Congo’s First Election in 49 Years: Has Democracy Won, Or Was It A Quiet Coup?

Congolese Catholic Church and 70,000 observers said reformer Fayulu won, but the DRC government declared Tshisekedi the winner

Congo's First Election in 49 Years: Has Democracy Won, Or Was It A Quiet Coup?

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Story Transcript

MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner, it’s great to have you all with us.

At the end of last year, we examined the coming election in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The people of the DRC and those concerned around the globe held their collective breath with this very historic election. It had already been delayed two years by the Kabila regime, and when the election took place this month, it was the first democratic election in the Congo in 49 years, the last one leading to the assassination of the elected leader, Patrice Lumumba, by the CIA and their allied forces.

This election, with three major candidates, Felix Tshisekedi, heir to a resistance legacy, Martin Fayulu, who is a reformer–in the lead, apparently–and the Kabila candidate, Emmanuel Shadary. The tensions began almost immediately when the Roman Catholic Church, with 40,000 election observers, declared Fayulu the winner, but the government declared Tshisekedi the winner. And the question is, has democracy won, or did we just witness a coup by Kabila?

We are joined by Kambale Musavuli, who is the national spokesperson for the Friends of the Congo. And Kambale, welcome. Good to have you back here at The Real News.

KAMBALE MUSAVULI: Thanks for having me.

MARC STEINER: Always good to have you here. So take us back, quickly, with a little history. When we talked last year, we talked about the historic nature of this election. And then we saw things kind of really explode right after the election took place over who actually won this election. So give us some context here.

KAMBALE MUSAVULI: The reason why we are even talking about the election I hope doesn’t get lost. The discussion is there is a victory that took place on December 31 of 2018 that, because the will of the Congolese people, the Congolese government was forced to organize elections. As you mentioned earlier, its being delayed by two years and for the past seven years, the Kabila regime showed every intention not to organize it.

The Congolese people have cornered Kabila. One, they made sure that he doesn’t run again, two, that he doesn’t change the constitution, and three, even for the candidate that he chose that made it impossible for the Electoral Commission to be able to declare that the chosen candidate by Kabila, Emmanuel Shadary, is declared the winner. So that victory is important to know. And unfortunately, the Congolese people paid a huge price. Lots of people were harmed through this process, many killed, many put into prison and many have been pushed into exile. So I wanted to make sure we framed that in that context first.

MARC STEINER: So this is really important, because what you’re saying here, if I’m being clear about this, is you’re saying this entire process, forcing this election, you give to the people of Congo who stood up and said, “We want a democracy, we will not be ruled by a dictatorship by Kabila or anybody else.” That’s what you’re saying.

KAMBALE MUSAVULI: Yes, but it’s actually their constitutional right. The Congolese Constitution gives the president of the Congo only two terms. Kabila has been in power for 17 years. He came through after the assassination of Laurent Kabila, but the first election organized under his regime was in 2006. He was declared the winner then, marked with a lot of irregularities and issues and damage. In 2011, he was declared the winner again, many Congolese descended to the streets, demanding the truth of the poll. The international community did not really support the will of the Congolese people all the time, they sided with Kabila.

So Congolese were clear that now that he has had two terms, and our Constitution only gives them two terms, that at the end of his term on December 19, 2016, that he would leave the country peacefully. So we are in 2019, we can see how, for two years, he has tried so many different tactics to remain in power. But the struggle is not over, while we’ve had elections, and now we even have the election result that states that Felix Tshisekedi was declared the winner. And we are really seeing the contestation of the results. We as Congolese know that the battle is not over, that we have to continue to remain vigilant and make sure that the leaders of the Congo represent the interest of the masses rather than the very few and, in this case, the interests of the Kabila regime.

MARC STEINER: So with this election right now, the official results saying Tshisekedi was declared the winner by the Electoral Commission. But the Roman Catholic Church, with its 40,000 observers, even before the Congolese government announced who the winner was, said that Fayulu was the winner, who is a reform candidate, which you can describe to us in a moment. So this has set up some real tension here. So tell me, A, what is the political process we’re witnessing, and what’s the significance? What does this really mean?

KAMBALE MUSAVULI: So the Catholics say the signs on the ground does not show that he actually won the elections. And this can be debated, depending on where people fall into political line, supporters of Felix Tshisekedi or not. But what we do know is that the Catholic Church via CENCO, the Conference of Bishops in the DRC, had 40,000 observers, and the Congo polls at about over 70,000 polls across the country. So they had more half of the polling stations with the observers there. Before the results were published, CENCO made a public statement saying that they know the truth of the poll and they demand that the electoral commission publish the results.

They also, in private, met with foreign diplomats and they shared with them the result that they had. And reason why they did it this way is because Congolese law does not allow institutions to publish results, they only allow the internal commission to be the first to publish results. So after the results came out, what CENCO said clearly, which is a trusted, legitimate institution in the Congo, they said publicly that the results published by the Electoral Commission does not match what they actually saw in the 40,000 polls they observed. And they have asked the opposition leaders, any of the candidates, including Martin Fayulu, who feel that the results are not correct, to use the institutions of the state.

But what is unfolding in this situation, what we can say is positive coming out of this, is if the electoral commission had announced that Emmanuel Shadary, the chosen candidate by Kabila, was the winner, we’d know for sure. Thousands of Congolese would have been in the streets and it would have escalated to violence. But what has unfolded with this result, it has stopped the people from coming out, where they are still trusting the democratic process and hoping to the ends of the challenge in the Constitutional Court, the Electoral Courts, that the will of the people will finally be declared. And for many, they believe that Martin Fayulu was the winner of this election.

MARC STEINER: So a number of Congolese writers and others, and many journalists around the world, have been full of stories about these backroom negotiations that were taking place between Mr. Tshisekedi and the regime itself for a transfer of power to him when they realized he was going to have a significant amount of votes that they could kind of tie into a victory if they could fudge things. So is that real? And if that is real, what comes next?

KAMBALE MUSAVULI: I mean, this past week has been marked by a lot of speculation and information coming in. I do think that there are some merits to that information that in the beginning of the week, there were discussions, that Felix Tshisekedi met with the regime and so on. But I would point to certain things that have happened beyond speculation. About three or four days ago, before the results was published, what happened is that Felix Tshisekedi changed his political language. He started speaking about how as Congolese we have to come together, he has forgiven Joseph Kabila, he believes that Joseph Kabila is a great leader who is the first president in the Congo to allow peaceful transfer of power. And remember, Kabila extended his stay by over two years. So that’s the statement of the so-called president elect.

And he even offered a comment that is making everyone worry, that if he’s the new president of the Congo, he will give Kabila an ambassadorship position so that he could go around the world representing the Congo in a positive light. But of course, we hear the results, so we can’t go on and on around some of the issues around Felix Tshisekedi. But at the end, we have a credible institution such as CENCO, which has already stated that the result doesn’t reflect the truth of the poll. We hope that through the legal process that Martin Fayulu will undertake, there will be some form of truth of the poll that will come out.

Because if the Congolese people do not trust the process, the outcome of the process, either stating that Felix Tshisekedi is now the president or reverting to what the people actually want to see, Martin Fayulu being the president, I know that the people will hit the streets and the situation will escalate. So that’s why I see the situation quite fluid, but I also understand that in this historic moment, the Congolese people must claim the victory, that they forced a government that did not wants to organize elections, and they were able to achieve that goal. And now, they must remain engaged in the democratic process to make sure that the will of the Congolese people is reflected in the result published by the Electoral Commission.

MARC STEINER: So very quickly here, before we run out of time, so what happens next and what do you see happening next?

KAMBALE MUSAVULI: Martin Fayulu has declared that he’s going to go to court to challenge the results. We have seen foreign governments put out statements saying that they have knowledge that the Electoral Commission has presented provisional results, remember, this is not the final result, provisional result of the elections, and they’re demanding that the process of challenging these results is transparent. So we know that this is not over. We hope that there will not be more loss of life, because we’ve already seen signs in different parts of the country of people rising and protesting. In the town of Kikwit there are a few who were killed.

And we hope also people around the world who are watching the situation the Congo will not fall into the trap of saying that an opposition leader has been declared the winner, let’s move forward. It’s very important for communities who have been under the yoke of oppression, conflict, that the first time they get a second chance in electing a leader that they want, that their will is not stolen. So it’s up to us around the world watching to keep informing others, and for those who have leverage are putting pressure on the Congolese government, the African Union, the United Nations, use their power to make sure that the will of the Congolese people is reflected with the final results coming up in a few days.s

MARC STEINER: Well, I really appreciate the depth of your reflection here, Kambale. This has been a fascinating learning experience for all of us and I think we really have to follow this closely. This could be a very historic moment, whatever happens, this can be a historic moment.

And Kambale Musavuli, thank you so much for being with us. It’s been a pleasure to have you here and I look forward to continuing this conversation with you about the future of the DRC.

KAMBALE MUSAVULI: Thank you.

MARC STEINER: Thank you very much. And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Thank you so much for being with us, take care.