The Obama administration is still formulating its response to elections held nearly one month ago in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The cautious US approach is evident in its hesitancy to reject the election outcome, despite independent monitors’ conclusion that the results cannot be considered valid.
The furthest the Obama administration has gone is to say it is “deeply disappointed” by the DRC Supreme Court’s certification of President Joseph Kabila’s victory in the disputed vote.
Although the US also said last week that the management of the “seriously flawed” elections “did not measure up to the democratic gains we have seen in recent African elections,” Washington stopped short of opposing Kabila’s return to power. According to provisional results, Kabila won 49 per cent of the vote while chief opposition candidate Etienne Tshisekedi garnered 32 per cent.
The US refrained for a week from offering an assessment of the results which were announced on December 9. The silence was interpreted by some activists as an indication that the Obama administration prefers an extension of Kabila’s rule rather than a takeover by a challenger viewed as potentially unfriendly to Western interests.
It was not until December 15 that the top US diplomat for Africa told a US Senate panel “it is clear that the elections were deficient in many ways.”
Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson further suggested that the actual winner of the vote cannot be determined. He did not offer a clear prescription for what the US should do next.
Some analysts suggest this uncertain response may partly reflect what’s become known as “Congo fatigue.”
A coalition of Africa-focused NGOs said last week, for example that it is “deeply troubled by the lack of critical engagement that the international community has shown throughout the electoral process in the DRC.”
Mr Carson noted in his December 15 remarks that the US has committed some $900 million this year for peacekeeping, humanitarian aid and development initiatives in the DRC. Yet the vast country continues to be poorly governed and torn by strife.
At the same time, however, the resource-rich DRC is too important to ignore.
“I don’t think the US has been complacent,” comments Aaron Hall, a Congo expert with a Washington NGO that works to prevent atrocities in Africa. “I think it’s more that the administration is trying to figure out what to do about a very difficult situation.”Hall disagrees with critics who interpret the arm’s-length US stance as a de facto endorsement of Kabila’s continued hold on power. The US “has been burned so often by Kabila” that it’s unlikely he is seen within the Obama administration as the preferred choice, Hall says.
A leading Congolese activist in the US takes the opposite view, arguing “it’s very clear the US supports the current regime.” The reason, adds Kambale Musavuli, director of the Friends of the Congo advocacy group, is Kabila’s deal-making with American and European mining interests.