This post has been edited since it was first published.
In retrospect, it is alarming how few repercussions there were for the extremely flawed Congolese elections of November 2011. Diplomats condemned the irregularities, sometimes vociferously, but soon inertia and donor discord set in, and they were reluctant to do much more. What could we do? Is the refrain I heard from several embassies in Kinshasa, pointing to the reluctance to use more heavy-handed tactics, such as aid suspension, and to funding a re-run of the costly elections. Eventually, they chose not to contest the elections but to try to use Kabila’s perceived weakness to press for changes: the redesign of the electoral commission, the arrest of Bosco Ntaganda, and security sector reform.
By March 2012 donor attention was already beginning drift, and––in the face of repression––civil society and the political opposition had been unable to pressure the government through street protest. But it was perhaps the M23 mutiny in early April that book-ended the post-electoral crisis. On the one hand it signaled Kabila’s readiness to carry out one donor demand, the arrest of Ntaganda (although this was only a small factor in the emergence of the M23), on the other it formed a distraction to the electoral crisis. The M23 had intended to strike Kabila when he was weak, and take advantage of the rampant opposition against him internationally and domestically––ironically, they accomplished the opposite, making him appear the victim and deviating donor attention.
Kabila formed a government, convened a raucous parliament in which he held a firm majority, and overcame opposition to hold the Francophonie summit in Kinshasa in October 2012. While he stumbled in two key governor elections–Province Orientale and Bas-Congo––and was forced to reform the electoral commission, the electoral crisis seemed to be behind him. (Read here why the proposed electoral reform, which gives the presidency of the commission to the civil society, does not go far enough).
Over the past several months, however, civil society has come up with several initiatives to revive the debate around elections, as well as other issues––in particular, the assassination of Floribert Chebeya, the de facto house arrest of Etienne Tshisekedi. The three main initiatives are led by AETA (coalition of NGOs working on elections), Les Amis de Nelson Mandela (bringing together human rights groups), and the Forum National.
This latter initiative is perhaps also the most ambitious one, including the major opposition parties (UDPS, UNC, MLC) are participating in its meetings, as well as several parties from the ruling coalition (AFDC and ECT). Its leaders insist they are not interested in a new power-sharing agreement, but that they want to promote crucial institutional reforms, make sure the next rounds of elections are held, and that the crisis in the East is brought to an end. They have received some encouragement (but are not financed or guided by) from international NGOs such as NDI, Carter Center and ILC. Yesterday, a meeting took place trying to federate or unite these initiatives.
However, the Forum faces stiff challenges. President Kabila, who called for national consultations to promote national cohesion in a December speech is unlikely to want to engage with this body on these broad terms of reference (you can find an outline of the Forum’s ambitions here), and will say that the place for discussing these matters is in the constitutionally mandate institutions.
The second challenge will be to forge cohesion among a fractious civil society and opposition. Different participants have different agendas––at a meeting this week, UDPS delegates called President Kabila’s entire legitimacy into question, while most other parties have agreed as a matter of pragmatism no longer to call his election into question. There have also been clashes between different opposition groupings––there are now two Forces acquises aux changement (FAC), one led by Lisanga Bonganga, the other by Martin Fayulu.
Below is an interview I did on earlier this week with Nickson Kambale, the moderator of the national preparatory committee of the Forum National, who describes the mandate and ambitions of the group.
Here is the interview: