On 20 December 2011, Robert Mugabe was the only head of state to attend Joseph Kabila’s presidential inauguration ceremony. He followed protocol as an old friend of the Kabila family. Western states sent low-profile envoys to the ceremony in a sign of contention regarding the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) presidential election results, which were fiercely contested by Kabila’s main opponent, Étienne Tshisekedi.
In the run up to the presidential election, Tshisekedi emerged as the central opposition figure in the DRC. Drawing strong support from a large popular base, Tshisekedi was critical of the work of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) throughout the presidential election process. From the start, he protested against the nomination of pastor Daniel Ngoy Mulunda as the chairman of CENI, whom he claimed had personal ties with Kabila. Following CENI’s confirmation of Kabila as the election winner, Tshisekedi continued his vociferous rejection of the results. He cited deliberate fraud perpetrated by CENI, state forces, and Kabila supporter groups at all stages of the presidential election process – i.e. voter registry, logistic support, voting act, vote-counting, and publication of results.
The fraudulent claims advanced by Tshisekedi resonated with the Carter Center’s findings on the election process. The US-based Carter Center is an internationally trusted non-governmental organisation that specialises in election observation, amongst other development cooperation subjects. In its preliminary report on the DRC presidential election, the Carter Center declared the results lacked credibility.
Similarly, the EU and the US Embassy identified considerable irregularities in the DRC presidential election process. They sent observation teams to follow the electoral process in the country, and in their first respective official evaluation reports, the two institutions alerted for serious flaws in the management and technical execution of the election.
Enter the Supreme Court
The DRC Supreme Court considered the electoral process fair and democratic, and declared Kabila the new president on 17 December 2011. It corroborated the results produced by CENI and confirmed Kabila the presidential election winner with a simple majority of 48.9 per cent of the vote. Tshisekedi appeared in second position with 32.33 per cent of the vote.
The ruling from the DRC Supreme Court generated an immediate international reaction. Belgium, the former colonial power in the Congo, produced a soft diplomatic response according to Didier Reynders, its Minister of Foreign Affairs. He refrained from rejecting the DRC election results, but expressed concern about the irregularities of the electoral process, and announced that he would not attend Kabila’s presidential inauguration ceremony. France, the old colonial force in the Central African region, conveyed further reservations regarding the DRC election results. Its Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bernard Valéro, pointed to substantial inconsistencies in the electoral process, which he claimed to generate a break in trust in the DRC institutions and government. The US shared similar apprehension. Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, reproached the DRC Supreme Court for disregarding serious election irregularities and declaring Kabila president. In the face of the circumstances, Clinton called upon Kabila and his government to launch a thorough and public election results revision. Similarly, the EU pledged to Kabila and his government to conduct an objective election results review. It invited Kabila to consider the findings of the international election observation missions and work jointly with the opposition to find a sustainable solution for the resulting outcomes.
Unmasking the West
In the wake of mounting international criticism of the DRC presidential election results, Tshisekedi declared himself the country’s new president on 23 December 2011. Tshisekedi’s bold and daring decision was met with a heavy response from state forces. They effectively forced him to remain in his residence to prevent him from gathering popular support in the capital and across the country, and instigate an uprising.
In the event, the West revealed its true standing on the controversial DRC presidential election. Tshisekedi’s reaction was reminiscent of Alassane Ouattara’s in the 2010 Côte d’Ivoire presidential election. However, the West was not intent to support Tshisekedi’s march to the DRC presidency. Instead, it called upon Tshisekedi and the DRC opposition to refrain from violent protest, and resort to the use of legal channels to challenge the election results. By doing so, the West distanced itself from the growing tension in the country.
The West’s only concrete response to the mounting post-electoral crisis in the DRC materialised in a January 2012 US initiative. The US government sponsored two specialised teams from the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Federation of Electoral Systems (IFES) to lend their support to CENI to re-examine the election results and recount the votes. CENI refused to grant access to its headquarters to the members of NDI and IFES. As a result, there was no recounting of the votes or re-examination of the election results.
Unlike Ouattara, Tshisekedi never fell in the grace of the West. The West considered Tshisekedi a populist political survivor. In the eyes of the West, Tshisekedi is often politically incorrect and capable of inflammatory statements that can incite violence. In turn, the West always regarded Kabila as the best option to guarantee peace and stability in the DRC. In his first presidential mandate, Kabila largely lived up to the West’s expectations. He managed to control the bloody war in the East of the country, appease the volatile relations with Rwanda and Uganda, foster new mineral and commercial deals with the West, and make many Congolese believe in his plans for development and prosperity in the DRC.
Contrary to its initial reaction, the West progressively endorsed Kabila as the country’s new president. As early as 15 February 2012, James Entwistle, the US Ambassador to the DRC, publicly stated that the US “recognises Joseph Kabila as President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the next five years”. The US produced the first high-profile public statement from the West in support of Kabila. Yet, in the weeks that preceded it, there was a mounting behind-the-scenes consensus in Western diplomatic circles. Belgium and France emerged as Kabila’s strongest advocates and played a key role in the West’s endorsement of Kabila as the DRC re-elected president.
Subsequently, on 12 June 2012 the EU produced the most recent public statement from the West on the DRC presidential election. Through its High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, the EU endorsed Kabila as president of the DRC. Additionally, it vowed to support his government to continue to improve the democratic process and governance in the country.
The Pillars of Support
Will the West’s decision to endorse Kabila in the controversial DRC presidential election withstand the test of time? Is Kabila in a suitable position to guarantee peace and stability in the DRC for another five years, as the West seems to believe? The West’s intent to return to ‘business as usual’ with Kabila appears to be not only an improvident decision, but also, a clear expression of its double-standards.
The DRC remains a fragile post-conflict society divided in intricate ethnic, social, political, economic, and military lines. Kabila’s first presidential mandate rested upon a fairly democratic electoral process that guaranteed him an absolute majority in 2006. From that platform, Kabila astutely balanced the divisive lines that characterise the country’s society. Presently, the balance of some of those lines appears to have weakened following the 2011 electoral process. Thereby, the West is likely to be proven incorrect in its decision to support Kabila as the best long-term option to guarantee peace and stability in the DRC.
In contrast with the political record of his first tenure as president, Kabila will face bigger challenges to control the DRC internal political dynamics in the next five years. His party failed to win the majority of seats in the National Assembly. Kabila’s response was to secure the creation of a complex coalition with a variety of parties to maintain political control over the National Assembly. Nevertheless, that solution remains untested in a fragile democracy like the DRC, and it can considerably hamper the efficiency and range of the workings of the National Assembly and the executive.
Additionally, Kabila had to reshuffle his government following the elections. He planned to continue to deposit all his faith in Augustin Katumba Mwanke, and make him the main mediator with the coalition parties, and the key-man to establish a solid governing platform for his presidency. Katumba Mwanke was his master strategist in the previous five years, who had become the de facto number two political figure in the DRC. Unexpectedly, he died in a plane crash in February 2012. The event compelled Kabila to swiftly correct the balance of power of those closest to him. He appointed a largely technocratic group of ministers under the leadership of Augustin Matata Ponyo as Prime Minister. As a result, Kabila’s grip on his government remains ambiguous, which portrays an uncertain future for the country’s political stability.
Kabila emerged from the 2011 presidential electoral process evidently weakened by the loss of political legitimacy. That development inspired his rivals to take action to progressively discredit his authority. The first signs of the emerging serious break in DRC political stability materialised in the North Kivu province following the actions of Jean Bosco Ntaganda. Bosco Ntaganda is a former Rwandan rebel indicted by the International Criminal Court, who joined the DRC army in 2009 as part of a peace deal with rebel groups active in the East of the country. In April 2012, he deserted from the army, and decided to use his loyal troops to take control of large areas across North Kivu province. His actions caused mass population displacements and threaten to instigate one of the worst political, military, and social crises in the region over the past decade.
Kabila is attempting to advance with an effective response to Bosco Ntaganda’s exploits in North Kivu. However, he has considerable limitations. The DRC army remains largely untrained and lacks unity. Furthermore, Bosco Ntaganda enjoys the full support of the Rwandan government, and superior army, as confirmed by the recent United Nations (UN) report on the North Kivu crisis. Paradoxically, the UN report exposes not only Kabila’s limitations to resolve the North Kivu crisis, but also the West’s double-standards regarding his presidential re-election process. The West endorsed Kabila as the best option to maintain peace and stability in the DRC. Yet, the US continues to arm and train the Rwandan army as a close military ally in the region, and the UK and the US remain Rwanda’s largest international aid donors.
The Cost of Support
Despite the grave irregularities that characterised the 2011 DRC presidential electoral process, the West endorsed Kabila as winner. The West regarded Kabila as the best vehicle to secure peace and stability in the country. However, the present political situation in the DRC suggests otherwise. In the months that followed the elections, the country became politically unstable. After the loss of political legitimacy in a fraudulent electoral process, Kabila lost the majority control of the National Assembly, saw the departure of his most trusted aide in the previous tenure, and had to form a new mostly technocratic government. As a result, his political authority weakened considerably.
In turn, Kabila’s loss of political authority led to a progressive break in peace in the already volatile East of the country. The actions of Bosco Ntaganda pose a serious threat to peace in the DRC and the Great Lakes region. It remains unclear how the North Kivu crisis will be resolved. Yet, it appears that concerted action from the West is now crucial, as its double-standards approach to Kabila’s presidential re-election become more evident.
If the West does not review its approach to the DRC presidential election, it risks to impair the democratic process and governance in the country. The cost for the DRC would be extensive as it could: undo the remarkable democratic progress following the 2006 presidential elections; disenfranchise further the citizens from the construction of a solid state structure; affect the strengthening of institutions at the local, provincial, and state levels; and, transform the 2011 presidential election process into a simple political tool at the hands of Kabila.
The West should strive for coherence in its relations with Kabila and the DRC, and address the country’s presidential election in correlation with the principles that it claims to advocate - democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. Accordingly, the pursuit of the policy to endorse Kabila and return to ‘business as usual’ with him and his government seems improvident. Instead, the West should promote the re-examination and recounting of the election results, offer its support to the democratic winner of the presidential election, and devise a consistent foreign policy towards the DRC and the Great Lakes region that prevents conflict and fosters sustainable peace.
 The Election Observation Mission of the European Union, ‘The Election Observation Mission of the European Union Deplores the Lack of Transparency and Irregularities in the Collection, Compilation, and Publication of results’, 13 December 2011, (http://www.eueom.eu/files/pressreleases/english/eueom-rdc2011-press-release-13122011_en.pdf, 15/07/2012); US Department of State, ‘Supreme Court Decision Confirming Results of the Presidential Election in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’, 20 December 2011, (http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2011/12/179195.htm, 15/07/2012)
 European Union, ‘Speech by HR Catherine Ashton on the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo’, A264/12, 12 June 2012
 United Nations, ‘Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’, Security Council, S/2012/355, 23 May 2012