On December 30th, 2018, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) held a general election for a new President. Joseph Kabila, who had held this position previously, stepped down after 17 years in power. After taking the Presidency at the age of twenty-nine following the assassination of the previous leader, his father Laurent-Désiré, Kabila had managed to stay on top through questionable elections and manipulations of the country’s constitution. Although he was not a candidate this year, Kabila reportedly does not reject the idea of running again in the future.
This election counted many candidates coming from various parties; however, only three had a real chance to win the race:
1: Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, an independent, and President Kabila’s preferred successor. Shadary had been serving as Vice Prime Minister of the Interior and Security since the end of 2016, and is under sanctions from the EU for human rights violations following “recent arrests” and “disproportionate use of force”, according to an EU ruling in 2017. Shadary won 23.8% of the votes.
2: Martin Fayulu, a former oil executive. He represents the main opposition to Kabila’s party, and was a member of the National Assembly of Congo from 2011 to 2017. He won 34.8% of the votes.
3: Félix Tshisekedi, leader of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), a party founded by his father Étienne as opposition to Kabila. He won the election with 38.6% of the votes.
Many people called this the first peaceful, democratic transition of power in the Congo since its independence from Belgium in 1960. However, was this really the case? Following his defeat, Fayulu claimed that Tshisekedi had been working with Kabila in order to gain access to presidency. He cites previous fraudulent elections to support his accusations, and claims he actually won more than 60% of the popular vote. He has made an appeal to the Constitutional Court of Congo, but does not believe he will be heard, as he alleges that the court is also corrupt.
Fayulu is not the only one with doubts about the veracity of the election results: the Catholic Church of Congo, and the foreign ministers of France and Belgium have expressed concern over possible fraud. One possible source of fraud were the electronic voting machines, which some allege were used to manipulate results, as they were controlled by the government. The UN Security Council, however, has urged the DRC to respect the results of the election.
Recent unrest also complicates the narrative around the election. A violent ethnic clash claimed the lives of almost 900 people in the Yumbi region in mid-December, according to the UN. The communities of Banunu and Batende reportedly fought for two or three days, which postponed voting in the region. Hundreds died, and more than 450 buildings were damaged, with 16,000 residents displaced because of the violence. The government knew beforehand that those two communities were hostile, yet failed to act.
Another source of unease in the country that hinders the “peaceful, democratic transition” is the Ebola epidemic taking place in the Eastern part of the country. With 300 deaths, it is considered the second-worst Ebola outbreak in history. According to the BBC, the population is afraid that preoccupation about the election may have slowed efforts to diminish the effects of the disease on citizens. While it is unknown if this tragedy had anything to do with the election, it certainly does not make the situation any easier for the scared and agitated population.
It is unpredictable how President-elect Tshisekedi will handle these situations throughout his mandate, but one can only hope he will be able put in the time and resources necessary for both the Ebola epidemic and the ethnic violence occurring in the Congo.