Democratic Republic of the Congo: policy continuity with or without a government of national unity

The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s independent electoral commission set a revised date of January 22 for the inauguration of the country’s next president. The rescheduled date complies with and allows for a seven-day deadline for Congo’s Constitutional Court to rule on final results of the country’s disputed presidential election held December 30.

Congo political parties and observers continue to prioritize legal means to address the outcome of the presidential election. The provisionally-elected president, Félix Tshisekedi of the opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), is liaising with the outgoing government of President Joseph Kabila to convey mutual confidence and trust in the transition to Congo’s next possible government. 

Martin Fayulu, of the opposition Lamuka alliance, saw his legal appeal over losing the election – which he claimed having won with some 60% of the vote – received by the Constitutional Court  for due process insofar as the electoral commission rescheduled its release of final results from January 15 and the provisionally-scheduled presidential inauguration from January 18. 

Concern for political stability and transparency has led two regional political institutions, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) to issue diplomatic communications suggesting for a vote recount. Furthermore, leaders from the SADC bloc, led by Zambian President Edgar Lungu, floated the idea of the Congo forming a government of national unity to resolve the political dispute, saying that this mechanism has seen success in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Kenya. 

Communications from the regional institutions SADC and the ICGLR are instructive to note as political recognition – or the lack thereof – from neighboring peers convey significant influence and shape governing decision-making more so than from any other foreign agency. Diplomatic statements and criticism from non-African governments are certainly heard out but do not consistently lead to an alternate outcome, as host governments in Africa, and certainly in the Congo, are very sensitive to defend their political imperatives against real or perceived foreign and especially Western manipulation.

Whether the Congo proceeds to install a Tshisekedi-led government on January 22, or negotiate an inclusive government that reflects an outcome that saw Tshisekedi, the country’s third-place vote getter (and outgoing government’s candidate) Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary of the Common Front for Congo (FCC), as well as Fayulu each, earn a sizable vote count, the outcome for the country’s political environment makes for continuity and indeed autonomy. 

Policy differences between the outgoing Kabila administration and the party of provisionally-elected president Tshisekedi were not meaningfully articulated during the latter’s campaign season, and given how the UDPS leader lauded Kabila for his presidential leadership and political conduct, there is not likely to be a deep divergence in the economic outlook. In other words, there would likely be continuity and little priority towards shifting from Kabila’s legislative and regulatory priorities conducted in 2018 that not only saw the Congo government successfully negotiate a greater share of crucial mining sector revenues but saw mining sector exports rise despite criticism from foreign mining companies operating in the country. 

While Fayulu’s Lamuka alliance might have been open to altering some legislative or regulatory terms facing the country’s strategic mining sector – certainly if Lamuka alliance architect and former governor Moïse Katumbi of the mining-rich Katanga province bore influence over this portfolio – but given the directionality of the Congo’s electoral politics, the path forward is going to be about compromise and persuasion. Given how Kabila’s FCC party also won a majority of seats in the country’s national assembly, there is no clear mandate on bringing about structural economic change. 

As for forming a government of national unity, the precedent among African governments facing disputed election results that are also questioned by neighboring peers is that the incumbent (or in this case, Tshisekedi) is provided considerable recognition that verges on primacy, while the challenger is given a substantial supporting role. It is not for certain, though, that the Kabila and Tshisekedi parties will automatically defer to neighboring or foreign diplomacy to resolve the elections dispute. Instead, party officials asserting Congo’s sovereignty may defend the processes and verdict of Congo institutions as warrantless of foreign approval.  

To be sure, no matter the political discussions and deliberations that certainly will intensify in the coming days, there will be no suspension in demand for Congo’s strategic mineral resources, notably cobalt but also copper and coltan. As there had been no material disruption to mining sector production in 2018 despite the adverse legislative and regulatory policy changes, foreign mining operators in the Congo will likely be just as pleased to see a new government formed out of political compromise, focused on political posturing rather than partisan preferences.

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