A new president has been confirmed in office in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Russia has welcomed his arrival as a “milestone”, and a milestone it is – a colossal electoral fraud that carries with it an immediate risk of political violence and serious lessons for the West.
The election of December 30 was the first since independence 60 years ago when the Congolese people could realistically hope to choose their own leader. That hope now looks forlorn. Two authoritative sets of electoral data analysed by The Financial Times and others show that the vote was overwhelmingly won by Martin Fayulu, a longstanding critic of the corrupt and nepotistic regime of Joseph Kabila, who has ruled the DRC for 18 years.
One dataset representing 86 per cent of votes cast shows Fayulu winning 59.4 per cent of them. Another collected by the Catholic Church’s 40,000 observers gave him a 62.8 per cent share. His only serious opposition rival, Félix Tshisekedi, won fewer than 20 per cent by either count, yet it is Tshisekedi whom the constitutional court confirmed as president on Saturday.
The reality appears to be a deal behind the scenes between Tshisekedi and Kabila that keeps the old regime effectively in power, or at least in control of Congo’s fabulous mineral wealth.
Congo is the world’s fourth-largest producer of copper and by far its largest source of cobalt, an essential ingredient in the lithium-ion batteries that power every smartphone and electric car on the planet. Despite the country’s abject misrule, the Congolese economy will grow by at least 4 per cent this year.
Fayulu, a former Exxon executive, had threatened to investigate the alleged theft of Congo’s mining revenues by Kabila and his entourage. He has now called for non-violent protests over the theft of the election, but the risk is that they will be violently suppressed; reports say more than 30 civilians have already been killed in running battles with police.
Tshisekedi’s elevation to the presidency is straight from the Moscow playbook. As one expert puts it, Kabila has “done a Medvedev”, installing a proxy as Vladimir Putin did in the Kremlin in 2008 to get round a constitutional bar on more than two consecutive presidential terms. That is why Moscow’s prompt welcome for the new arrival is significant – and dismaying. The odds against real, responsive democracy taking root in Congo are high enough without Russia’s endorsement of the manipulated version it favours for itself.
South Africa and Kenya have also accepted the “result”. The African Union balked at doing so but would be powerless to challenge it anyway. Western governments have been largely silent. America’s response to the election has been to position 80 troops in neighbouring Gabon to help evacuate diplomatic US citizens from Kinshasa, the Congolese capital, if needed.
The clamour for democracy in Congo has come from within, and has been treated with contempt. The most compelling strategies offered internationally to the Kabila regime have not been for reform and transparency from the West, but for authoritarianism and continued kleptocracy, not just from Russia but from China too. With friends like these, who needs to bother counting votes?