Much of the world greeted the announcement on Thursday of the delayed outcome from the presidential election in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with cautious optimism.
In what the independent electoral commission describes as provisional results, Felix Tshisekedi, 56, was declared the surprise winner in an election whose outcome has been pending since voting closed on December 29.
France, Belgium, and the Catholic Church of the DRC immediately dismissed the official outcome in which Tshisekedi garnered 38.57 per cent of the votes cast, arguing that the result did not reflect the will of the Congolese people.
Tshisekedi was closely followed by Martin Fayulu, who polled 34.8 per cent with President Kabila’s candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary trailing at 23.8 per cent.
Twenty four hours after the announcement, none of the DRC’s immediate neighbours had called to congratulate the winner, further deepening the uncertainty around the result. The cautious reaction is understandable given how high are the stakes for everybody.
Yet despite all the misgivings, this election is significant for the DRC, long viewed as the sick man of Africa, because it presents the best shot at a peaceful transfer of power in the country’s 58 years since Independence from colonial power Belgium. Unfortunately, the current state of affairs leaves the country almost exactly where it had hoped it would not be.
With the powerful Catholic Church rejecting the result, Tshisekedi will be a lame-duck president who will now be forced to find a way appease sections of a disaffected electorate. That could impact his ability to drive through the economic and political reforms the country badly needs.
Despite the drama surrounding it, there is much to be celebrated in this election. Because his ascendancy is the result of popular pressure and a constitutional process, President Tshisekedi is unlikely to establish himself as one of the country’s long-term rulers. Agitation for reform is likely to continue and he will do well to build on what has been achieved through this transition.
There is a lot that needs to be sorted out in the DRC. The political arrangement still needs to be refined and the government faces the daunting challenge of establishing state control over all the DRC’s geographical territory.
No leader can pull this off without internal cohesion and the real choice facing the DRC at this time is whether it is willing to make a break with the past or continue on the disastrous path of the politics of intrigue.
Blaming outsiders or the colonial master maybe fashionable but history will judge the present generation by its own actions.
Looking at the DRC’s long history therefore, it may be necessary for Fayulu and his supporters to make a fundamental sacrifice. Should they choose to exercise their right to challenge the results, they should do so through the courts of law and not the streets because a peaceful transfer of power in the DRC is more important than the loss of a single individual or group of people.
Even France and Belgium whose dubious history in the country is well documented, should be more restrained in their comments on the process.