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DR Congo elections: Could Kabila lose?

By François Soudan. Translated by Brandice Walker
Posted on Tuesday, 29 November 2011 06:40

His track record is less than exemplary yet he acts as though he has already been re-elected. Wielding a strong control over the Democratic Republic of Congo’s state apparatus, the incumbent president did not face any real opposition ahead of the first round of polls, given that his divided opponents made it easier.

“The people live in misery… will this population re-elect us? I think so. The population is not easily fooled.” From his half casual half metallic nasally voice and a sense of, “I’m untouchable,” the 40-yr-old Joseph Kabila Kabange sometimes makes incredible statements. That one was uttered on 18 October, in Kinshasa, following a nearly three hour long press conference where the incumbent leader appeared sure of his victory and in control of his nerves, even if he wasn’t in control of his words.

That statement said it all: the acknowledgement of failure and the certainty that he won’t be sanctioned at the murky polls. But does this strange and complex man who has been in power for a decade have the support needed to win. The answer is obvious. As part of an election where he stands as a lone force towering over a divided opposition, the incumbent is always the winner. Just look at what happened in Cameroon’s recent elections.

Kabila’s victory seems almost anecdotal. Powers that be control the legitimised state violence of the army and police. There has been controversy over the degree of independence and the lack of preparation of the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) headed by the controversial Pastor Daniel Ngoy Mulunda.

Convinced of his victory in the presidential race (“Where I’m certain is that, I will not lose”, he said) in a country where electoral transparency has hardly progressed since the previous polls in 2006, Kabila is less confident in the legislative elections.

The head of state boasts of the 7 per cent growth in 2010, inflation contained at less than 10 per cent and a battle to attain the qualification point of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC).

He also talks about the kilometres of roads built within the framework of his large scale construction projects. “We lost forty-something years,” he explained on 18 October. “All we’re trying to do is make up for lost time.”

“A Polar Star”

On 14 September, under a tent erected at his farm in Kingakati-Beune, 80 km from Kinshasa, Kabila spoke of his vision for a “revolution of modernity” that will transform the DR Congo into a “country of reference with strong growth” in 2030 and into a “world power” by 2060. Through education, citizenship awareness programmes and the creation of vague “excellence incubators”, Central Africa’s sleeping giant will finally become that “house on top of the mountain,” that “polar star in a constellation of nations”.

Like Moses, guiding his herd towards the promised land, Joseph Kabila doesn’t hesitate to make use of an evangelical pastor’s choice of words to seduce. These are people who – since independence in 1961 – have lived both with a dream of what life could be, and the daily scandal of what it is.

Kabila’s agenda is both vague and sly. He agrees to everything, gladly plays the nationalist card, and charms the Congolese with a refrain that tells of the potential wealth of the country owned by ever citizen.

When he swears that this time the expansion of the ‘great Inga’ hydroelectric dam will happen, the message is clear: with me, you’ll be the masters of your destiny.

The trick is well known by Congolese: their former President Mobutu Sese Seko exhausted it. But it still works. Its essence is based on the will of the Congolese to live together. It is a position that has the added advantage of helping Kabila avoid explaining DR Congo’s outrageous economic results and position on global rankings.


The DRC has been on the brink for a decade, and it is still there. The real progression of the GDP per capita does a bad job at hiding the disturbing stagnation of social indicators. Kabila’s country is last on the UN Human Development Index (HDI) according to the UN Development Programme (UNDP), 178th out of 183 countries in the World Bank’s Doing Business rankings, and comes in at 164 out of 178 in Transparency Internationals’ corruption index.

Life expectancy is on average nine years less than Congo-Brazzaville, close to three years less than Somalia, and two less than Burundi. According to the 2011 UNDP report, average time spent in school is three and a half years. The gross national revenue per capita is hardly higher than Liberia’s, which is much less endowed.

How come none of the figures have seen any improvement since the country achieved political stability after the 2006 elections?

Why is it that almost 11 years after Kabila took power the main challenge still remains the reconstructing of the state, with its main handicap being the general lack of civil spirit at the very top?

With strong support from the donor community and China, Kabila can afford to disregard some of its neighbours with whom it shares distrustful relations. South Africa, among others, have secretly supported the country’s opposition.

And as none of the opposition leaders have been able to put their egos aside to allow one united candidate to stand against him, Kabila will, without a doubt, not have to take blame for this ongoing social wreck.

The Titanic that is the DR Congo will thus probably continue its route, with the same captain.

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