In response to sponsored article in the Guardian: Elections in D.R. Congo, a Model of Democracy and Self-Determination

Dear Sir

I write in response to Mo Ibrahim’sFeb 09 article in the The Guardian(“Congo’s election: a defeat for democracy, a disaster for the people“). The truth is that the DRC has just achieved an unprecedented double feat that many thought impossible: to hold elections in this vast country-continent using its own funds without a single penny from abroad, and to make a peaceful transfer of power between an outgoing president and the leader of the most radical opposition there is.It is anything but a defeat for democracy.

CENI, the electoral commission, has decided not to respond to any external pressure whatsoever. It has given the results to the appropriate Congolese bodies including the Supreme Court, and that’s sufficient according to the law. 

Other countries – not having been involved in organising, sponsoring or observing the electoral process – were initially reluctant to accept the results as safe, valid and true. But it’s interesting to note how rapidly those hesitations dissipated.

The South African Development Community, SADC, which did send observers, was the first to acknowledge the “Congolese miracle”. It very quickly called on all stakeholders “to support the President-elect and his government”.

Then came the African Union: after “calling for the suspension of the proclamation of the final results of the elections”, it did not hesitate at its 32ndSummit to elect the new Congolese President as its 2ndVice-President.

France, although its Minister of Foreign Affairs initially saw the results as “not in line with the results that have been observed here and there”, quickly sent a message of congratulations to the President-elect, stating its readiness “to deepen its cooperation and partnership relations with the DRC”.

The wider European Union, which is now keen to reinstate its Ambassador expelled from the DRC on the eve of the elections, also hastened to take note of the proclamation of the victory of the Opposition candidateFelix Tshisekedi. Having once expressed “serious doubts”, High Representative Federica Mogherini, on behalf of the 28, now hailed the DRC elections as a “major step forward”.

The United States, which had deployed a battalion of its army to Libreville for any post-election contingency in the DRC, and then “acknowledged legitimate concerns about the transparency of the electoral process”, went on similarly to recognize and congratulate the newly elected President.

Finally, the UN Security Council, which met in closed session the day after the elections to discuss the presidential election in the DRC, then also called on all actors to “respect the election results“.

But the real question is what the people want, since they are the only guarantor of the legitimacy of the powers.  The people want leaders they have chosen for themselves, not those who are guided from the outside or imposed by others. And this is what the people of the DRC have demonstrated. It is true that legality does not confer legitimacy, as Kofi Annan has said, but there is no legitimacy without the self-determination of a people.

One of the major achievements of these elections is also the mosaic of parliamentary representatives, the majority of whom come from the former ruling coalition (FCC). With the Presidency going to a former Opponent, balanced by an FCC-majority Parliament, the DRC gains in stability and the opportunity to build on the positive indicators of President Kabila’s 18 years in power: clear economic growth, monetary stability, the start of major projects, and above all the establishment of legal frameworks for the exploitation of minerals (with the new Mining Code). It was therefore good that this momentum should not be interrupted, but the new regime should build on efforts already undertaken. This will only reinforce the progress already achieved. Witch-hunting is not in Congolese culture, let alone exclusion.

The elections in the DRC, by their peaceful nature and beneficial consequences, have ensured the pacification of the Central African region. Already, a number of armed militia, estimated at some 1,700 men by the local authorities of the central Kasai region, have laid down their weapons to demonstrate their support for the democratic process. This suggests the post-election crisis that some people were waiting for will not take place.

While the Catholic Church had assigned 17,000 observers (not 40,000 as initially planned), it could not cover all 74,000 polling stations. Moreover, the data that allegedly leaked from the National Independent Electoral Commission’s system were not publicly confirmed by anyone. And so far, the Catholic Church has not said who it thought has won the elections.

The International Community wanted perfect elections. Those held in the DRC last December were close to perfection. The few technical problems experienced during the operations were quickly solved. And critics who pointed out irregularities at some 500 polling stations somehow failed to mention that the other 99% were error-free. There were very few casualties.

The Congolese people, who validated these elections as proof of their maturity, were delighted. The chaos predicted by people on all sides did not happen. Insecurity has declined. The national currency has appreciated, the country’s finances are improving, and the country’s cities are full of life. Investors are pushing at the gate. Projects such as the Grand Inga Hydroelectric Dam are attracting new investors. Telephone and vehicle manufacturing companies are scrambling for Congolese cobalt and copper as before. 

What are the key learnings from this momentous event? That the DRC has proven that any country can take charge of its own affairs despite the negative prognoses of other nations; and that only the will of a people counts when it comes to defining its future.

Communication and Press Service

Embassy of the D.R. Congo in London