With voting just three weeks away in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s only second multi-party election since independence, Enough Project field researcher Fidel Bafilemba considers incumbent President Joseph Kabila’s legacy and the way the election process has shaped up to strongly lean in his favor. Bafilemba, who was born and raised in eastern Congo, reflects on the ambitious plan laid out by Kabila five years ago and about how, in the absence of much to show for his tenure, the president is looking for other ways to secure is re-election.
It seems Kabila has recognized the shortcomings of his administration and has moved to leverage his considerable political influence in the upcoming elections. As noted in the blog post, “Controversial Constitution Review a Bellwether for More Disarray in Congo?” Kabila’s controversial move to unilaterally alter the constitution marked the start of a tumultuous period in Congolese politics. His revisions have scrapped a multi-round run-off system in favor of one round of voting—potentially resulting in a president elected without a majority of votes. Kabila’s move was one of political expediency. After years of consuming the country’s assets while providing almost nothing to the people in return, his national image has been severely undermined. Under the old system this decline in popularity, along with significant defections of former allies to the opposition, left him with grim prospects of re-election. However, without a run-off system he may well be able to eke out a win by earning a plurality of votes. According to former North Kivu civil society chairman Jason Luneno, now opposition candidate Vital Kamerhe’s campaign manager for the province, the president’s coalition has requisitioned the entire Congolese air fleet in a bid to obstruct his challengers’ ability to ship their campaign materials throughout the country.
Beyond electoral maneuvering, officers in the various militias and army regiments active in eastern Congo have expressed during interviews with Enough their willingness to use force to keep Kabila in power if the elections do not go in his favor. Like in the case of now-deposed Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo, the whispers of armed opposition to electoral results pervade the regions of the east. It is possible, regardless of the result, that the elections will stoke the embers of conflict in the country.
Read the full field dispatch: “Kabila After Five Years – A Personal Retrospective”