Democratic Republic of the Congo: likely disputed election outcome, but undisputed policy preferences

The independent electoral commission of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is in the final hours of counting ballots from the country’s December 30 presidential election, with provisional results possibly to be released by January 10. Each of Congo’s three main presidential contenders are expressing confidence as to their likelihood of victory. 

The elections, delayed a week from the original scheduled date of December 23 following a fire at the electoral commission headquarters in Kinshasa, were conducted with varying reports of smoothness and irregularities. What violence and insecurity that have taken place have either been of persistent but isolated militancy by the Allied Democratic Front (ADF) militia in far eastern districts of the Congo that is unconnected to national elections, or of protest marches following the election driven by oppositional impatience to release the results, holding fears that delays are actions by the incumbent Joseph Kabila administration to engineer a preferred electoral result. 

Should provisional results be released by January 10 (and possibly as early as today), what should follow, as far as electoral officials are concerned, is a final tabulation released by January 15, and a presidential inauguration on January 18. 

Of course what independent electoral officials aim to accomplish and what presidential contenders and their supporters want can be completely different things. Should either of the two principal opposition contenders fall short of victory and believe their losses were the result of political manipulation, protest violence is surely to occur, in Kinshasa and their respective geographic areas of support. But the scale of violence would be narrow and sub-strategic, focused on symbols of the Kabila administration, blockading traffic and interfering with governance in Kinshasa, as opposed to orchestrating a national rebellion of the sort seen in 1997, or of targeting a pillar of geopolitical stability such as confronting the country’s mining sector. For neither Félix Tshisekedi, of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) party, nor Martin Fayulu of the “Lamuka” alliance, command rebel activity, and are instead long-standing politicians with civilian business experiences and aspirations.  

For Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, the Kabila administration’s designated successor who ran  on the Common Front for Congo (known by its French acronym, FCC) platform, the benefit of being the incumbent government’s candidate means that legal and institutional structures are at his disposal. Should Congo’s electoral commission determine Shadary won the December 30 vote, his inauguration will proceed on-time and be secured by the interventions of the country’s judiciary, legislature, and security forces to endorse a primacy of legal due process. 

Beyond the result of the presidential election, the policy preferences held by Shadary, Tshisekedi, and Fayulu do not reveal a substantial shift in the Congo’s geostrategic stability from the outgoing Kabila presidency. Shadary has campaigned in preference for a more effective and capable Congo state government, for reforms of state institutions, to include the security forces, as well as calling for economic diversification efforts that promote job creation and socioeconomic welfare improvements. For his part Tshisekedi has notably lauded the Kabila administration for its behavior and leadership, in what is certainly an effort to try to convey confidence that he can be a trusted successor and ally should he and not Shadary emerge the December 30 election victor.  

Fayulu has built his presidential campaign calling for a model of socio-economic growth that will be driven by domestic and foreign investments in good governance programming. The Lamuka candidate has expressed a desire for a style of inclusive and accountable governance that empowers and reconciles citizen participation in development. 

In other words, what each of the three principal presidential contenders have not called for is a substantial redress of the relationship between the state and the pillars of the Congo economy, or in the country’s foreign relations. The efforts seen in 2018 by the Kabila administration to impose unilateral adjustments to the country’s mining code, thereby significantly raising royalty rates, introduced new windfall taxes, and removed contractual concessions granted earlier to foreign-based mining companies, despite loud and hostile criticism from those companies, saw essentially no comment or prominence during the presidential campaign season. For instance, reversing the Kabila administration’s designation of cobalt, germanium, and coltan as strategic minerals commanding a significantly raised export royalty tax rate did not factor in any stated policy preference. For all the bluster from the foreign mining companies, Glencore, Randgold, and AngloGold Ashanti among others continue their operations uninterrupted. It is hard for Congo’s politicians to argue against legislative and regulatory reforms that not only resulted in no disruption to the country’s extractive industries sector but in fact saw export production and government revenue growth in 2018 in the double digits. 

While each of Congo’s three principal presidential contenders may differ in their approach to the style of governance – each at different points along a continuum of state-centrism – what is consistent is asserting a Congo solution to Congo’s political-economic concerns. None are advocating, nor would none survive doing so, reversing the gains of Kabila’s resurgent assertiveness in restoring Congo’s political and economic integrity. 

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