CONGO DRC: FELIX TSHISEKEDI RE-ELECTED IN CHAOS
On 20 December, the Democratic Republic of Congo reconfirmed Felix Tshisekedi as president, in an election – the fourth since the return of multi-party democracy in 2006 – which took place in total chaos and amid fierce protests, such as in Lumbashi, Muanda and Kichasa, with cars set on fire and clashes between demonstrators and police forces . With more than 73% of the vote, the outgoing president gains the first position, leaving the multi-millionaire football and mining tycoon Moïse Katumbi – former governor of Katanga who founded the Mining Company of Katanga (MCK) in 1997, later merged with the controversial Canadian company Anvil to become AMCK Mining – in second place with 18% of the vote, and in third place with 5%. Martin Fayulu, former Exxon Mobil executive. Nobel Peace Prize winning doctor Denis Mukwege gets just under 1%.
It is a contest of great complexity, and the numbers are there to witness it: 41 million voters were called upon to choose from 100 thousand candidates belonging to at least 70 parties to elect 500 of them. The ballot boxes were distributed in some 75,000 polling stations scattered across a country the size of Western Europe, but which certainly does not have the same road network, which is very often non-existent: suffice it to say that every possible means, and in some cases the only ones available or usable, from canoes to helicopters, were used for distribution. Some logistical aid for transporting materials and equipment to remote areas was requested from the UN mission in Congo (MONUSCO), while the European Union was forced to cancel its observation mission due to the Congolese authorities’ refusal to allow the use of satellite equipment . Consent to observe the competition is also denied to the East African Community .
The operation has an exorbitant cost: as much as USD 1.25 billion has gone into security and organisational expenses and will cause the fiscal deficit in 2023 to widen by -1.3% in a context of weakening revenues, – 0.3% compared to 2022 .
But the high economic commitment did not help to avoid enormous organisational and technical inefficiencies: the competition, scheduled for a single day, was extended to two days due to serious logistical delays and administrative chaos while, in violation of the electoral law, in some areas it lasted as long as five days , with delays in the opening of at least two thirds of the polling stations and with 30% of the voting machines not working from the first day. The oppositions immediately complained of fraud and electoral fraud in favour of Tshisekedi, and in chorus demanded the invalidation of the competition, demands rejected by the government .
In addition to announcing the annulment of voting in 182 constituencies, the electoral commission disqualified 82 candidates who were allegedly guilty of fraud, corruption, acts of violence against election workers and voters, and vandalism against equipment: the disqualification amplified the protests and in at least 551 polling stations, harsh clashes broke out . In some areas in the east, battered by the presence of armed groups, it was not even possible to vote, at least 11% of voters were cut off .
The accusations in the direction of CENI, the Independent National Electoral Commission that organised the competition, are very heavy. Pressure from politicians and the closeness of Commission head Denis Kadima to the government cast long shadows on his impartiality .
A country bent by serious unresolved problems
The eastern areas in the hands of more than a hundred rebel groups sowing death and terror is one of Congo DRC’s greatest dramas
The Congo DRC, which joined the eight-member bloc of the East African Community (EAC) in 2023 and has high expectations of this country, is extremely valuable to the world: extremely rich in natural resources, it possesses around 70 per cent of the world’s reserves of coltan – a key metal ore in the electronics industry – and 30 per cent of the world’s diamonds, as well as huge quantities of bauxite, cobalt and copper.
On the other hand, however, it has 60 per cent of its citizens living below the poverty line on USD 2.15 a day and the entire eastern part besieged by some 120 armed groups, the M23 and the Allied Democratic Forces of Uganda (ADF) being among the fiercest. In the two provinces most affected by the conflict, North Kivu and Ituri, the security situation has worsened dramatically in recent months: the incessant conflicts have sown thousands of deaths and to date there are 7 million refugees forced to leave their homes because of the instability in those territories , 500,000 in March 2023 alone .
Tshisekedi seems to be regaining a broad consensus, despite five years of government that have not been easy at all, which have seen major economic and political upheavals including the COVID-19 pandemic, two Ebola epidemics, the resurgence of rebel groups and the escalation of tensions with neighbouring Rwanda. A victory not to be taken for granted: his first term has certainly seen an economy on the rise (the state budget will increase from USD 10 billion to USD 16 billion in 2023) and some positive choices such as the establishment of free primary schooling, but the citizens, especially due to corruption, have benefited little from this, feeling on the other hand that their own security is increasingly threatened, which has dented the popularity of President .
The crucial unresolved nodes range from security to job creation, from the revival of the economy to the fight against corruption, but Tshisekedi is accused of having in his ranks much of the same corrupt ruling class that contributed to the destruction of the country in the days of Mobutu and Kabila, and the development of these elections echoes their methods. One of the most urgent interventions is required on the country’s biggest economic engine, the mining sector. Apart from being the main cause of the fierce conflicts in the east, it is also the source in most mining areas of serious human rights violations and illicit trafficking. Various international organisations claim that the civil rights space in this country is progressively shrinking mainly due to what is happening in this region.
The state of siege announced by Tshisekedi in the eastern provinces of North Kivu and Ituri in 2021 in an attempt to resolve the conflicts has dramatically worsened the situation, the army itself becoming a destabilising actor . The eastern conflict has also generated an unhealthy involvement of China – this was already the case during Joseph Kabila’s regime – a power that for years has been supplying weapons and drones to the Congolese government in exchange for unprecedented privileges in the extraction of rare metals: Chinese companies now control most of the cobalt, uranium and copper mines, and the Congolese army has repeatedly deployed at their mining sites to protect them .
The United States, once the largest holder of the vast cobalt mines then lost to Chinese companies during the administrations of Barack Obama and Donald Trump , is now keeping to the sidelines in trade relations with Congo DRC. The West is already losing its influence in most African countries – the UN and Europe are forced to withdraw their contingents in certain missions such as MINUSMA , EUCAP and EUMPM , with France failing in operations under its command in Barkhane and Takuba among others – and with Congo DRC things are no better. Russia, on the other hand, is very active in Congo DRC in seeking the favours of governments – preferably military dictatorships – like those of the Congolese government: after all, Félix Tshisekedi has already shown in the recent past that he prefers Putin’s handshakes to those of the West, meeting Russian officials and sending his own to Moscow and not missing an opportunity to criticise the West for policies aimed at ‘sanctioning’ rather than collaborating, an attitude considered blackmailing and moralising. Preferring Russia with its soft power strategy, unconcerned about the government’s malfeasance rather than ready to write off its debt, is now a well-established path .
Tshisekedi therefore has a complicated task ahead of him and the premises are not exciting. True, solid revolutions are those that move forward in small steps, but in the meantime there are 100 million Congolese, many of them crushed by poverty, hunger and unspeakable violence, who cannot wait.
But this is the dark face that human beings manage to create, destroying and transfiguring what a wonderful continent like Africa can give to every living being that inhabits it.