Insecurity fears in Eastern DRC ahead of elections

Monday November 06 2023

A market place as previously displaced residents return to Kishishe, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo on April 5, 2023. PHOTO | AFP


The Democratic Republic of Congo’s journey to the much-awaited elections is causing insecurity fears in eastern parts of the country, .

Leaders of the Southern Africa Development Corporation (SADC) are expected to gather in the Angolan capital Luanda, with the top agenda being the security situation in the DRC. SADC had earlier agreed to deploy some 500 complementary troops to the DRC to support the existing East African Community Regional Force (EACRF). But the southern Africa bloc had dragged feet as it assessed the situation.

If the Angola meeting decided to provide definite dates for actual deployment, that will provide some respite for the eastern DRC, but it may not resolve the problem as armed groups resume violence that had already displaced thousands of people from their homes.

Yet that is not the only headache, it seems. With less than two months to go, the International Crisis Group fears that if the elections are managed “without consensus”, there will be a risk of violence.

Read: Congo’s countdown to polls a hot potato

It says planning for the vote without consensus of the electoral process “could increase the risks of contestation of the ballot and related violence.”


“This could be detrimental to the country's stability,” reads the report Elections in the DRC, limiting the risk of violence,” published on October 30.

President Felix Tshisekedi is facing up to 20 candidates although the actual number will be known after the Constitutional Court validates the contestants on November 18.

Usually, DRC’s election preparations have been fraught with risks, including postponement, as it happened in the past. But as the country strives to transit to regular elections, a dispute over the vote could spark violence and it doesn’t help that the eastern DRC is full of armed groups who could ride on the grievances to resume war.

“To mitigate these risks, the government should ensure that all parties can campaign freely, and African and Western powers should encourage the parties to find compromises and be prepared to mediate if necessary,” wrote the International Crisis Group.

Read: Why military interventions fail to end DRC wars

Some of the competing candidates have already expressed fears the playing field is not level. Early signs show the battle could at least be fought in court between candidates. On Monday, Constitutional Court, the highest jurisdiction in the DRC, rejected the application lodged by a presidential candidate, Noël Tshiani, who had lodged a complaint against another candidate, Moïse Katumbi over his parentage that he argued made Katumbi unqualified to be Congolese.

Yet the electoral campaign promises to be very turbulent. The ICG believes that "the risk of localised violence is high. A close or disputed presidential result could also lead to a national crisis, as was the case in 2018.” And this is largely due to both the high contest between candidates and the charged electorate. In 2018, Tshisekedi surprised frontrunners Martin Fayulu and Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary to win the vote.

But he was forced into an early coalition with the party of the then departing President Joseph Kabila to help stabilise parliament. The coalition lasted a year before it broke down on accusations of unmet coalition promises.

Today, the International Crisis Group says the Congolese opposition is “facing increased repression from the government and an independent national electoral commission (Ceni) that it sees as favourable to the ruling party.” In 2018, some of the organisations that initially rejected the electoral results included the powerful Catholic Church, as well as DRC’s development partners Belgium and France, who demanded a review of the polling.

Today, the Catholic Church has maintained a critical stance against the Ceni and the electoral preparations. This debate around fairness of elections has created a climate of mistrust.

Read: Tshisekedi’s headache in quest to win upcoming presidential poll

DRC’s election outcome and the stability of the country, warns ICG, will depend on how DRC’s allies abroad behave especially in urging the country to stick by the law.

“They should also denounce abuses,” it said.

Government Spokesman Patrick Muyaya believes that the current electoral process is calmer than that of 2018, however and assured that the government is ready for the polls.

For Ceni, however, there are logistical nightmares to surmount. First is how to deliver electoral material in a country where the road network is poor and air transport is expensive and unreliable.

Connections between provinces are provided by aircraft that are increasingly rare since the national airline, Congo Airways, suspended its flights due to a loss-making.

In the Eastern DRC, violence between the Wazalendo and the M23 rebels for the past two months have slowed the preparations and raised the security headache.

In October, the Congolese army also clashed with the M23 with both sides blaming one another for violating ceasefire.