In “No Man’s Land” There are no Elections

After some times of uncertainty the CENI (the National Independent Electoral Commission) of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was able to schedule the presidential and the congressional elections for November 28. Therefore, and if there are no changes, in about three months Congolese will be electing their “new political leaders.” Frankly, it might appear absurd to talk about elections in the DRC since the government does not control certain parts of the national territory, and therefore the upcoming elections might mean nothing for Congolese who are under the control of militias and foreign rebel groups. For instance, parts of eastern Congo are still unstable, polluted by militias and rebel groups. These armed groups include Ugandans rebels of the LRA, the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) the Burundian FNL (National Liberation Forces), and scores of Congolese militias.

For instance, since Monday August 29 in the province of South Kivu there have been brutal fights between the FDLR and a Congolese militia group named Raia Mutomboki. Local civil society organizations and humanitarian agencies report that villages are burnt and people are dispersed; so far the death toll is unknown. Therefore, it is fitting to speculate that the November elections are irrelevant for some Congolese of eastern Congo. Not only have their voices been silenced for years, but they are also exposed to forced labor, daily rapes, and murders.

Moreover, while the academic community is ardent in researching and writing about eastern Congo, there seems to be no firm national or international will to resolve security issues. For about 10 years Kabila’s Government has failed to address insecurity in eastern Congo. Regional as well as international actors appear satisfied as long as there is some “stability” in the region.

I contend here that the quintessential reason as to why the international community is eager to assist the DRC in organizing elections in November is to maintain the apparent stability of the Great Lakes region. Many observers argue that although potentially imperfect, the November elections are crucial for the DRC; the underlying concern is not the stability of the DRC but the stability of the region. As a matter of fact, this is what the November elections in DRC will be all about: preserving the stability of the Great Lakes region while sacrificing the people of eastern Congo.

Although this strategy may be beneficial for the short term, in the long run it might be counterproductive. For example, foreign rebel groups such as the FDLR have an unveiled agenda of destabilizing their native countries. So far, the international community seems not to care as long as the FDLR and other foreign rebel groups are not attacking Rwanda, Uganda or Burundi. And in the meantime, these rebel groups are building capabilities and diversifying their networks.

As the DRC is getting ready for it second “democratic” elections support is coming from everywhere: the European Union has pledged to fund the elections, Rwanda, the UN Mission in the Congo, and other countries and international organizations have offered to assist the DRC.   Though the international community seems fervent to financially assist the DRC in organizing the November elections, rebel organizations are thriving in eastern Congo. Admitting to this fact, the academic community has termed eastern Congo as “the corridor of war,” we might as well refer to it as “no man’s land.” In fact, this is what some parts of the DRC represent: anybody with access and knowledge of weapons and a network to extract resources can lay claim to a portion of eastern Congo. This seems to be fine as long as insecurity is contained in the DRC.

But, how long can we keep the lid on “the corridor of war?” Why are regional actors and the international community reluctant to forcefully deal with local and foreign rebels in eastern Congo? Are we waiting for the FDLR to attack Rwanda before actively engaging them? Meanwhile, when Congolese will be electing their “new leaders” in November, there will be no elections in some parts of eastern Congo. In fact, in “no man’s land” there are no elections.

Patrick Litanga

5 Responses to In “No Man’s Land” There are no Elections

  1. A chilling piece Patrick, thanks for reminding us of the continuing chronic insecurity that is eastern Congo. With such uncertainty in the DRC one is haunted by whether or not the DRC had much to celebrate last year in its 50th anniversary. I just have 2 questions for you; firstly, what are the alternatives for ending the violence in eastern Congo? Secondly, perhaps a much more loaded one, can the Great Lakes and for that matter Africa continue to have a ‘united’ DRC, is the Sudanese solution of cessation farfetched as a precedent or can we begin to envisage another two-state solution?

    • Thanks for your questions Kazi. So far there seem to be two broad alternatives, one sides favors the development and implementation of policies that would limit illegal exploitation of resources in eastern Congo. And the other side is more focused on key security issues at the regional level. As you can tell these two approaches are not necessarily exclusive, and good governance is central to both alternatives. When it comes to whether to keep the DRC “United,” in general the Congolese academic community is suspicious of ideas of separation, some even subscribe on the notion of conspiracy of “Balkanization”: meaning breaking the Congo in smaller countries in order to exploit it by foreign powers. Realistically, insecurity in eastern Congo has no clear sides, as was the case of Sudan (North vs. South). Arms groups in eastern Congo shift their allegiance and make and remake alliances. Evidently, separating the DRC in two countries could be a solution, but the people will have to make that determination, questions of territoriality and viability will need to be addressed. Instead of separating DRC, I personally favor federalization; well, we can continue this debate later.

  2. Je pense humblement que les actuelles autorites de Kinshasa devront lire les signes du temps;apres Ben Ali de l’algerie qui pouvait penser un seul instant que l”invulnerable colonnel KadAfi pourrait vivre en fugitif dans son propres pay.
    Le temps a deja sonner,le Congo aux Congolais Mr Kabila doit partir tant par les urnes ou par la revolution popiulaires.
    Parlant des urnes,la credibite de l’actuel president de la commision electorale est contestee et contestable,il ya sous peu il etait le Tea-Boy de kabila et maintenant il est celui qui doit molester l’evangile et proclamer Kabila president.
    Pasteur Ngoyi Mulunda pourquoi continuer a souiller le nom de Dieu jusqu’a ce point?

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