By Santo D. Banerjee
South Africa has called on the international community in general and the UN Security Council in particular to provide the necessary support to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in the aftermath of the December 30 provincial and presidential elections that will be the first democratic transfer of power in the country’s history.
“The DRC has come a long way in its quest for peace and security,” Ambassador Jerry Matthews Matjila, South Africa’s Permanent Representative to the UN in New York told the Security Council during a three-hour debate on January 11 on preliminary results announced one day earlier, which put Félix Tshisekedi in first place for President, and the swift and varied reactions of some stakeholders.
Providing a snapshot of developments on the ground from Kinshasa via video-teleconference, Leila Zerrougui, UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), said millions of Congolese had shown their commitment to the political process and their determination to exercise their democratic right to vote.
“We must therefore show our collective solidarity with them as the electoral process is finalized and as the Democratic Republic of the Congo prepares to undertake the first peaceful transfer of power in the country’s history,” she said.
Agreeing with the MONUSCO head, the South African Ambassador called on “all parties to preserve the generally peaceful climate of the elections, and take-up any reservations or disputes through the proper mechanisms and processes provided for in the constitution of the DRC and its electoral laws, and thus refrain from any violence or incitement thereof”.
He emphasized: “We must ensure that as Members of the Security Council, our words and actions should contribute positively to the aspirations and collective will of the people of the DRC.”
South Africa is a non-permanent member of the 15-nation Security Council for 2019-2020 along with Cote d’Ivoire and Equatorial Guinea whose two-year membership expires end of 2019. China, France, Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States are five permanent members with the power to veto decisions they disapprove.
Ambassador Matjila said: “Congo is rich. But Congolese are poor.” He expressed South Africa’s concern about “the continuous illicit exploitation of DRC’s natural resources.” Since its independence, the DRC has been subjected to interference by external factors in determining its future. “The abundant resources that the country is blessed with have in many ways led to the scramble for these resources to the detriment of its people,” he said.
In the DRC, parts of the economy are informal and sometimes illicit links between politics and illicit economic activities have existed for a long time. An estimated value of illicit natural resources exploitation in easten DRC is valued at over USD 1.25 billion per year, stressed the South African diplomat.
South Africa, he said, has been keenly supportive of the efforts to ensure peace and stability in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 1998, late President Nelson Mandela hosted a historic meeting between former leaders of Zaire/DRC, Mabuto Seseseko and Laurant Kabila off the cost of DRC and averted a potentially destructive civil war. In 2002 South Africa hosted the groundbreaking Inter-Congolese Dialogue that led to drafting of the Constitution and hosting of the first ever-inclusive multiparty democratic elections in that country, Ambassador Matjila recalled.
Summarizing the work of their respective election observation missions, the African Union’s Permanent Observer and Zambia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, who led a monitoring team for the Southern African Development Community (SADC), agreed on the need for all stakeholders “now (to) pursue disputes peacefully through the existing legal framework and political dialogue”.
Corneille Nangaa Yobeluo, President of the Independent National Electoral Commission of the DRC, also via videoconference from Kinshasa, said it is critical for the international community to support the new authorities while relevant judicial bodies deal with any challenges.
Recalling that despite difficulties and “complete and utter distrust” among all stakeholders, including the international community, the elections unfolded smoothly. Yet, it was no surprise that the Catholic Church was challenging early results. It had disputed election outcomes in 2006 and 2011, he said, stressing that the January 10 announcement was in line with the law and challenges should be addressed through relevant existing mechanisms.
Meanwhile, Marcel Utembi Tapa, Archbishop of Kisangani and President of the National Episcopal Conference of the Congo, recalling efforts of the Catholic Church over the years to promote democracy in the DRC, said the Electoral Commission’s preliminary results did not match its own estimates.
To address the discrepancy, he asked the Electoral Commission to publish as soon as possible its data from each polling station and the Security Council to invite stakeholders to prioritize peace pending the final election outcome.
Council members also raised concerns about health crises and sporadic violence, with many calling for calm following the milestone elections and encouraging political actors to use existing legal avenues to resolve differences.
Urging the international community to conduct itself in a responsible manner, Russia’s Vassily A. Nebenzia warned that any speculation on the voting results is unacceptable, as it would generate far-reaching repercussions in the DRC and countries of the region. The Council must maintain unity to take a pacific, balanced approach in a manner that fully respects the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s sovereignty, he said.
Echoing a common view among Council members from the continent, Equatorial Guinea’s representative Amparo Mele Colifa said all of Africa is proud of what the Congolese people have achieved.
The DRC representative Ignace Gata Mavita Wa Lufuta extended gratitude to the Council for supporting his country’s efforts to restore peace and stability, summarized the current political landscape and the horizon ahead. The Government recognized the elections as an important threshold, despite delays until March due to health and security concerns in certain areas.
The next important steps are publishing the final vote count and handling concerns about preliminary figures in a manner that conforms to the Constitution, electoral laws and existing mechanisms and institutions. In this regard, it is not wise for the international community to make demands that would supplant the primacy of these institutions.
The results should not “add fuel to the fire”, he said, but should lead to all stakeholders showing restraint up until the announcement of the final election results and the historic handover of power. It is critical that the peaceful environment seen during the elections continues during the publication of the results.
He commended the Congolese people, President Joseph Kabila Kabange, who respected the Constitution in steering the country through free and fair elections, and the Government and Electoral Commission for their important roles. He noted that the electoral cycle should continue, calling on stakeholders to play their part in the successful culmination of this process.
Turning to humanitarian and security concerns, he raised alarm over outbreaks of violence, including flourishing terrorist groups that are launching attacks against Government forces and United Nations peacekeepers in Beni and Butembo.
Pointing to the Secretary-General’s report on MONUSCO collaborating with armed groups to free recruited children in Ituri and Kivu, the DRC Permanent Representative to the UN wondered how the Mission could work with the same groups the Government was trying hard to eradicate.
In addition, the Government was focusing on addressing the needs of populations displaced by these armed groups. Other concerns include the resurgence of certain diseases, with authorities working with the World Health Organization (WHO) to address the Ebola virus outbreak.
Even with these challenges, the country is poised to enter a new era, he said. “The Democratic Republic of the Congo is drafting a new chapter in its history,” he added. Asking the international community and friendly nations to provide the necessary support for further progress on his country’s journey into a new, peaceful era, he extended thanks to regional and international partners for their critical assistance in the past.