Ambassador Michelle Gavin Is Unhappy with United States Policy Toward the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Recent Presidential Election. I Disagree.

In the daily “Africa in Transition” blog, on February 6, 2019, Ambassador Michelle Gavin, a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations Africa Program, harshly criticized the United States government’s policy toward the December 2018 presidential election in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The title of the article summarizes Ambassador Gavin’s point of view quite succinctly:

“The Truth About United States’ Complicity in DRC’s Fraudulent Election”

The word “complicity” in my view, is both unfair and unjustified. Here is why:

 

Historic perspective

Starting in early 2015, DRC President Joseph Kabila expressed an interest in amending his nation’s constitution to eliminate the two-term limit on the head of state. His proposal stimulated major street demonstrations by ordinary Congolese people. As a result, he stopped talking about changing the constitution.

Nevertheless, Kabila continued to maneuver to remain in power. The presidential election scheduled for November 2016 received no funding, effectively cancelling it. The DRC Constitutional Court ruled that in the absence of an election, the President remains in power until an election can be organized.

In response to general discontent, Kabila held a number of “consultations” coordinated by the Conference of Catholic Bishops (CENCO) during 2017 and early 2018. The consultations were constructive. Nevertheless, they basically served to delay elections and maintain Kabila in power.

The growing instability caused by Kabila’s refusal to consider relinquishing power caused the international community to intervene. Most importantly, U.S.  United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley visited Kabila in September 2017, and persuaded him to pledge to organize an election prior to the end of 2018, and to pledge that he himself would not be a candidate. Kabila’s decision constituted a successful diplomatic action by the U.S. government.

Kabila kept his pledge to Ambassador Haley, but he did it in such a way as to try to maintain himself in power through a surrogate. For the 2018 presidential election, Kabila named Ramazani Shedari as his “heir”. During the election campaign, Shedari was one of three principal candidates. The other two were opposition candidates Martin Fayulu and Felix Tshisekedi.

In view of the history of presidential elections in the DRC, dating back to 2006, most observers expected the vote count to be manipulated fraudulently so as to give the victory to Kabila’s surrogate Shedari. But to everyone’s surprise, the authentic election count gave so few votes to Shadari, that Kabila could not possibly get away with declaring him the winner.

All of the voting stations had witnesses and observers. The largest number of witnesses were from the UDPS party that supportedTshisekedi. The largest number of observers were from the Catholic Church. The Church reported that the candidate with the most votes was Fayulu. The UDPS reported that candidate Tshisekedi was the winner. Other sources reported to have seen the vote count of the official electoral commission (CENI) that had Fayulu as the winner.

Not being in a position politically to declare Shedari the winner, Kabila had to choose between Fayulu and Thisekedi. He chose Thisekedi because Fayulu was financed by his arch enemy Moise Katumbi. To Kabila, Tshisekedi was clearly the lesser of the two evils.

 

The International Community Responds

In the first 24 hours after the election, with so many conflicting claims as to the real winner, the African Union, the Southern Africa Development Community, and the European Union requested that the DRC Government not announce the winner, and instead initiate a recount. The DRC ignored these requests, and the Constitutional Council went ahead and declared Felix Tshisekedi the new head of state.

The U.S. did not comment until after the Constitutional Court declared Tshisekedi to be the elected President. The official announcement congratulated the Congolese people for their peaceful election, and expressed the determination to work with the Tshisekedi government for the development of the DRC.

Ambassador Gavin’s criticism of the U.S. decision misses the main point. If Washington had denounced the election, and declared that Tshisekedi’s victory was fraudulent, US-DRC relations would have arrived at a dead end. What is really important, is that Kabila is no longer in power, and that his corrupt, predatory system is on the way out. The Congolese people have been waiting for this for more than a decade, and their wish is finally fulfilled. Now, there is much potential for the U.S. and the DRC to cooperate on many aspects of development, private investment and security.

The U.S. decision was correct. Ambassador Gavin’s severe condemnation of that decision emphasizes useless idealism at the expense of pragmatic progress in the right direction. I am surprised that she is insisting on the perfect at the expense of the good. That does a great disservice to diplomacy.

How Minority Rule Withered Cameroon's Prospects

How Minority Rule Withered Cameroon's Prospects

Among the many French and British African colonies which achieved independence in the early 1960s, Cameroon seemed destined for greatness.  A diverse reflection of peoples from across Africa, Cameroon has both Christians and Muslims, and French and English-speakers. The country enjoys substantial natural resources, as well as excellent agricultural potential. 

Sadly, greatness has eluded the Cameroonian people. The country's governance over the past six decades has been deficient in practically every respect. Weak democratic institutions are largely to blame; there is no doubt that Paul Biya will be the winner of the just-completed elections. Like every election in Cameroon since 1982, the 2018 polls were most certainly rigged.

Read More

Will Mrs. Trump’s Trip to Africa Influence Relations?

Will Mrs. Trump’s Trip to Africa Influence Relations?

First Lady of the United States Melania Trump made a goodwill visit to Africa, October 1-7.  Her itinerary included the nations of Ghana, Malawi, Kenya and Egypt. The trip was planned in tandem with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). 

Mrs. Trump emphasized support for African youth during her visit, continuing her “Be Best” initiative which she has been promoting in the United States. 

Read More

First Lady Melania Trump’s Visit to Africa

First Lady Melania Trump’s Visit to Africa

First Lady Melania Trump’s trip to Ghana, Malawi, Kenya, and Egypt beginning October 1 is a welcome signal of the Trump administration’s interest in African development, and its relationship with security and prosperity in the United States.

Mrs. Trump’s expressed interest in the welfare of African children, in tandem with her “Be Best” initiative for American youth, is a wise approach, since people under 30 represent a majority of Africans. These African youth will make or break the success of its nations. 

Read More

Président Kabila A Sélectionné Son Héritier

Président Kabila A Sélectionné Son Héritier

Après une longue période d’incertitude, Président Kabila a décidé de ne pas essayer de réviser la constitution de la République Démocratique du Congo (RDC), dont la limite est de deux mandats à la Présidence, en se mettant d’accord de quitter le pouvoir après les élections du 23 décembre 2018 et cela deux ans après. En même temps, Président Kabila a présenté son successeur préféré, et qui sera alors le candidat de la Majorité Présidentielle, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.

La sélection de Kabila pour Shadary était en quelque sorte une surprise. Son nom n’était pas sur la liste de personne comme héritier possible. Cependant selon la perspective de Kabila, Shadary est le choix logique.

Read More

DRC: President Kabila has Selected his Heir

DRC: President Kabila has Selected his Heir

After a long period of suspense, President Joseph Kabila has decided not to try to revise the DRC’s constitutional two-term limit on his office, agreeing to leave power after the election scheduled for December 23, 2018, two years late. At the same time, President Kabila presented his preferred successor, and who will therefore be the candidate of the “Presidential Majority,” Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary. 

Kabila’s selection of Shadary was something of a surprise. His name was not on anyone’s list as a possible heir. However, from Kabila’s perspective, Shadary is the logical choice.

Read More

Presidential Election in the DRC: A Prognosis

Presidential Election in the DRC: A Prognosis

There are now six months until the DRC’s presidential election, scheduled for December 23. Candidates will file papers starting July 24. It is a good moment to review who is likely to run, and who has the best chances against Kabila’s party, the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD).

There is a crowded field of opposition candidates. Concerns are running high that they will split the general vote, enabling Kabila’s party to win with a plurality as small as 25%. Many observers are urging the opposition to unify behind a single presidential candidate who stands a good chance of defeating the PPRD.

Read More

The African Union at 55

The African Union at 55

2018 could be seen as the 55th “birthday” of the African Union, since its predecessor, the Organization of African Unity, was established in 1963. The group’s objectives and influence have changed dramatically over those decades.

Read More

Clarification

J'ai récemment rendu publique une lettre que j'ai écrite à la Cour Pénale Internationale (CPI) pour demander la libération de Jean-Pierre Bemba. Je pense que le temps qu'il a passé en prison constitue jusqu'à présent une peine suffisante pour le crime pour lequel il a été condamné.

Certains observateurs congolais ont interprété ma déclaration comme un signal que le gouvernement américain ne considère pas les candidats de l'opposition Felix Tshisekedi et Moïse Katumbi comme suffisamment qualifiés pour être candidats à la présidence, et que je demande la libération de M. Bemba comme étant le plus qualifié.

Il n'y a pas de vérité dans cette interprétation. Ni le gouvernement américain, ni moi, n'avons aucune préférence quant aux candidats aux élections en RDC. Nous travaillons tous pour encourager une élection libre et juste. Au sein du Département d'Etat américain, Felix Tshisekedi et Moïse Katumbi sont considérés comme de bons candidats avec de bonnes opportunités d'être élus. Il y a d'autres candidats forts dans différents partis.

Notre objectif principal est que les élections libres et équitables soient organisées conformément à l’ACCORD DE LA SYLVESTRE. Ni plus, ni moins.

Clarifying Letter to the ICC

I have recently made public a letter that I wrote to the International Criminal Court pleading for the release of Jean-Pierre Bemba. I feel that the time he has spent in prison so far constitutes sufficient punishment for the crime for which he was convicted.

Some Congolese observers have interpreted my statement as a signal that the American Government does not consider opposition candidates Felix Tshisekedi and Moïse Katumbi as being sufficiently qualified to be presidential candidates, and that I am seeking Mr. Bemba's liberation as suggesting that he would be more qualified.

There is no truth to this interpretation. Neither the US Government, nor I, have preferred candidates in the DRC election. We both are working to encourage a free and fair election. In the US State Department, Felix Tshisekedi and Moïse Katumbi are considered strong candidates with good opportunities to be elected. There are other strong candidates in different parties.

Our main objective is that free and fair elections be held in accordance with the Saint-Sylvestre Agreement. Nothing more, nothing less.

Une semaine difficile du président Kabila à Washington

La crise politique en cours en République démocratique du Congo a été une des principaux sujets du jour dans les cercles des affaires étrangères de Washington pendant la semaine du 21 au 25 mai 2018. Les représentants de la société civile congolaise et de l'administration Kabila avaient assisté à un déjeuner d’un forum du Congrès américain et avait été accueilli différemment.

Read More

Barbara Bush, 1925-2018

Barbara Bush, 1925-2018

During George H.W. Bush’s term as President of the United States, I served as his Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. In that capacity, I had the privilege of being in the presence of the First Lady, Mrs. Barbara Bush, usually during visits by African heads of state when Mrs. Bush would host their spouses for coffee or tea.

Read More

Secretary Tillerson’s Visit to Africa: Advice and Predictions

Secretary Tillerson’s Visit to Africa: Advice and Predictions

Secretary Tillerson will be taking his first official visit to Africa starting March 7, meeting with leaders in Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Chad, and Nigeria.

The State Department announced that the Secretary will be addressing issues of counter-terrorism, peace and security, good governance, and trade and investment.

The countries Secretary Tillerson is scheduled to visit, and the key issues to be addressed, reflect clear continuity in U.S. policy priorities in sub-Saharan Africa since the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Here is my advice to the Secretary for each of his planned meetings.

Read More

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Desalegn has resigned. What's next?

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Desalegn has resigned. What's next?

It is not surprising that after three years in office – three years of famine, violence, and serious political and social instability – Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has resigned, effective with the swearing-in of his replacement within a few weeks. The regime has also announced a six-month “state of emergency,” under which political and press freedoms are severely curtailed.

What do these developments mean for the Ethiopian people?

Read More