Political Developments in the DRC

Podcast: Renowned Africanist historian Crawford Young talks with Jason Stearns about politics in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

It looks like Joseph Kabila may be able to extend his stay in office at least until 2018. The constitution bars him from being in office beyond 2016.

The decision to extend Kabila’s stay in office is likely the beginning of a bloody phase in the DRC’s political saga. Opposition groups claim that at least 50 people have died since Monday in clashes with the army and police.

Kabila now joins his neighbors Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Denis Sassou Ngwesso of the Republic of Congo as the latest in a small but growing list of African presidents who continue to buck the trend by abrogating constitutional presidential term limits.

This should not come as a surprise to students of political development.

Leadership transitions are notoriously difficult to manage. Especially in relatively shaky states like the DRC. In case it is not obvious, there will not be any easy solutions to the current impasse. Kabila clearly has the support of a sufficient number of elites that want him to stay in power — primarily for their own benefit. Enough that they are willing to send in the troops to kill protesting civilians.

This means that moralizing about Kabila’s disrespect for electoral democracy will not work. It is not just Kabila on the hook here. His domestic elite-level allies and foreign business associates who pillage the DRC’s resources are also on the hook. And they can’t simply be wished away. Furthermore, the ghosts of the Two Congo Wars will likely inform any regional intervention to try and resolve the constitutional crisis. Nobody wants to ignite more killings and instability.

Unfortunately for Congolese people, Kabila and his allies know this. And have revealed that they are willing to blackmail everyone into letting him stay in power.

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More on the DRC

CFR has a nice interview with Jason Stearns, DRC expert and author of Dancing in the Glory of Monsters. Jason in part notes that:

This crisis has brought about a shift in international donor policy for the region, in particular criticism and financial sanctions against Rwanda, which is something that’s new. However, using aid as leverage only makes sense in the context of a larger political process. Bashing Rwanda just for the sake of bashing Rwanda is not a solution. There needs to be a comprehensive political process into which that kind of pressure can be funneled and channeled. But there is no such process at the moment. What you have are talks mediated by a regional body—the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR)—that has the irony of being presided over by Uganda, which is itself playing a role in the conflict by supporting the M23. These talks have been largely limited to an evaluation of the March 23, 2009 peace deal, and the potential formation of a regional military force to deal with the FDLR and M23. But the causes of the crisis run much deeper and involve the failure of local governance, the weakness of the Congolese army, and the persistent meddling of neighboring countries in Congolese affairs.

This is precisely what informs my contention that there is too much focus on the international dimension of the conflict at the expense of the kinds of reforms that Congo needs in order to improve state capacity in Sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest country.

You can’t do business, implement a human rights regime, or even pretend to have democratic governance in a stateless environment (Unless, of course, you live in a state of nature in which everyone has capacity to defend themselves against aggression by others).

Some, including very serious and influential people, think that the solution to Congo’s weakness is to plea with its neighbors not to prey on it. I disagree. I believe that the best solution ought to be the strengthening of Congo so it can deter its neighbors. The international community just wasted a good opportunity to force a cornered Kabila to agree on a peace deal that is self-enforcing, i.e., that reflects the power balance in eastern Congo.

As things stand the continuation of the power vacuum in the Kivus will continue to attract rebels, foreign-sponsored or not.

More on this here.

Also here is a  glimpse of some of the actions by Kabila and his Kinshasa cabal which make it extremely unlikely that the situation in Congo will improve under his rule.