Source : the, magazine of the Institute for Security Studies (
Issue 5 * February/March 2010

The African Org magazine

DRC Politics.
The politics of Continuity?

On the eve of its 50th birthday, the internal stability of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Africa’s third largest nation, remains highly volatile, writes Hans Hoebeke*

Despite a successful election in 2006, surges of assertive nationalism against a dysfunctional “international community” tend to mask the major deficiencies of the DRC political system. It is marred by corruption and it is still largely neopatrimonial in nature.
The 2006 elections had raised hopes, among the majority of the Congolese and the international community, of a new beginning that would effectively end more than a decade of war and instability.
The two Congo wars (1996-1997 and 1998-2003), were largely the outcome of more than three decades of rampant mismanagement, corruption and authoritarianism that were the hallmark of the Mobutu Sese Seko era. This system was commonly described as a “kleptocracy”. Joseph-
Désiré Mobutu’s ascendancy to power in 1965 initially appeared to have brought stability to what was basically a chaotic post-independence period. But his rule gradually turned former Zaire into an implicitly failed state.
The 2006 elections were the culmination of a three-year transition period that started in 2003, following the Inter-Congolese Dialogue, a process in which all the political forces of the DRC were represented. The elections revealed a cleavage between the eastern and the western provinces of the country. The eastern provinces voted massively for Joseph Kabila while those in the west were clearly won by the Mouvement de Liberation du Congo (MLC) of Jean-Pierre Bemba, former rebel leader and one of the four vice-presidents in the complex transitional government arrangement.
Another factor of electoral strength in the west was the Parti Lumumbiste Unifie (PALU) party of octogenarian Antoine Gizenga, a historical political figure with a strong political base in Kinshasa and the Bandundu Province. In the second presidential run-off, Gizenga and PALU allied themselves to Joseph Kabila. This alignment undoubtedly provided Kabila with the critical political base in that part of the country. In return Gizenga (succeeded in 2008 by Adolphe Muzito) and PALU were compensated with the position of Prime Minister and a number of other key ministries that included finance. While in general the elections were peaceful in most places, violent incidents broke out in Kinshasa between government forces and armed elements loyal to Bemba. The lull that followed the elections was short-lived. In March 2007 heavy fighting erupted in Kinshasa between Bemba’s rag-tag band of bodyguards and the “Garde Républicaine”. In this confrontation the government quickly lost control of the situation until the intervention of their Angolan allies, which restored their edge. It was however not the last case where the government had to confront its opponents. For instance, government subsequently acted militarily to quell flare-ups in Bas-Congo Province against the Bundu dia Kongo religious sect and the ever-bolder CongresNational pour la Defense du Peuple (CNDP) rebels of the renegade Congolese Tutsi general, Laurent Nkunda in the North Kivu Province.

The conflict in the Kivu provinces continues to have a profound political impact on the DRC. It is here that government strategies were tested and exposed as non-viable. The insistence on a military solution against the CNDP, which resulted in a number of serious military defeats, badly dented government’s credibility both nationally and internationally.
It also demonstrated the lack of seriousness on the part of government in dealing with the key issue of Security Sector Reform (SSR). In addition, this heavy-handed approach, undertaken by badly structured and unpaid security forces resulted in major violations of human rights, in both the eastern and western parts of the country. These cases have been welldocumented by the UN and NGO’s.
The last major defeat in November 2008, in which the Forces Armees de la Republique Democratique du Congo (FARDC) government troops effectively retreated and left the city of Goma to the advancing CNDP rebels, came as a serious political blow to Kinshasa. The regime had become increasingly fragile and it would take a dramatic shift of alliances to reverse the tide for Kinshasa.
An agreement with Kigali to mount a joint operation against the Rwandan Hutu Forces Democratiques de Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR) rebelsbased in both Kivu provinces, and the arrest of Laurent Nkunda in Rwanda, marked a new partnership between two old enemies. FDLR rebels were previously allies of the Kinshasa government while Nkunda had become increasingly autonomous and his political ambitions were becoming ever more problematic for his handlers
in Kigali.
The dramatic shift in the east considerably reinvigorated and reinforced the position of Joseph Kabila, at least within the institutions and at the international level. Ironically, the east of the DRC is supposed to be Kabila’s electoral power base, it therefore seemed scandalous of him to seek intervention of Rwandan president Paul Kagame to bring stability to that region.
An important political struggle unfolded in Kinshasa where Vital Kamerhe, Speaker of the National Assembly strongly opposed a collaboration agreement that allowed Rwandan troops to operate in eastern Congo again. Kamerhe originates from South Kivu Province and was one of the key architects of Kabila’s political formation Parti du Peuple pour la Reconstruction et la Democratie (PPRD). Under intense political pressure, Kamerhe was removed from the powerful position in the National Assembly, and was soon replaced by Evariste Boshab, one of Kabila’s key lieutenants.
Interestingly, 2010 and 2011 have been slated as years in which both local and parliamentary / presidential elections will be held respectively. By 2011, Joseph Kabila will have been in power for 10 years, despite the fact he has only had a popular mandate since 2006. He was parachuted into presidency following the assassination of his father, Laurent-Désiré Kabila in 2001.
So far, both the peace process and the elected government have failed to improve human security in the eastern provinces, where the fighting continues with its concomitant serious human rights violations. Despite this, the government, in an effort to reassert its legitimacy, is increasingly
upping the pressure to draw down the presence of the UN peacekeeping force, MONUC. It hopes to capitalize on the mission’s lack of popularity.
However, one of the key conditions for such a withdrawal, which is the success of the SSR process, is seriously lagging behind, with little real progress shown so far. As the latest report of the UN Panel of Experts demonstrates, even during the Kimia II operations in South Kivu, high-ranking operatives of the FARDC were continuing their collaboration with the FDLR.
The political strategy of the Kabila government rests on the so-called “cinq chantiers” or “five pillars”, an ambitious plan for the reconstruction of the country in five key domains: infrastructure, health and education, water and electricity, housing and employment. Despite a number of projects and the promise of great investment plans linked to the Chinese contracts in the mining sector, the effects of the reconstruction programme remain mitigated.
As regards the organisation of the elections, this will largely depend on the availability of the necessary financial and logistical resources, and no guarantee exists that the DRC government will make these abundantly available. In addition, legislation on the territorial administration is lacking thereby hindering the updating of the electoral lists.
At the dawn of the 50th anniversary of its independence, to be celebrated on 30 June 2010, the future stability of the DRC remains highly uncertain. Certainly, the 2006 elections were a major step in the right direction, but the challenges ahead remain enormous.
Finally, since the arrest of Jean-Pierre Bemba on behalf of the International Criminal Court – for crimes allegedly committed in the Central African Republic – there is no longer any serious political opposition. Bemba’s arrest has effectively decapitated the MLC, Kabila’s main contender in the previous elections. Tensions are also said to be rising with the PALU, currently providing the Prime Minister. However, that party is very likely to face serious fragmentation since it is highly unlikely that Antoine Gizenga will be able to participate in future elections, and no clear successor exists within its ranks.
In addition, the political elimination of Vital Kamerhe has seriously incapacitated the national assembly as a political actor. While the ensuing scenario could have reinforced the position of the President, it could have also unwittingly left it without any form of countervailing authority. The combination of these elements leaves a very restricted political landscape for the nurturing of democracy in a region that is facing a difficult and uncertain future.

Hans Hoebeke is a senior researcher at the Central Africa Programme of Egmont (Royal Institute for International Relations)