Democratic Republic of the Congo: non-interference & elections resolve

The African Union will convene a head of state and government level meeting January 17 to deliberate on the Democratic Republic of the Congo disputed elections results. The high-level meeting in Addis Ababa is notable as such a specific agenda is a rare event for the continental institution, signifying the importance given to geopolitical developments underway in the Congo. But the African Union’s consensus approach to non-interference in the internal affairs of African states makes for resolving the elections dispute an effort of persuasion and inclusion, and of minimizing disruption and instability.

Ordinarily, a gathering of African heads of state and government at the African Union headquarters in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa would follow a series of ministerial-level meetings and be long pre-scheduled. Agendas for AU summits do include reviews of country-level concerns, such as insecurity challenges and contested political situations. But such reviews usually involve a plurality of countries of concern, rather than just one. Part of this is because, given the geographic magnitude and diversity of the African continent, national governments are usually strictly interested in the affairs of those countries they immediately neighbor, and not in the countries on the far side of the continent from where they sit.

The Congo, however, happens to sit in the heart of Africa and overlaps multiple, more regionally-aligned, political bodies. The Congo forms part of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), and is effectively integrated into the trade dynamics of the East African Community (EAC). Countries comprising these regional institutions hold clearer interests as to the geopolitical stability – or instability – of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The AU will sit to discuss the Congo’s post-election dynamic, which includes an appeal filed at the country’s Constitutional Court by Martin Fayulu of the country’s opposition Lamuka alliance, who claim to have won approximately 61% of the presidential election votes held on December 30. The Congo’s independent electoral commission has, on the other hand, released provisional results stating that rival opposition candidate, Félix Tshisekedi of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (its French acronym is UDPS), won the presidential election, securing 39% of the tally against Fayulu’s 35%. Candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary of the outgoing government’s Common Front for Congo (FCC) alliance came in third place with 24% of the vote. Neither Shadary nor outgoing President Joseph Kabila has contested Tshisekedi’s provisional victory, with Shadary practically immediately after the release of provisional results conceding to the opposition UDPS party leader.

When regional institutions in Africa and their governing leaders gather to deliberate on contested political dynamics, it is usually a circumstance of an incumbent leader and liberation-era political party on the stubborn defensive against demands of a long-recognized oppositional party or movement. In the case of the Congo and it’s highly anticipated national elections intended to provide for the country’s first-ever non-violent and democratic transition of presidential power, what complicates the common engagement strategy of a diplomatic diffusion of political tensions is that in fact, an opposition party has provisionally won the all-important presidential vote. That the sitting government, which under Joseph Kabila has held power since 2001 (and under Joseph Kabila’s father, Laurent Kabila, since 1997), is not challenging the provisional victory is also an unprecedented territory for African Union diplomacy to mediate.

Politically it is difficult for the African Union as an institution to choose sides in a political dispute, though individual African governments have frequently done so when their national interests were in jeopardy (conventionally by a neighboring and hostile government). In the case of the contemporary Congo, it is not clear that any neighboring governments hold interests clearly in jeopardy as to the country’s elections dispute (though that’s not to say there aren’t preferences as to Congo government behavior informed by Kinshasa’s geopolitical strength, or, weakness).  

As such, and given how a panoply of Congo state institutions, notably the Constitutional Court, are engaged in resolving the elections dispute, the African Union and its gathering of leaders in Addis Ababa have little precedent for mediating the dispute beyond persuasion and empathy toward all sides. The outlook, therefore, means continued policy continuity, more so given the cooperative tone between Kabila’s FCC and Tshisekedi’s UDPS. 

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