Op-Ed: Did police intervention just prevent a civil war in Congo? Special
In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where the loser of recent national elections, Etienne Tshisekedi, had prepared to declare himself president today, found security forces blocking his residence and prevented the alternative ”swearing in”.
The Washington Post reported
that some 1,000 Tshisekedi supporters were tear-gassed by police as they waited to go to a stadium to attend the event. The report warned of the danger of unrest if the opposition leader created an alternative presidential inauguration.
Election winner, Joseph Kabila, was sworn in Tuesday as DRC's president, after the country's Supreme Court recognised his November 28 election victory. Kabila won 48,9 percent of the vote
, with Tshisekedi getting 32,3 per cent.
Unlike elections in many African countries, this is a credible result, in comparison with the winners getting 99 percent of the vote. However, irregularities were reported as soon as election results came in.
Among others, the UN called on political leaders to ensure their supporters refrained from violence and not disrupt the electoral process.
This was followed by a Human Rights Watch report
saying 24 people had been killed by security forces in violence related to the elections. Congo's newly-sworn in government has vowed to investigate the incidents.
The main question these reports raise is the frightening one of civil war in the country. DRC's history has included one of the biggest and least-reported wars in Africa, which cost millions of lives and the country is vast.
A year before the DRC elections, Ivory Coast also had elections and the opposition leader, as the BBC
reported, refused to accept his electoral defeat. In that case, Laurent Gbagbo's refusal to accept Allassane Ouattara's victory led to violence which cost 3,000 lives and led to half-a-million people fleeing their homes. Recent post-election violence has caused a great deal of havoc in other African nations as well.
It is important to emphasise just how much devastation the use of violence has caused in Africa. One well-known example is that of President Robert Mugabe, who appeared to lose the presidential elections in 2008, but then used violence to change the results.
Another well-known move, altogether too popular in Africa, is the “Government of National Unity”, where a party or president is defeated in the actual vote. The defeated politician then tells his followers to start a campaign of violence, and then, with the country facing civil war, calls for a “unity government”. This is a way for politicians to get into government despite losing elections.
Digital Journal put the question of the possibility of serious violence after the elections to one of South Africa's top soldiers, the Chief of Joint Operations, called simply “C.J. Ops”, Lieutenant General Derrick Mgwebi:
“In my view, having been there, that in terms of the levels of security, I do not foresee a stage where the DRC will be asking anybody to come in and help, that's my personal view. Being on the ground and having seen what's happening, and being aware that there are also MONUSCO groups”.
(MONUSCO is the UN peacekeeping force in the country.)
Mgwebi, in summing up the DRC elections, said:
“I think the institutions of democracy need to be strengthened by those who are responsible for that. Looking at the experience … how long did it take to put them on the ground, looking at the legislative decisions that were needed to make sure that it was in place, the funding of that body (CENI, the electoral commission) … it takes some doing. So for me, if those who are responsible to make sure that democracy really does take root.”
So, while it seems an unfortunate act to break up what might seem merely a farcical claim by a disgruntled politician who lost an election, this tough action by DRC's government might just have averted a civil war in Africa's largest country.
At least, just before the “Season of love and goodwill,” I most fervently hope so.