Why EAC won't send observers to DR Congo's elections

Tuesday December 19 2023

Supporters cheer during a campaign rally at Sainte Therese in the Ndjili District of Kinshasa, DRC on December 18, 2023. PHOTO | AFP


The East African Community (EAC) on Monday said it will not send observers to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), becoming the second such bloc to be excluded from the elections by Kinshasa.

The EAC said it would not send a team of observers to monitor the DRC elections on the ground, as is the tradition among member states, blaming the authorities in Kinshasa for refusing to accredit the team.

“[The) EAC will not physically be present in DRC to observe her 2023 General Elections as provided for in the Treaty Establishing the East African Community and as it has been the practice since the inception of the EAC,” the bloc said in a statement.

Read: Problems loom a week from DRC vote

“This development is due to the fact that although EAC was ready, the request to undertake the exercise has not been granted by the relevant authorities.”

“The EAC wishes the government as well as people of DRC peaceful elections and remains committed to discharge our mandate to all partner states.”


The DRC joined the EAC in May last year but has had an on-off relationship with the bloc, although it has yet to fully accede to all the bloc's relevant protocols. The EAC was late in deploying a military mission known as the EAC Regional Force (EACRF), but its mandate ended on December 8 amid controversy, with Kinshasa accusing the troops of failing to crush rebels such as the M23.

On Sunday, Kinshasa recalled its envoy in Arusha Pierre Masala and its envoy in Nairobi, John Nyakeru, to protest a meeting of rebel leaders in Nairobi where they formed a coalition to unseat President Felix Tshisekedi. Kenya has since distanced itself from the meeting, although President William Ruto admitted that he had refused a request from Kinshasa to arrest the rebels.

Read: Diplomatic row erupts between Kenya, DRC

The DRC had previously refused to accredit European Union observers, forcing Brussels to cancel the mission. The DRC did however accept an AU observer team led by Madagascar's former president Hery Rajaonarimampianina. Other groups such as the Carter Centre have also sent observers.

“Elections in DR Congo are on a knife edge. Failures in the organisation of the elections are expected to lead to strong tensions,” said Richard Moncrieff, Interim Project Director at Great Lakes at the International Crisis Group.

“The Congolese authorities seem determined to avoid delaying the elections, but there are serious concerns over the distribution of electoral material, and many thousands of polling stations may not have adequate material to function. This will likely benefit the opposition, who are becoming increasingly inclined to reject the results of the election.”

Some 22 candidates are vying to become the next president of DRC in Wednesday's election, while some 25,000 candidates are vying for parliamentary seats. The Independent National Electoral Commission (Ceni) has registered more than 44 million voters.

But the elections, which have cost more than $1.1 billion, still face logistical nightmares, including how to secure votes and voters in Eastern DRC, where war has recently resumed between M23 and the Congolese army (FARDC) and allied militias.

Read: Ahead of DRC vote, people in restive east feel abandoned

Onesphore Sematumba, DRC and Burundi analyst for the International Crisis Group, said the recent unification of the opposition to back a common candidate could raise the stakes for a tight race, but said some voters could be disenfranchised by the violence.

“In recent weeks, challenger Moise Katumbi has built momentum and attracted other politicians to his cause. This could foreshadow a close race. But recent incidents of violence around the electoral campaign point to dangers as the poll approaches,” he warned on Monday.

“Voters in the east, and especially in North Kivu province, are the big losers in the electoral process. Over a million could not register to vote, and hundreds of thousands more have since been displaced by violence, many far from the polling stations where they are eligible to vote.”

Last week, the US pressured the warring sides and their backers to commit to at least a two-week ceasefire. But the parties, particularly the M23, said they would fight back if attacked.​