Articles - The Voice of Garanganze:  The Writings of Patrick Kalenga Munongo

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Elections in the D.R. Congo:  Status quo or Progress at Last?
July 8, 2006

With presidential elections fast approaching, all Congolese have their eyes fixated on Election Day. Who will be at the helm of their beleaguered country? Out of the thirty three candidates battling for the highest office in the nation who will make a difference in their lives? These are questions most Congolese have to wrestle with as they prepare for Election Day. The mere fact that the Congo is holding free elections in more than 40 years is commendable. After all the country has had its share of tribulations since gaining independence from Belgium on June 30, 1960. Here are some of the most important events that have marked Congolese history so far: The secession of the mineral rich province of Katanga; years of civil unrest; ethnic strife; Mobutu’s kleptocratic rule of 32 years starting in 1965; the war with Rwandan and Ugandan-led rebel groups and the Kabila years.

With that as a backdrop, it is undeniable that every Congolese is eagerly awaiting the outcome of the elections. In fact, they want to know how the incoming government is going to affect their lives. Will it improve their lot, or will it be status quo? If we were to find an analogy to describe what is happening in the Congo, we might say that for far too long change came in the form of promising trees which bore no fruits. It is no longer enough to demand an exercise in democracy. The Congolese people want to see results and progress, incremental, gradual, and measurable progress.

In electing their next president the citizens of the DRC will be exercising a right, which has for so long eluded them. Stories of democratic successes in other African countries, though scarce, bear no resonance with most of the Congolese people. Elections in the west seem so routine and distant- even when they are occasionally ornamented with pregnant chads- that they appear unattainable to them. Well, the time has arrived for their dream of a democratic society to become a reality.  The time has arrived for Congolese leaders to honor their end of the bargain and to do right by the people; a people whose patience has been tested time and again, and frankly must be wearing thin.

No recount of the Congolese plight would be fair without a mention of the fact that there has been a lot of suffering in the country. Millions of innocents have been killed or have died as a result of the war, either directly or indirectly. There are still too many gaping wounds in society that are in need of healing. We should all hope that the next leader is a person who will unite the people, a conciliator of a country whose traits of commonality have been shattered, and have never been firmly glued to begin with. The complexity of ethnic groups and the realities of ethnic affiliations are still very much part of the Congolese political fabric and that can present a challenge for any government. National borders are disputed with Rwanda and Uganda, whose initial justification to invade the Congo was to bring the genocidaires to justice. Well, we now know that that was not their intent. These facts are in the “UN report on the D.R. Congo resource exploitation”.

 The war in the Congo is now officially over; however we will see whether Rwanda and Uganda can keep their greedy hands out of Congolese internal affairs. In fairness to Rwanda and Uganda, there were other


countries named in the same UN report. The nations that also profited from the spoils of war in the D.R. Congo are Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia; though they did not start the war, nor did they endeavor to undermine the Congolese state, as Rwanda and Uganda so blatantly did.

I have previously written on this issue and so have others; therefore, I will not go on about Rwanda and Uganda’s involvement in the D.R. Congo, even though their actions are inextricably tied to the Congolese predicament. However, the basis of this article is the election, its outcome, and the day after. What will happen 100 days after the elections? Two, three or five years from now, what will be the assessment on issues such as the economy, healthcare, the infrastructure, social services, territorial security, border security, legal protection and human rights, accountability, refugee status and health, reintegration of rebel groups,  the ubiquity of weapons, child soldiers, women’s health and rights, HIV/AIDS and antiretroviral drugs, malaria and tuberculosis treatment, education, corruption, the overhaul of the banking system, employment, agricultural development, mining codes, transparency, and the rule of law, Tax laws, public works, antitrust laws, social marketing and the change of mentalities, among many.

All indications point to the untapped potential that is the D.R. Congo. There are so many possibilities that we have not even begun to fathom. However, in order to reach that potential, and make our dream of a great Congo a reality, there are certain things that the new government will have to tackle as it assumes power. The public can only do so much. Civil society and its sea of NGOs, the business community, and the citizenry have limited though not negligible purview. The bulk of the work, the foundation has to be laid by lawmakers, politicians and the head of state. Change in the D.R. Congo will take hold when old mentalities are discarded, and are replaced by new ones, and that may be the biggest challenge yet.

The aforementioned issues cover the gamut of societal problems that need to be eventually dealt with, if the country is to pull itself from the doldrums, and if the incoming government wants to be the instrument of progress and not the status quo. The list is hardly exhaustive, but its purpose is to get us all to think about what lies ahead, and stir discussions and debate. Governments have the wherewithal to mobilize resources that will be needed to move forward; something private citizens do not have. My hope is that the government will have the fortitude and vision to undertake many of these issues concomitantly. As a Congolese citizen, free of political affiliation and patriot first, I offer my well wishes to the winner. And if I may proffer another piece of advice to the next leadership, it is to set aside any personal ambitions. The incoming administration should put the country first and personal interests last. Serve the people first and do not allow yourself to fall under the whims of corporations. Put God First, always, and only God first.

Good Luck!

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