First, the good news: in the wake of the Democratic Republic of Congo's disputed presidential election, we have yet to see any instances of mass violence. That's about the only good news, however. Tensions are high, the opposition has rejected the official election results (which gave 49% to incumbent President Joseph Kabila), and opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi is openly calling on the army to defect to his side and asking them to bring Kabila to him alive. Tshisekedi believes that he won the election with 56% of the vote and has planned his own inauguration ceremony in the capital this Friday. Kabila, meanwhile, will be inaugurated on Tuesday. Tshisekedi and other opposition leaders have called on the Congolese to make Tuesday a day of “ghost cities,” wherein everything will be quiet as people stay home in protest.
The Congo’s opposition leaders have been very careful to push for peaceful resistance to Kabila’s re-inauguration, but it is unclear if the peace will hold. Security services loyal to Kabila are making a strong show of force in Kinshasa (a Tshisekedi stronghold) and other major cities. They have thus far met attempted protests with a swift and violent response, meaning that protests in the country have been very limited so far, though UN media outlet Radio Okapi reports today that a group of pro-opposition women have been able to stage a peaceful sit-in outside of the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa in the name of urging the international community to take action.
This makes for a dangerous situation. Both Kabila and Tshisekedi are under tremendous pressure from the international community to keep the situation in DRC peaceful moving forward, and to keep their supporters under control. However, given that Kabila’s forces are preventing most types of protest – peaceful or otherwise – it is unclear whether Tshisekedi or anyone else will be able to keep opposition supporters from resorting to violence to make their voices heard. Few Congolese want violence, but if there is no outlet for peaceful expression of disagreement with the official election outcomes, some could resort to that path. The opposition did challenge the results at the country’s Supreme Court, but the Court (which is heavily stacked with Kabila supporters) found in favor of the official results, meaning that there are no further legal means by which to challenge them.
Outside of Kabila’s administration, there is widespread agreement among domestic and international observers that the Congolese elections were deeply flawed and marked with serious instances of fraud, particularly in the vote tabulation stage. The Carter Center, the European Union, the United States, the Congolese Catholic Church, and other observer groups have all issued critical statements noting that the results lack credibility. As such, a cloud hangs over Kabila’s scheduled Tuesday inauguration and Tshisekedi’s plans for a parallel ceremony. It is highly unlikely that Tshisekedi will be able to leave his house for Saturday’s events, much less hold an inauguration ceremony in the 80,000-seat Stade des Martyrs as is his stated intention. What will happen after that is anyone’s guess.
Laura Seay is an assistant professor of political science at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia where she teaches courses on African politics, conflict, and international affairs. She also maintains an academic blog examining Africa politics, security, development and advocacy at: texasinafrica.blogspot.com. The views expressed here are her own.