These days, nowhere are crises more predictable than in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And yet, when they unfold as anticipated, Western policymakers and diplomats always seem caught off guard -- raising questions about the competence, willingness, and commitment of the Kinshasa-based diplomatic corps and the United Nations mission to discharge their responsibilities.
Nothing underscores the apathy and inconsistency that characterize Western diplomacy in Congo more than the current impasse between incumbent President Joseph Kabila and veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, each of whom has claimed victory in the Nov. 28 presidential polls. The legitimacy crisis threatens to trigger another round of civil war in a country that has already lost over six million of its people to the repercussions from a long and senseless conflict.
On Dec. 9, Daniel Ngoy Mulunda, chairman of Congo's Independent National Electoral Commission, declared President Kabila winner of the contentious election, with 49 percent of the votes. Tshisekedi, the main challenger, placed a distant second with 32 percent. Tshisekedi has rejected the results, called Mulunda's statement a "provocation of the people" and declared himself president-elect. The main opposition parties have rallied behind Tshisekedi and are calling on the international community to help solve the impasse.
The opposition has a strong case. A day after Mulunda declared Kabila the winner, the Carter Center's election monitoring mission issued an unequivocal statement charging that the results announced by the electoral commission lacked credibility. The observers noted that the mismanagement of the vote tabulation process compromised the integrity of the election, which was fraught with damning legal, technical, and logical deficiencies from the outset. The Carter Center cited serious irregularities, including the loss of nearly 2,000 polling station results in Kinshasa, a Tshisekedi stronghold, representing as many as 350,000 voters. Another 1,000 polling station results were mysteriously lost elsewhere in Congo, representing 500,000 voters.
Meanwhile, according to the Carter Center, multiple locations in Katanga province, a bastion of Kabila supporters, reported impossibly high rates of 99 to over 100 percent voter turnout, with all or nearly all votes going to the incumbent. The observers also noted that a review of locations with similar high percentage votes for Tshisekedi did not reveal the same coincidence of perfect collection of polling station results and extremely high voter turnout - meaning that voter turnout in Tshisekedi's strongholds was within expected norms. The Catholic Church, arguably Congo's most influential institution, which deployed 30,000 election observers across the country, backed the Carter Center's statement. Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo, Archibishop of Kinshasa, told journalists the electoral commission's results conformed with neither truth nor justice. "These observations pose a serious credibility problem for the election," the cardinal said.
Kabila waited nearly three days to hold a news conference and react to the Carter Center's statement and Tshisekedi's rejection of the results. He conceded that there had been problems with the process, but dismissed the mission's conclusion that the results were not credible. "The credibility of these elections cannot be put in doubt," the president insisted, as he accused the Carter Center of going beyond what was expected. Throughout the process, the electoral commission had maintained that the role of monitors was only to observe, not to ask questions.
While Kabila remained silent, his government was reacting swiftly and forcefully, unleashing armed anti-riot policemen and elements of the elite presidential guard into the streets of Kinshasa to confront Tshisekedi's partisans. Several people have been killed in clashes between state security agents and the protesters, and an unconfirmed number of young men have been abducted from their homes by these same agents and driven to undisclosed locations.
The bustling capital of nearly 10 million has turned into a ghost city, as the people are afraid to venture out of their homes. The government has cut off text-messaging services, and Internet access is now limited, slow and intermittent. The diplomatic community has exhorted Tshisekedi's supporters to refrain from violence, but has not condemned abuses by state security agents. As of this writing, the Limete neighborhood where Tshisekedi's residence and party headquarters are located is under heavy police siege. The movement and activities of his supporters are curtailed by state security agents who harass and manhandle them at checkpoints, provoking them into violence.