Kabila went on the offensive this week, visiting Mbuji-Mayi and Gemena. That’s roughly like Barack Obama appearing on Fox News. The diamond capital of the Congo – and one of its poorest cities – Mbuji-Mayi is the stronghold of Etienne Tshisekedi’s UDPS, while Gemena is an MLC bastion. While the president said that he had come on a humanitarian mission, to see for himself the effects of the recent unrest in Dongo and the flooding in Mwene Ditu, it was obvious that he was on a diplomatic offensive. He announced that he wanted MONUC to present a plan for drawdown by the June 30th, 2010, on the occasion of the country’s 60th anniversary of independence. Then he let it be known that, while donors will help finance local elections next year, the Congo will take care of the national legislative and presidental elections in 2011. The 2006 national elections had cost $500 million, while MONUC estimated that the local elections could cost $160 million. If the Congolese government really does fund its own elections, it will cost over 10% of its budget. (Kabila’s announcemet did keep the door open for some outside help.) Not easy – one main reason the 2006 elections came off so smoothly was due to the logistical miracle that MONUC pulled off, deploying much of its fleet of aircraft and trucks to help distribute and collect ballots and election staff.
What does this mean? It’s a further move towards shrugging off unwelcome interference in doemstic affairs. This trend has been abundantly clear since the 2006 elections; the word “sovereignty” has cropped up more and more in official declarations since then. If donors don’t fund the elections, they have less leverage over controlling and overseeing the process. The same goes for MONUC – their hundreds of electoral, political, civil affairs and human rights officers provide detailed daily reporting about what’s going on in the country (not that this information is always put to best use). If they are gone, the Congo will be out of sight, out of mind.
I think Kabila, if he is really serious about this, is making a mistake. MONUC’s presence has not prevented his officials from cracking down on the opposition, rig gubernatorial and senatorial elections and commit rampant abuses. If he keeps MONUC, he will be able to continue to do this AND blame them for being useless. But it may all just be bluster. After all, he’s just asked for a timetable. Shortly after the announcement, he said that he had great relations with MONUC.