By Abbot José Mpundu
I would like first and foremost to thank the organisers of this workshop for giving me the opportunity to speak to the gathering on “Assessment of the Political Opposition Action in the DR Congo”. This is of course a sensitive topic, for “assessing” entails some degree of “judgement”. I therefore run the risk of standing before you as someone who is in a position of censure, a Chief Magistrate. The sensitivity of the topic is also due to the fact I have to evaluate an action; and therefore I will have to speak about the actors, the real people who act, who take these actions. Without falling into the trap of providing a discourse that strives to moralise or to blame, I will try to be as objective as I can in my appreciation of the action undertaken by the political opposition in our country. Moreover, I will not limit my analysis to a critique that might appear embittered, but I will also offer some suggestions that might make the action of the opposition more constructive.
To carry out this exercise you have asked of me, I will try to answer three questions: The first question: Is there a political opposition in the DR Congo? The second question is: How do I view the action of the Congolese political opposition? And the third question: What could be prposed to the Congolese political opposition so that it plays its true role in our country?
IS THERE ANY POLITICAL OPPOSITION IN THE DR CONGO?
To answer this question, I will focus on the definition, the necessary conditions, and the functions of a political opposition.
According to the Encarta encyclopaedia, the political opposition is defined as “a platform of political forces that express important divergences vis-à-vis the ruling forces that hold powers”. These divergences, or other ways of seeing things, are not only important, they are fundamental and essential. Here we should note that the notion of an alternative differs from the concept of alternation of power that is frequently alluded to in the context of our country. An alternative means another way of conceiving and acting. The fundamental question that Congolese opposition should ask itself is: what is the alternative ideology we are proposing to the Congolese people?
I did a comparative reading of policy documents of various opposition political parties and those from the ruling majority platform; I was surprised to notice that in general “all shared equal values”, they almost said the same thing. They all opted for the same liberal capitalist ideology. The most striking example is that in the economic plan, they all want the free market economy. Having recorded this commonality in their programmes, I can therefore assert without any possible risk of being contradicted that, in our country the DR Congo, there is no ideological opposition.
It clearly appears to me that what we call the opposition and the ruling majority are breast-fed by the same ideology. They all originate from the same source: the powerful Euro-American countries known as “The International Community” which is in reality “an international political and financial mafia”. It is easy to confirm this just by observing the way both sides, the opposition and the ruling majority, shuttle between Western capital cities in the months before the organisation of elections in the country. It’s quite obvious that they seek the acceptance acknowledgement of powerful Euro-American godfathers.
In this definition of the political opposition, we are talking about “a group of political forces”. When we allude to a “group” it should mean that there is a collective action. “The opposition, continues the Encarta, is open and collective. If the struggle against the ruling political force is done in a clandestine manner, this is no longer an opposition but a simple resistance. Again, the opposition is normally not about one person critiquing the ruling power; it is rather a group of people who share the same critical views on the way the country is governed”. In our country, there is a tendency to personalise the opposition. We hear from time to time that this person is the custodian of the opposition. In fact, we have unfortunately noticed that some people have taken on the mantle and social status of eternal opposition leader. We can hear at times that this person does incarnate the opposition. However, a divided and individualised opposition cannot pretend to be a true political opposition.
Let us now see things from the angle of required conditions to acknowledge a true political opposition. I will refer again to the Encarta encyclopaedia that says: “For a political opposition to exist, the political system of the country must be organised and governed by specific rules.” I can even add that these specific rules should be accepted and observed by all. There must be what we generally call Rule of Law, a democratic state.
Then again, we have to wonder whether our country is a democratic state where there is a rule of law. Taking into account what we have gone through for decades, we cannot assert that there is a rule of law. On the contrary, we are under a totalitarian dictatorship. And yes, in our country, the power is held in a harsh totalitarian manner. Our opposition in this specific case per se, exists as a surface opposition. It is recognised by the constitution of the country, but the reality in practice is a different story. The current regime does not tolerate any opposition. One only needs to see what state security forces are doing on the ground when they deal with the members of the opposition; you then realise how they bully, intimidate, and oppress through violent repression the opponents to the regime.
If the ultimate condition for the existence of a political opposition is democracy, in our context where democracy is only visible in the name of the country ( the Democratic Republic of the Congo), we must confirm that the inexistence of democracy entails the absence of a viable political opposition.
Referring again to the Encarta Encyclopaedia, we can say that “the opposition has some indispensable functions in a democratic exercise. First of all, it provides for contradictory information on the decisions and intentions of the government. It is in the mandate of the opposition to ask questions, to critique and to interrogate orientations coined by the government in this or that policy. The opposition has to represent for the electorate a potential alternative government. This means the opposition must possess an achievable programme. The principle of alternation puts the opposition in the position of a prospective government.”
In our context, the opposition should wonder whether it is really playing its role.
It is true that from time to time we see some platform emerging as a political opposition; they formulate critiques and pose questions. However these questions are not likely to bring about expected changes in the society since they do not address the deep concerns of the country. For example, regarding the elections: have the opposition raised questions linked to the conditions in which the country can truly achieve democratic elections? Is it possible to hold democratic elections in a country where dictatorship rules supreme both internally and externally?
Once more, we have to be cognisant that as long as we are living in a country where there is no democracy, the functions of the opposition will never manage to be effective.
The principle of alternation itself is faulty; the opposition is actually not seen as a prospective government. In our country, in fact, those who have power tend to confiscate it and strive to be there eternally by use of all means including election rigging, and violent repression and intimidation.
To sum up, real political opposition does not exist in the DR Congo. There may be an opportunistic opposition that works according to the principle of: “evicting the current regime to replace it” facing a government that replies: “We are here to stay” and if necessary “by force”. We can say it in one word or a thousand words, “no democracy, no political opposition”.
How do I view the action of what is called the political opposition in the DR Congo? We all witnessed the Congolese political opposition organising peaceful marches, general strikes, sit-ins and boycotts. We have seen them issuing petitions. We have seen them denouncing shortcomings of the government in public. We all remember the famous letter written by the 13 MPs during the Mobutu regime. From all these facts, we cannot say the opposition is not active. On the contrary, to some extent it is working hard.
However, we need to recognise that the action of the Congolese political opposition lacks perseverance and endurance. In fact, most actions undertaken by the opposition do not last. They last but a brief moment.
Their action is know to ineffective in terms of an outcome, leading to the government allowing them to continue since they know the opposition action will not last.
The Congolese political opposition’s action lacks consistency in the sense that it does not reach the causes of the problems the society is faced with. Most of the time, it deals with epiphenomena, justifying the charge that it superficial. As a matter of fact, it cannot radically change anything.
In fact, the action of the Congolese political opposition lacks scope and scale. It is timid and timorous. Opposition leaders are inconsistent. This inconsistency of the leaders of the Congolese political opposition evident by the fact that they have no specific positions. Witout a political compass, they turn with the wind of events. In the morning they stand firm as leaders of the opposition, in the evening you see them with the ruling majority. They eat from all tables and it is not surprising to witness the betrayals and denouncements that characterise the Congolese political opposition.
The Congolese opposition is not capable of mobilising numerous masses at the grassroots level. So far, we haven’t seen a nationwide mass mobilisation action organised by the political opposition. This clearly shows that the opposition is disconnected from the grassroots masses. Sometimes, political opponents have tried to resort to me, a church leader, to help build a constituency! What we would call a salon opposition that has no real and deep connection with the masses cannot be expected to achieve real changes.
One of the biggest shortcomings that characterise the political opposition in the DR Congo is the lack of cohesion. In fact, we have a divided, crumbled, scattered opposition. Our opposition leaders are incapable of working together hand in hand so as to stand stronger. How is it possible to succeed while so divided?
In spite of the fact that all these opposition parties’ names start with “United” – United for Democracy and Social progress (UDPS), United for the Nation (UNC), United Forces for Change (UFC) – they have not been able to unite. They even fail to unite internally within their individual political parties.
Ours is an extroverted opposition that depends on Euro-American powerful countries, members of the so-called “international community”. An opposition that acts according to the expectations of the world masters cannot have a strong impact for the authentic change of our country’s situation.
A perfect illustration of this extroversion can be found in the workshop that gathered Congolese politicians organised by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. For us to sit at the same table to discuss face to face about us, to talk about our own problems, to evaluate ourselves, do we really need a foreign organisation that must invite and bring us together? When shall we learn to do things independently and avoid this shameful and childish dependency?
RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE CONGOLESE POLITICAL OPPOSITION
For me, if the Congolese political opposition wants to be efficient and reach a convincing outcome in terms of bringing about change in our country, it must first unite. This unity should not turn around power sharing that is called in the Congolese political jargon “cake”. It should rather revolve around a “common vision”. It means looking at the country with the same eye. Leaders of the opposition must agree on what type of country they will build together, the country the people of the Congo dream of, wish to see and live in. This will not preclude divergences in policies and programmes of action, but their differences would complement one another without losing sight of the ultimate dream.
The unity of the opposition is not synonymous with agreeing unanimously on every matter. It is about a diverse opposition that works as one; united for a common vision, but diverse on approaches and methodologies in the implementation of their programme.
On the other hand, I made it clear that without democracy there cannot be a political opposition. Yet, it has been proven that in our country, we have lived under dictatorship and totalitarian leadership since the reign of Leopold II of Belgium.
The only struggle therefore that should mobilise all Congolese citizens before we can talk about real political opposition, is the struggle for freedom and democracy.
We must therefore commit ourselves to struggle for a shift from dictatorship to democracy. I would like to urge all my compatriots to read the book “From Dictatorship to Democracy. A Conceptual Framework for Liberation” written by Gene Sharp. This book can be retrieved from the Internet for free in a PDF format. I also recommend you to read the most recent book written by our compatriot Françoise Mianda: “The Boom in Congo-Zaire” published by Monde Nouveau-Afrique Editions, you can buy it at any Filles de Saint Paul bookshop outlet countrywide.
It is quite obvious that the struggle for the establishment of democracy cannot be attained by simplistic strategies.
This struggle for democracy is supposed to start within opposition political parties. In fact, how can we institute democracy at large while in the microcosm of our political parties it does not exist? For example, how one can think of a democratic election while you are not able to hold your own primary election within your political parties to choose a candidate who will represent the party at the general elections?
For us to maximise all the chances for success in the struggle for democracy, we must invest in the formation of political actors and people at the grassroots level. This formation requires training and consciousness working in partnership with popular media, radio and television, that is both ideological and strategic. There is also a strong need to mobilise and organise the masses because this struggle is for them to recover the sovereignty that has been confiscated over many years by successive dictators.
Congolese political opponents must learn to develop the culture of a critical and constructive debate. Most debates we witness in the Congolese political arena are too superficial and lacking in reason. Political actors show more emotions and sentiments than expressing leading thoughts. Live on air, they expose to the people their emotional squabbles instead of addressing the actual challenges the country is faced with!
Furthermore, the debates must enshrine real, constructive substance; the should not only be limited to contesting but should also propose solutions. We wish to see from time to time formulations like: “I don’t agree with that… I suggest this…”, when political opposition leaders argue on TV or radio.
Congolese political opposition leaders must learn to pay the price of daring to institute changes like Mahatma Ghandi, the father of the Indian independence who never occupied the position of Prime Minister, but sacrificed his own life for his people. Reverend Martin Luther King of the US undertook a determined struggle against racism, and also paid the price of his life for that struggle.
If I were asked to conclude this exposé, I would say there is no conclusion. In fact, I have no intention to own the last word in assessing the Congolese political opposition. I would like to wrap up my statement by saying that the debate has just started.