From the Editor’s Keyboard

Democracy Today: The case of the Democratic Republic of Congo

20 March 2007 at 09:18 | 350 views

Professor Wamba dia Wamba presents a critical analysis of the concept of democracy in the age of globalisation, which equates with Western political democracy. He provides historical context to the recent elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in which outside influences continued to play a large part in the outcome of the elections, and concludes with reflections about the future of the democracy project in the DRC.

By Ernest Wamba dia Wamba, Guest Writer.

1. The World context: how do we orient our thinking about democracy?

Democracy, or more accurately democratic materialism, has become the dominant ideology. It is increasingly obligatory to be a democrat. It has almost become the single political thought. Democratic materialism asserts that there are only bodies marked by languages, and nothing else. There is only one market, one politics, one economy. In brief, there is only one order of things. That is all there is and that is how it is (Alain Badiou, 2006). There is no exception, unless it is to be totalitarian or terrorist. Bodies are interchangeable, and languages and opinions are equivalent. Anything unlike the only order of things is effectively and intrinsically anti-democratic. Democracy equals the Western political order of things. It is compulsory to have Western style democracy.

Is there a political truth? How do we give an account of it? We are in the epoch of a democratising mission, following the old civilising mission. Like the latter, set to impose, by force if need be, democracy on other countries. At the beginning of the war in Iraq, some people in the US were wondering whether or not one country can build democracy for another country. Whether or not the people of a country knew how to build democracy for other countries. There were no conclusive answers to those crucial questions. Democracy has become a package of ’techniques’ - constitutions, electoral mechanisms, management systems - to be exported or imposed, top-down, on Third World countries. In these countries, the demos has been reduced to voters who are passive, without civic education. How is this a break from the liberal world: responsible for Atlantic slavery, colonialism and neocolonialism; a world created by slavers, colonialists and neocolonialists?

It is also true that the nation state as the horizon of political revolution, or a state policy of war - in the sense of war as the continuation of state policy through other means, and thus of a short duration - to get another other nation state to agree, is no longer possible. Ultra-liberalism or neoliberalism is opposed to nation states, and promotes weak states to which are assigned minimal functions of keeping order, to allow people to buy into its consumer governance. War is now conceived as opposing good and evil, waged to eradicate evil. Such conception calls for the intervention of law and crime. Proxy figures are identified as being responsible for crimes: Saddam Hussein, Milosovic, Interahamwe, Bin Laden. Some Cold War crusaders have suddenly become proxy figures. War against evil tends to be very protracted, even when the axis of evil is identified. It is not clear what victory in this war consists of. Is it imposed democracy? Is it the elimination of the criminal figure: the hanging of Saddam Hussein, for Iraq? Is it the destruction of a nation state and its people, or the grabbing of its strategic resources? The world becomes divided in a Manichean manner: good democracy versus bad democracy (the recent experience of the Palestinians); good Muslim versus bad Muslim (Mamdani 2004); good states versus rogue states; democrats versus terrorists. And are these the fuelling dynamics of globalisation?

Democracy is reduced to a certified formality. It is rare that protests against the democracy of covered fraud and buying votes, promoted through unjust laws, are taken seriously. It does not matter whether or not voters have seen or read the basic texts of the constitution or electoral laws. Especially since voting is the sole way, for most voters, of having access to some resources. Has being an observer not become a very satisfying activity? Electoral campaigns have ceased to be a way of debating different visions of ’national interest’, instead becoming a way of distributing things (T-shirts, foods, appliances, etc.), and money. When you have nothing to wear, you capitalise on collecting t-shirts. When you have nothing to live on, you sell your vote for money. Is the one who buys your vote your representative in the institutions?

On the other hand, the national liberation mode of politics which opened up with the independence of India, died with the assassination of Salvador Allende and Amilcar Cabral in 1973. That was the most active period of transformative politics the world has seen - with leaders such as Ghandi, Mao Tse-tung, Fidel Castro, Frantz Fanon, Ho Chi Minh. The imposition of draconian structural adjustment programmes on impoverished countries, and the recent very aggressive imperial interventions - in Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Lebanon, and the protracted resistance of people in those countries, are reawakening hope for other active, transformative politics in the world. Qualitatively different democratic elections have been taking place in Latin America, for example. The protracted character of resistance in the Middle East is exposing the bankruptcy of the dominant ideology of democracy. Will democracy cease to be closely tied up with a package of conditionalities?

Different experiences of democratic constructions could be identified in the history of democracy. Each has had specific obstacles, targets and concrete results. The US experience, for example, was born out of the genocide of indigenous people, the enslavement and discrimination of black people, the civil war, white Anglo-saxon supremacist bigotry, imperial new-frontierism, male chauvinism. The Indian experience has confronted the caste system, the external imperial pressures and colonial heritage, active religious differences. Today, most of Western European democratic experiences still confront the colonial heritage, the effects of neocolonial interventionism; the ’multinationalisation’ of their nations, worsened by a refusal to deal correctly with the so-called ‘sans papiers’ or immigrants: foreign born workers. The new-frontierist US has gone as far as to build a wall to keep potential immigrants out. Most of these democracies, refusing to count every person as being worth one, no more or no less, cannot really be said to be truly democratic. There may be good cases of rules of laws - with some unjust laws, of course - but, they are not democracies, respecting the rights of the uncounted marginalised groups. Should it actually not be the excluded people of those democracies that may help us orient our thinking about democracy?

2. The imported democratic project of the DRC

Is there a Congolese project of building democracy in the DRC? No serious debate has really dealt with the question. Building democracy should, normally, focus on the formation of the demos, the empowerment of its capacity to make sound choices, its mastery of the crucial issues of what a good democratic state would be like.

From the very beginning, with the precipitous granting of independence on 30 June 1960 by Belgium, the Congolese have never had a chance, by themselves and without external interference, to debate the parameters of the definition of the crisis they have protractedly been facing since the crusaders of the Cold War dismantled the nationalist regime and assassinated Patrice Lumumba. Even the so-called Sovereign National Conference (SNC), singling out Mobutu as the cause of every evil, ended up failing to grasp the significance of the impact of the Cold War on the country. It finally adopted a proposal by Herman Cohen - a former US under secretary of state for African Affairs - to keep Mobutu in power and reduce only his powers. Such a solution, later on, turned into a farce.

New rebellions could not have been avoided. These claimed to seek solutions to the crisis. Each time, proposals of solutions came from without, often offered as necessity for the democratic project. Once in power, AFDL, for example, kept postponing the implementation of its so-called democratic project. Another rebellion, claiming to be more committed to implement its democratic project emerged. This time also supported by African regional states and great personalities.

What appeared up to the signing of the Lusaka Accord (July-August 1999) to be an exclusively African initiative for the resolution of the crisis that often led to civil wars, rebellions or external armed interventions, got hijacked by the forces of international community. These, according to the late Mwalimu Nyerere, were responsible for imposing a bad solution in the person of Mobutu, who eventually destroyed the country. The financial package required to implement such a ’solution’, could only to come from the international community; the African states could not afford it.

Each time an occasion to confront such a crisis arose, the Congolese were led to shift their focus, as demanded by interests of other forces: from the necessity of an organised people’s palaver to unearth the roots of the crisis, to power-sharing as a way of achieving peace by rewarding proportionally those with a capacity to threaten peace and continue the war. Warlords, being so rewarded, were transformed into democrats responsive to the needs and aspirations of the victimised and impoverished masses. Democracy built on that basis cannot but favour the same people.

What was supposed to be an Inter-Congolese Dialogue practically became UN-type conflict resolution in which the facilitating process becomes the initiating or imposing process. ’Dialogue’ becomes technical and hierarchical. It ended up with CIAT almost getting power of veto over the transition. Without this external pressure, no objective of the transition could have been achieved. When crisis deepeners and crisis alleviators or pro-change people for the best and pro-status quo people are put on equal footing, it becomes difficult to reach consensus about where to begin and where to end - the main task of the transition. Mistrust among the actors was rampant. Of the five retained objectives of the transition, only two could be said to have been fulfilled: the setting up of the transitional institutions, and the rushed electoral organisation. All the others were either half done, or not done at all. National truth and reconciliation, for example, hardly took off.

The process of drafting of the constitution was fundamentally withheld from the-would-be Congolese demos. Senatorial consultations with targeted social categories were either rushed or very abstract - asking people to make choices on concepts they barely understood - form of the state, semi-presidential regime, federalism. Senators refrained, supposedly to not influence the results, from explaining things. Two days before the referendum vote, only 500,000 copies of the constitution were printed for 25,000,000 or so voters. Of those actually in circulation, four different texts of the constitution could be identified. This explains the frustrations of the lady who was asking for the picture of ’Mister Referendum’ to help her decide how to cast the vote.

A necessary educational debate over the drafting of the constitution did not take place. The basic issues needing to be addressed by the constitution were hardly debated, namely: what sort of state are we in, and what do we want it to be in the future? What sort of relations do we want to have with the outside world? How should power be organised for it to be responsive to the basic needs and aspirations of the large majority of the people, in the present, and in the future? How can we empower the people to control the institutions? Debates on the variant experiences of constitutionalism were not entertained, except for the desire to copy the constitutions of others, on the ground that modernity can only come from elsewhere. The most creative experiences were hardly identified or discussed to help us draft a better constitution.

Because of the scarcity of fundamental debates involving all strata of society, laws tended to be tailored according to known possible candidates rather than for the entire foreseeable future. Crucial elements, such as levels of education, moral integrity, capacity for leadership, were not considered in a country torn apart by negative values and the exclusion of competency and workmanship. Looters and people who have become rich for being close to the treasury dominated the institutions. High financial fees were required, by law, to be paid by standing candidates, which excluded decent fellows, who did not have a chance to loot.

Although laws required that debates were part the electoral campaigns, no serious debates took place. A national consensus over what situation our country was in, what must be done to get it out of it, with whom to work, and the kind of leadership capacities to promote, was not achieved. The fact that our country is in a catastrophic and urgency situation, an exceptional situation calling for an exceptional response, was never addressed. Elections were an occasion for each person to display as much financial capacity as possible to get a post in a scheme of power sharing. Some people who could afford it got themselves elected to different posts. More accurately, they bought themselves different posts, and placed their relatives or clients in them.

It was not possible, due to the way the transition was unfolded, for the formation and development of a Popular National Democratic Coalition (PNDC) to be created. Such a coalition could have been the vehicle to promote necessary debates on pertinent issues. Etienne Tshisekedi’s UDPS, still suffering from oppositional politics - ‘what those in power are doing is no good, when we get in power, things will be better’ -, could not help organise such a coalition. To its credit, it did call for the need to have consultations at the summit to agree on the best way of organising the elections to everybody’s satisfaction. But nothing came out of it, and UDPS stayed away from participating in the elections.

The elections were organised mostly on the basis of external financing. This gave external forces the leverage to control the process, its pace, scope and order of priorities. Ascendancy to their preferences made a mockery of national sovereignty in the elections: of the democratic project as a whole. Almost no funds were allocated to the crucial task of civic education for the electorate. Diaspora Congolese, among the most informed, and in some cases people living in democratic countries, were excluded from the process, on the dubious grounds of costs. Congolese in the security forces were not allowed to exercise their democratic right, as part of the electorate, for ’security reasons’. Violating the constitution, under the pretext of security, is arguably equivalent to a coup d’Etat. From the ICD, through the transition, up to the elections, no national consensus was reached about what constitutes the national cause. It was taken from the suggestions of the external forces that the organisation of free, fair and credible elections could be such a cause. Yet there was no real internal social process of popular self-organisation to ensure that those elections would actually be free and fair.

The attempt, by the Catholic Church, to do so fell short. The Union for the Congolese Nation (UN), formed around the second round contending presidential candidate, Jean-Pierre Bemba, failed to properly provide a national leadership to rally all the national forces interested in a transparent electorate process. The monitoring process which it set up was weakened from within - giving the impression of a lack of commitment or clear vision.

An important political space opened when it became obvious that the second round presidential elections results were fraudulent. Instead of organising a big protest against such fraud leading up to a great gathering around the Supreme Court of Justice, and requiring from the latter just justice, the leadership vacillated and finally gave in, on grounds of saving human life and salvaging peace - an unjust peace and saving a dying human life (about 1800 Congolese people die everyday). There was no space for the rise of a radical transformation. This would be a question of vision, aims and style of leadership. The latter seemed to have been trapped in the politics of power sharing after the electoral victory, not sticking to the two demands of the masses of people: to liberate the country from too heavy control by external forces, and to put in place a regime that would be responsible to the people and responsive to their needs and aspirations. It remains to be seen whether the promise of organising a rigorous and republican opposition, by J-P.Bemba, will achieve those demands.

Six provinces out of eleven voted against the incumbent president because they felt that he was too dependent on external forces. He was also accused of selling out on the country. He was for the most part unresponsive to the basic needs of the majority of the impoverished population. Bemba’s MLC’s programme, too lenient on liberalism in the epoch of ultra-liberalist globalisation, would not have realised those demands either. This may explain why the MLC was unable to genuinely lead the masses of people gravitating around the UN. Once again, the question of the relationship between fundamental changes and the leadership came to the fore. It is the actions and ideas of the rebelling masses of people that bring change; yet the popular masses credit the leadership for the changes. Their blind faith in the leadership is, very often, eventually betrayed. The same faith makes the people fail to be vigilant, and actually deal with the task of how to control the leadership so that it will not betray them. There was no way and no structure within the UN to control Bemba, for example, in his dealings with various people - including his meeting with the incumbent President, at a critical moment. Most often, the so-called ‘Political Council’ of the UN he presided over, meetings of which he was the only one to call for, did not meet.

Money and promises or hopes of big institutional posts were the only motives of the so-called Alliance of the Presidential Family. Its victory, which underlines the fact that we are in a ’corruptocracy’ rather than a democracy, has made that camp suffer from what could be called ‘political drunkenness’ that makes them blind to see that legitimacy is not just a question of legal victory, but, more importantly, the capacity to rally everyone and thus generate mass enthusiasm for the new regime. Instead of working out a concrete policy to deal with those who voted against the Presidential camp, by rallying them around a convincing programme, the camp has tended to discriminate against them; in fact, an attitude of revenge has characterised the presidential camp. This attitude explains also why political matters have been increasingly assigned to police and military forces to treat them. Arbitrary arrests and even the Kongo Central massacre (31 January 2007- 1-3 February 2007) could account for much of that. The rumours according to which the President had said that he would reserve only two places - the prison and the cemetery - to the Bakongo who did not vote for him, appeared aposteriori to be credible.

Very briefly, the so-called democratic project has been, in the DRC, another process of grafting a Western experience of democracy, reduced to a ’universal model’, on to an ill-prepared and un-attendant Congolese political soil, justified, aposteriori, as a necessary consequence of globalisation. No lesson seems to have been learned about the process of grafting from the history of the colonial state in the Congo; which although now decomposed and fragmented, still operates like a Western Trojan horse. Such a state readily represses the people rather than responding positively to their basic needs and aspirations. The newly ’elected’ President is still surrounding himself with a militia that hardly is aware that in a democracy, the army is supposed to serve the people, and not harass them for its enjoyment. Western democracy experts - our democratic teachers - come and go, and democracy does not seem to be growing deeper roots. Goodwill is often found wanting.

The permanent paradox faced by the so-called Congolese elite remains. They want to lead the people, from whom they are culturally and socially detached. They claim to ‘liberate’ the country from the extended control of external forces, to which they are culturally and socially attached. While capable of producing a constitution and a nationality law that forbids holding dual-nationality concurrently, some members of the elite do actually hold dual-nationality. Those who genuinely believe that they can solve the fundamental problems facing the Congolese people - and who claim to have worked out some solutions - spend most of their time struggling to survive by devoting their time to reinforcing the very system that causes those problems. Change is always a task for tomorrow.

3. By way of conclusion: what future for democracy in the DRC?

The country remains divided on the issue: some have voted enthusiastically for the presidential camp that enticed them financially to vote, and are now marked by a sense of victorious crowing - forgetting that the strategic aspect of democracy is the protection and defence of the rights of the minority. Those who, around the UDPS, did not participate in the electoral process, and so far unclear about what type of oppositional position they are going to assume. Those who supported the UN camp have been mostly disappointed with J-P. Bemba, frustrated by the turn of events. The massacre of people in Kongo Central, the only place where a very active opposition against the corrupting democratic process took place, did not galvanise the various opposition forces into a movement. If if is the case that the Bakongo nation consisted of all the consistent anti-colonialists from 1921 (with Kimbangu’s Kintwadi) up until to 1959 (January 4th uprising), the core of the Congolese nation struggling for national independence,as F. Fanon and A. Cabral asserted, one should not be surprised that some of their descendants are leading the struggle against corrupting democracy.

Will the use of force or threat of force succeed in silencing the protests? The stability of the cemetery can not lead to a genuine construction of democracy. Dealing with the catastrophic and urgency situation with repression will not last as long as it did under Mobutu. Not only will more protests take place, political implosion is likely. The ways things are going, the next five years might turn out to be very rough indeed.

This piece was originally a lecture given at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on 9 February 2007.

* Professor Ernest Wamba dia Wamba(photo) is a Senator, and was the vice president of the Senate Permanent Commission on Legal and Administrative Matters of the transitional administration of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Source: Pambazuka News.

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