When discussing their possible relinquishment of power, the questions with many African dictatorships have been what happens after the regime steps down and will it be any better? This dilemma has been no different in regard to the government of Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), as he has kept firm reigns on the political process. But it looks like change is coming. Mr. Kabila’s 20-year reign of corruption may be coming to a close in less than a month.
The two main opposition parties, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) and the Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC) have just announced an agreement between their respective leaders Felix Tshisekedi and Vital Kamerhe, to jointly hold power over the next political cycle.
“The official agreement was signed on Friday, Nov. 23, in Nairobi and represents a turning point in what is possibly the most important election the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has seen in recent history,” read the statement released by the new coalition.
“The very fact of the agreement indicates the two leaders’ steadfast commitment to a new vision for Congo. This vision honors and celebrates the legacy of Etienne Tshisekedi, father of Felix Tshisekedi, and founder of the UDPS. For a country at an historic crossroads where its’ very future is at stake, this election signifies a stark choice between peace and unrest; a choice between major reforms that will help to lift Congo’s people out of poverty and into a progressive future and a chequered past of uncertainty and fear,” statement said.
Congolese watchers will grasp at once the historic significance of this development. The DRC is a large, strategically-located country rich in minerals and very much sought by Russia and China. The quest by Beijing to control rare-earth minerals and other commodities is well-known, especially throughout Africa, where their methods have caused concern among locals and Western leaders alike. The massive debt created by the Chinese One Belt One Road project has led to a new form of colonialism and debt-enslavement to China. Mr. Kabila is a graduate of the People Liberation Army National Defense University in Beijing.
However, the deepening Russian involvement by mercenary forces and other Kremlin proxies is not so well known. The “Wagner Group’s” escapades in the Central African Republic are infamous, including the recent deaths of three journalists investigating their activities. Yevgeny Prigozhin, otherwise known as “Putin’s Cook,” is quickly growing a paramilitary force in the region in order to strip Africa of its wealth, mining its enormous natural resources — to the detriment of Congo and its people.
The political agreement made between the opposition parties presents Felix Tshisekedi as the leading candidate vying for the presidency, with Vital Kemerhe to serve as prime minister. After the first term, the two would switch positions.
This strategy depends, above all, on holding free and fair elections. The opposition coalition is very concerned about the use of electronic voting machines in a country with an intermittent electrical supply and a high possibility of election manipulation. The likelihood is the regime will attempt to remain in power by any means. International election monitors are 100 percent necessary and imperative to ensure that the vote is free and fair. However, Mr. Kabila has blocked Western entities from implementing any such oversight, including official observers from such organizations as the Carter Center in Atlanta. Voter and election suppression are valid and worrying concerns, to say the very least.
In addition to fears of voter fraud, the regime began to promote suspicious terror threats. These threats often materialize when opposition candidates hold rallies. The threat of violence prevents mass gatherings, and allows road blocks and other disruptions leveraged by the regime in order to influence the political process.
At the time of the writing of this article, the two opposition leaders are returning to Kinshasa, where more than 1 million Congolese are lining the streets to get a glimpse of leaders committed to a more hopeful and peaceful future. They long for a chance to rise out of the relentless and extreme poverty the nation has experienced for decades.
When asked about the upcoming election, Felix Tshisekedi declared, “The upcoming G20 meeting in Argentina is a perfect platform to address the importance of DRC’s upcoming elections and peaceful transition of government. We are a significant contributor to several minerals to the world that in many cases are important to other economies’ national or economic security. We are on the verge of a significant transition of the presidential administration that can finally alleviate the human suffering of our nation and positively contribute to world security and mineral resource needs. I request and welcome the involvement and contribution of the G20 toward securing peaceful, free and fair elections in DRC for our people, Africa and the world.”
In order to ensure free and fair elections in the DRC, the international community and the U.S. government must put pressure on the Kabila regime to allow the long-suffering Congolese people to cast their votes. Free and fair elections should be held with international monitors in attendance, so the people of the DRC will feel confident in the legitimacy of the process.
A credible and peaceful transition of power in the DRC will enhance the prospects for peace not just in the Congo, but for the African region.
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