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DRC in peril

25 January 2019

DISAPPOINTMENT is a common experience in Africa. It is worse, perhaps, than despair, since it suggests earlier hopes that have been dashed. This year has already brought two examples. Most recently, the hope, always faint, that the ruling party in Zimbabwe would be transformed under Emmerson Mnangagwa has been badly dented by accounts of brutality by the police and the security forces. It was perhaps naïve to expect more from men who learnt their trade during the Mugabe era.

The chief disappointment, however, has been the Democratic Republic of Congo, where, in an election to replace President Kabila, whose departure is long overdue, the country has been trying to live up to its name. Instead, however, it appears to be living up to its reputation. A Roman Catholic organisation provided more than 40,000 observers to cover the 75,000 polling stations. Amid tales of intimidation and dubious practices, not the least of which was a fire that destroyed 8000 electronic voting machines destined for Kinshasa ten days before the election, the RC organisation was convinced that a clear winner had emerged: the opposition leader Martin Fayulu. After several delays, the government announced a different winner: Felix Tshisekedi, leader of another opposition party, widely believed to have made a deal with the outgoing President. In an unusual step, the African Union has joined neighbouring states in calling for a recount. In a step that is now becoming usual, the Russian state has recognised Mr Tshisekedi. The DRC government appears to be prepared to gamble that an early inauguration for Mr Tshisekedi will dampen the protests. The dilemma, then, for other countries, is whether they decide that a sitting president of dubious legitimacy is preferable to a pretender with right on his side but whose only chance of taking power might well be to take up arms.

In his influential 2007 book The Bottom Billion, Professor Paul Collier estimates that the average cost of a civil war — even on a continent where war can be waged at bargain prices — is $64 billion. For comparison, the United Nations’ budget for humanitarian aid worldwide stood at $22.5 billion last year. The Collier figure takes account of many factors, among them the disastrous effect on the country’s economy (and that of its neighbours), not least because of the long shadow cast over foreign investment during the years that follow a war of that kind. Mr Mnangagwa has discovered that the same investors dislike military coups. It is clear, then, that civil war in DRC must be avoided. The judgement call is whether this is best achieved by accepting Mr Tshisekedi, or by attempting to engineer Mr Fayulu’s accession. A recount is clearly the best option, but gaining permission to carry one out, and then doing it to the satisfaction of all parties, is likely to be an uphill task.

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