On Monday, the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) held a roundtable on the ongoing crisis taking place in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The various speakers looked at the challenges regarding the electoral process in Congo and what Congolese actors can learn from the various pro-democracy and anti-corruption movements in South Africa. The Daily Vox team were at the roundtable.
The main issues that were raised during the roundtable were that the current president of the DRC Joseph Kabila needs to step down immediately and secondly that elections cannot take place in the current climate that the DRC finds itself in. The speakers’ discussion centred around what needs to happen in order for Kabila to step down, elections to take place and a change in leadership to happen.
However, many of the speakers raised questions around whether the current environment that exists in the DRC would be conducive to elections taking place this year with the general consensus from the panelists and audience that is not something that can happen.
Gerard Bisambu, the executive director of the civil society observer organisation Agir pour les Elections Transparentes et Apaisées who presented on the electoral crisis in the DRC said the environment in the country does not support elections and that the election calendar created by the government just serves to trick the international community. Bisambu said if elections take place in the current situation, they will only seek to reposition Kabila into power.
Additionally, Bisambu said that those in power actually want a referendum which they will then use to change the constitution to allow Kabila to rule without limit. Bisambu said the violence that is ongoing in the country is a political ploy: “Violence in political instrumentation to prevent elections. Kabila’s removal will allow relative stability.”
Bisambu also said that the way moving forward for the people of the DRC was a citizen’s transition meaning the people should be allowed to pick their leader and their own futures.
Ida Sawyer, central Africa director at HRW said that there needs to be stronger political leadership from the South African Development Community (SADC). In particular, Sawyer said that South Africa president Cyril Ramaphosa needs to take a stronger position against Kabila, something which was absent while former president Jacob Zuma was in power.
In response to a question from the audience, Sawyer said South Africa should be taking the following measures: “Cutting bilateral support to the Congolese government is certain benchmarks aren’t met like credible elections are held and Kabila stepping down. South Africa could consider imposing targeted sanctions against top Congolese officials and those responsible for the oppression, corruption and human rights abuses. A lot of Congolese officials have assets in South Africa.”
She said South Africa could also support a transition towards elections with a condition of Kabila stepping down. However, over and above, Sawyer said there needs to be bolder leadership from African leaders in getting Kabila to step down.
Another important issue that was raised was regarding the role that South Africa needs to play. It was discussed that South Africa’s role in the Congo needs to extend beyond just the government’s role towards the role that South African multinationals play in the continuing conflict in the region. Participants said that multinationals, many of them South Africa, that operate in the DRC are benefitting from the continuing political instability in the DRC and that is something that needs to be addressed along with the removal of Kabila.
One of the audience make a heart-wrenching statement to the audience saying that Congolese life is being reduced to statistics and asked where is the humanity. This was a sentiment echoed by many of the audience members, who formed part of the Congolese diaspora. The audience members questioned where was the international outrage, media support and general awareness of the terrible conditions that people of the DRC were being made to live in.
Hameeda Deedat, a researcher from Cosatu (Congress of South African Trade Unions) who presented on lessons from South Africa for the DRC said an important thing to note which is that democracy is not as simple as just elections and that the framework of economic interests and democracy needs to be rethought.
The discussion was a very robust and interesting one that posed many questions for the struggle of the Congolese people moving forward. It also showed how nobody can dictate the struggles and means of resistance of another as well as the importance of an intersectional struggle. Representatives from both the HRW and EISA distanced themselves from comments made by audience members and panelists regarding the use of violence in the struggle. They also distanced themselves from comments made by audience members which could have been interpreted as anti-semitic.