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HomeBreaking NewsANOTHER FRAUDULENT DRC ELECTION: It'll Be A Disaster For Congo

ANOTHER FRAUDULENT DRC ELECTION: It’ll Be A Disaster For Congo

Elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the largest and most strategically situated country in sub-Saharan Africa, are scheduled for December. In the all-important presidential contest, the main candidates are expected to be the incumbent, Felix Tshisekedi; former parliamentarian and activist Martin Fayulu, whom most knowledgeable observers consider the real winner of the last election; Moise Katumbi, the former governor of Congo’s richest province; and Augustin Matata Ponyo, a former prime minister.

Unfortunately, signs point to troubled elections that will be neither free nor fair. Despite some support for a democratic contest, official Washington’s priorities appear to be trending elsewhere: toward building a strong relationship with Congo’s current president and competing with China for political influence and control of Congo’s multiple strategic minerals, such as cobalt, a key component of electric car batteries.

But this tack fails to reckon with some uncomfortable realities. Tshisekedi came to power through likely fraudulent elections five years ago, as one of us has written about at length in Foreign Policy. Congo remains riven by violent armed groups; political persecution of opposition groups, journalists, and even musicians; and massive corruption permeating the state, the vital mining industry, and the logging of the world’s second-largest rainforest.

Washington needs to ask whether its priorities conform to its fundamental national interest in Congo, which is to nurture a long-term relationship with a politically stable, effective state, one that can also ensure uninterrupted access to, and protection of, key natural resources for combating climate change. To achieve this, the United States needs to remain true to its democratic values. Only free and fair elections have the potential to produce leaders who will have the political strength to address the country’s dysfunctional governance and latent political instability.

Official Washington recognizes the complexities of Congo, but current policies are haunted by unrecognized past errors. Five years ago, Congolese voters turned out massively. The most credible reports indicate that Tshisekedi lost the election to Fayulu by a more than 3-to-1 margin. However, in a secret, shady deal between Tshisekedi and former President Joseph Kabila, Tshisekedi was declared the winner.

Despite the Catholic Church’s electoral observation mission, which documented the fraud and key regional African states’ initiative to spur inclusive political negotiations, the Trump administration rapidly accepted this deal, seeing it as a way to maintain short-term “stability” in Congo. This destroyed what could have been a viable alternative path toward longer-term stability based on democracy and the resulting improved governance.

U.S. President Joe Biden has frequently proclaimed that strengthening democracy is one of his key priorities in Africa and the world, even making Tshisekedi a partner in his Summit for Democracy initiative. The United States is providing financial assistance for the December election, including observation of the process by the Carter Center and the Catholic and Protestant churches.

Yet the U.S. State Department is not providing sufficient diplomatic support to democratic forces (including the predominant Catholic Church) who are calling for an external audit of the registration roll, nonexclusion of legitimate candidates, and an end to the repression of opposition forces and legally organized protests. Earlier, it remained silent as the government maneuvered to make sure the “Independent” National Election Commission and Constitutional Court were dominated by its likely supporters.

In the absence of a government accountable to its people, there is every reason to believe that the grand corruption that marked the earlier Joseph Kabila regime has continued. Last year, for example, a “strategic advisor” to Tshisekedi was captured on videotape offering mining concessions to foreign investors in return for kickbacks. “If I ask for something, he [the president) gives,” he assured them. Prosecutors sought a three-year sentence, but the advisor was acquitted by a court without explanation.

Furthermore, the Inspectorate General for Finance recently reported that the state paid almost $800 million in a year—5 percent of its budget—to fictitious employees. The environment minister, like at least five of her predecessors, has made a habit of issuing illegal licenses for logging the rainforest. And despite the well-documented corruption of the Kabila era, his successor has refrained from prosecuting wrongdoers.

The case of Vital Kamerhe, a former top official in Kabila’s government who became Tshisekedi’s chief of staff, seems emblematic of the government’s lassitude toward corruption and its appearance. Amid public outcries over nonperformance in Tshisekedi’s inaugural $300 million “100 day program” for public construction, Kamerhe was swept up in the subsequent investigations.

He was charged, along with with a Lebanese businessman, with corruptly embezzling around $50 million designated for prefabricated housing. To this day, it is unknown where all the money ended up. Kamerhe insisted that he was not the sole decision-maker for the contract, but his governmental colleagues disagreed. He claimed to be unaware that his daughter-in-law received a $100,000 bay view property from the businessman, but multiple witnesses testified that his relatives and close associates were involved in the transaction. Convicted in a public trial, both defendants were sentenced to 20 years in prison with hard labor. After two years, however, they were acquitted by a higher court in an atypically opaque proceeding.

CREDIT: Foreign Policy

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