By Emma Emeozor
The successful inauguration of Mr. Felix Tshisekedi, 55, as President of the Democratic Republic of Congo on Thursday was victory for the people, as it was the first democratic transfer of power since independence from Belgium in 1960.
Tshisekedi now has the task of addressing the potpourri of crises that has unnerved the country over the years. However, the controversy that trailed his victory calls for concern, especially in the face of the allegation that he was the product of rigging masterminded by the unpopular government former President Joseph Kabila. He allegedly gave covert support to Tshisekedi after it dawned on him and his party that his anointed candidate, former Interior Minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, was not going to win, reports said. Put differently, Kabila had to choose between the devil and the deep blue sea.
Apparently, Kabila needed a successor who would give him a listening ear whenever the need arises, a successor who would not create more problems for him and the Laurent-Désiré Kabila dynasty. The former First Family has been accused of abuse of power and massive corruption.
Memebers of this school of thought have argued that Kabila had to clear the way for the Electoral Commission to declare Tshisekedi winner of the December 23, 2018, election. The release of the result was delayed to enable Kabila and his cohorts perfect the process of announcing Tshisekedi winner, some observers had argued.
Though Tshisekedi has been sworn in, the fact remains that DR Congo is still at a crossroads. The runner-up, Martin Fayula, 62, has insisted that he won the election and, therefore, he is the elected president of the country. He has rejected the country’s apex judicial body the Constitutional Court’s affirmation that Tshisekedi won the election. He has since called for protests.
Fayulu is not a political neophyte and his threats cannot be dismissed offhand. He had long been a thorn in the flesh for Kabila. An uncompromising politician, he never gives up a fight once he finds justification for it. He was the consensus choice of opposition bigwigs during their meeting in Geneva in November. The meeting was convened to plan political strategies and consider all available options to defeat or force Kabila from office.
Fayulu insists that he won more than 60 per cent of the vote. In a tweet, he said: “To African Presidents who ask the Congolese people to respect the Constitutional Court, I ask them to respect the sovereign decision of the Congolese people who elected me President with over 60% of the vote. Let’s not encourage fraud, lies and forgery.”
Undoubtedly, he was emboldened by the firm position of the Catholic Church that it was not Tshisekedi who won the election. The Catholic Church reportedly said that tallies compiled by its 40,000-strong monitoring team show a different winner from that announced by the electoral commission.
Though, at the time, the church did not mention a name, it strongly implied that Fayulu won the election. The Catholic Church is not only vocal in the affairs of the country but also enjoys popular respect across the country. It has been in the forefront of the call for transparent elections. There had been no love lost between Kabila and the Catholic Church.
It is instructive that churches in Africa hardly take a firm stand on election matters, especially the result of a presidential tussle between known political stalwarts. Churches in Africa prefer to mediate and reconcile warring politicians, if the national interest is at stake. Oftentimes, they split among political groups with consideration being given to either the personalities involved or the parochial interest of the church leaders. This explains why church leaders stammer to speak the truth.
Whether it was the correct assessment of the election or not, the Catholic Church in DR Congo has thrown a challenge to other churches in the continent. And that is the challenge of being firm and transparent on crucial issues that may threaten the peace, unity, development and growth of a nation, no matter who is involved.
Surprisingly, it was only the Catholic Church that publicly opposed the result of the election. The action of the church exposed the failure and indeed the hypocrisy of African regional groups, as well as the European Union (EU) and the United States. The African Union (AU), the South African Development Community (SADC) and the EU observers were on hand to monitor the election.
Sadly, the AU, SADC and EU could not demonstrate the courage required of unbiased election observers to either support or reject the calls for vote recount when it was made. SADC ought to have played a central role in determining the true result of the election considering the fact that it was an election held in its region.
One of the organisation’s objectives is to achieve regional integration “built on democratic principles.” Article 4 of the organisation’s treaty says, in order to fulfil its mission, “member states are guided by Human rights, democracy and the rule of law, Peaceful settlement of disputes,” among others.
Certainly, SADC made a ridiculous outing in DR Congo’s presidential election. It failed the Congolese, the nationals of the region, the continent at large and indeed the international community at a crucial moment when the truth about the election result was required to ensure that justice is done and democratic norms and values are upheld.
Rather, the organisation wobbled about and eventually went comatose. Barely 24 hours after it rejected the result and called for vote recount, it made a U-turn and endorsed the result. At the time it supported the calls for vote recount, SADC said: “A recount would provide the necessary reassurance to both winners and losers.”
It did not stop there. It went further to issue another statement in collaboration with Angola and South Africa, calling for “a government of national unity that would include parties representing Kabila, Fayulu and Tshisekedi” to “promote peace.”
While arguing for a government of national unity, the statement said: “SADC draws the attention of Congolese politicians to similar arrangements that were very successful in SA, Zimbabwe and Kenya” that created the “necessary stability for durable peace.”
What made the organisation rescind its earlier decision and approve the presidency of Tshisekedi. In a four-paragraph statement issued on January 20, 2019, the chairperson of SADC and president of Republic of Namibia, Dr. Hage G. Geingob, it said: “On behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and on my behalf as the chairperson, we congratulate the President-elect of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Mr. Felix Tshisekedi, following the national elections that were conducted on December 30, 2018, and the ruling of the Constitutional Court on January 19, 2019.
“We further congratulate the people of DRC, the political leadership, and all stakeholders in the country for conducting the elections in a peaceful manner despite the security and logistical challenges. SADC calls upon all Congolese to accept the outcome, and consolidate democracy and maintain a peaceful and stable environment following the landmark elections.”
What may have happened between the time it called for vote recount and the time it changed its position remains a secret that may not be told publicly now. What is evident is that the Kabila government and the Tshisekedi camp made deals to uphold the result even in the face of mounting pressure from the Catholic Church, Fayulu and his supporters for vote recount.
If SADC failed, how about the AU? The AU was neither here nor there. Rather, it vacillated. While expressing “serious doubts” about the credibility of the electoral process, it called for the final results to be delayed.
It was clear that the AU was in a dilemma as to what position to take. Though some neighbours of DR Congo, including South Africa, congratulated Tshisekedi, the AU and EU did not. Rather, at a joint press conference in Brussels, the AU and EU reportedly said they had “taken note” of the Constitutional Court’s decision. At the time, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said: “As expressed by the AU (African Union) high level consultative meeting on Thursday in Addis, doubts remain regarding the conformity of the result.” But she was quick to stress: “The challenge of the new President is a large one on many issues. We think all this requires that the President must be a unifying force.”
Rwanda’s Foreign Minister Richard Sezibera, who represented the AU at the meeting, was quoted as saying the organisation “remains committed to working with the people of the DRC.” The AU and EU reportedly sidestepped questions about whether they would attend Tshisekedi’s inauguration on Thursday.
The United States took a stand on Wednesday when State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said in a statement that, “The United States welcomes the Congolese Constitutional Court’s certification of Felix Tshisekedi as the next President of the DRC. We are committed to working with the new DRC government.”
Again, why did it take the US so long to take a stand? Two days earlier, the senior Republican on the House Subcommittee on Africa, Chris Smith, had said in a statement that it was clear Fayulu had won the election.
“If Tshisekedi is installed this week notwithstanding the tainted results, the United States should not hesitate to apply visa denials, sanctions and other tools against those complicit in election fraud,” he said.
Some analysts have argued that the AU, EU and foreign leaders may have decided to overlook the controversy that trailed the result of the election in order to give peace a chance in a country that has experienced two civil wars and is yet to fully recover.
They may be right. But suffice to say that when justice is raped, the fundamental rights of the people are immediately violated. In a polity where the truth is not held sacrosanct, the political process would always end in chaos. The centre never holds. And this scenario has created an albatross that Africa seems not able to overcome.
It is but sordid that African countries cannot boast of conducting free, fair and credible elections even as they claim to have embraced democracy. It is an irony that the various regional bodies, including the AU, prefer to look the other way when political leaders manipulate the electoral process and steal the vote of the electorate. Of course African regional bodies would always find reasons to shy away from truth and justice, in a continent that is infested with myriads of socio-economic and political challenges.
Considering the controversy that trailed his election, Tshuiesekedi should commence immediately the process of reconciliation with all aggrieved political groups as well as embrace the various ethnic groups. He must be seen to be leader of all. Importantly, he should seek the support of experts irrespective of their political, ethnic and religious affiliation, to revamp the economy. His father, veteran opposition leader, Ettiene Tshisekedi fought for change of government through a democratic process because he was convinced that it was the best for the development and growth of the country. The new president must uphold the legacy of his late father.