel can tell you the way it worked for her.
From my experience, the preferable way to do it is franchising : get somebody on the ground already who will assume the risks and contract with the person.
I won't put a factory outside kisangani, I will choose somewhere close to an easy extraction point like Bas-congo or Katanga(maybe Kalemie).
I love doctor Kashala for his genius as a doctor but unfortunately he seems lost in congolese realities. I'm not sure how did he do in legislative? I've been thinking he will be a great man to be an alternative to the actual statu quo.

blaise said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
blaise said...

@ Clay,
I think the high chamber will stay in place until the new senate is install. So, the actual senators are still in power.
It's a little bit like a lame duck session. i may be wrong, that my understanding.

Anonymous said...

npctiouIt is really Much Ado About Nothing, all that talk about this General Assembly. The first thing to keep in mind is that this legislature has been put in place by an electoral mascarade which has been denounced through and through. For all practical purposes and no matter how one looks at it, this General Assembly is ILLEGITIMATE. All the noise coming from that assembly is a futile attempt to GAIN a modicum of LEGITIMACY. The machiavelic dance of the Presidential Majority (People Malediction) can last the next 5 years, but nowhere one would believe A GOOD DEED would ever come out of this EVIL electoral mascarade. The ultimate test for this pretentious assembly would come soon while reviewing the dismal electoral process executed by CENI and which has selected dutifully the majority of its members. If ever these HONORABLES reach the same conclusion around the electorale mascarade would they gather their courage to ANNUL THE LEGISLATIVE AND PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS, to STOP THEIR PRETENTION, and to START THE ENTIRE PROCESS AAL OVER? I very much DOUBT that!!! Therefore talking about this general assembly is Much Ado About Nothing...


Patrick said...

@ April 15, 2012 1:45 PM
This is an absolutely brilliant description of "doing business" in the DRC !!
If you read the press, you will find out that a giant mining company pulled out of the Congo for the same reason. Senior ministers are interested in the projects that create thousands of jobs, only those that they help them get build another poorly designed, tasteless and expensive in Kinshasa.
In all fairness, this behaviour has been around for decades. JK, for all the talk, has not cracked down. Everybody know how the DRC works; particularly neighbouring countries have understood it very well and are taking advantage of a hopeless leadership.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, its stuff like this...

That makes UDPS's stance so dangerous.

Who is going to speak up for these people? Certaintly not the regime.

Etienne, and any others, needs to stop acting like arrogant fools, agree to recognize Kabila as Congo's leader, allow its MP's to sit in Parliament, and provide a voice for the Congolese who desperately need a government to protect them and serve them.

Anything short of this and, in my opinion, this makes the opposition as horrible and morally bankrupt as the regime.

Anonymous said...

Heads up, all:

There will be a live, webcast discussion about a new report on security sector reform at the Wilson Center in DC.

It starts at 2:00 pm EST (New York City time).

Here is the link:

The panelists are Cindy McCain, Mvemba Dizole, and Emmanuel Kabengele and others.

I personally tried to take the trip up to DC, as I normally do for Congo related events, from my home here in Gainesville, FL but I have family over this week from California and just can't make it.

Are any Siassa readers going to this event?


Rich said...

Mel -

Many thanks for this ...


Anonymous said...

Is anyone having an issue with the volume at the Wilson event?

The video works fine but the audio is totally sucking.

Also, thank you, Mel!

Anonymous said...

Aubin Minako is one of the worse kabila extremist. Kabila will manage to change without any disturbance from the small opposition members the secure or the lock key constitution of 2 times presidential mandate and get his free ride for life I know that this is what is secretly in kabila mind now. And minaku his the worseman for Congo and the best ever man for kabila to change the constitution. Let see next

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