November elections in the DRC matter: to its citizens, to European taxpayers, and to democracy in Africa.
Nirj Deva MEP argues that the only way to enhance political stability in the DRC is through a transparent, open, and fair election conducted on a level playing field. This is what we hope for, and indeed what we must insist on.
On Wednesday I joined with colleagues from across Europe to launch the FreeFair DRC campaign in Brussels.
We were joined by members of the Congolese diaspora who are extremely concerned that the upcoming elections on 28 November will be ignored by the wider world, leaving open the possibility of instability and violence.
So why should we care?
As a part of its role on the humanitarian and international development stage, the EU has become increasingly engaged with matters in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Yet the impact of this financial and humanitarian support may be drastically undone if we fail to ensure the elections in November are free and fair.
The sheer size of the DRC is often given as an excuse for the lack of genuine democracy, human rights and the rule of law. It’s certainly true that the DRC suffers from a chronic lack of infrastructure, making it difficult for the government in Kinshasa to assert its authority over the rest of the country.
Yet India, a country of comparable size that also possesses a challenging geography and has twenty times the DRC’s population, has been a successful democracy for more than sixty years.
Since the catastrophic war in eastern Congo ended eight years ago, the exploitation of the DRC’s plentiful natural resources has gathered pace. But instead of laying the foundations of a more stable and democratic state, this exploitation has simply fuelled more violence.
Powerful regional militias have sprung up across the country, heavily armed and filling the vacuum left by Kinshasa’s inability to extend its authority across this vast country. These militias control much of the DRC’s production of natural resources. They also hold the power of life or death over millions of Congolese.
In such a climate it is not surprising that in the DRC, many of the legal safeguards we take for granted here in the EU are scarce.
It would be easy to become fatalistic about the situation in the DRC. However, that would be a grave mistake.
The situation in the DRC matters: to Europe, and to Africa, and to its own citizens. This election will throw a spotlight not only on the DRC but on the state of democracy in Africa in general.
The international community is investing vast sums in ensuring this election is held according to international standards.
The European Union is contributing substantial financial resources, as well as a large team of long-term election observers. And all this money comes on the back of a massive investment of humanitarian and development aid by the EU over the past few years.
The logistical challenges are huge, but so are the stakes.
If this election is held freely and fairly, and in a way that ensures all Congolese can participate equally, the president will have an undeniable popular mandate to consolidate democratic governance in the DRC.
That would have a positive and potentially enduring effect across Africa. It would also boost the confidence of donors.
If, however, this election is conducted fraudulently and in a way that denies people the chance to have their say, the DRC will undoubtedly continue to be wracked by political instability, violence and poverty.
Free Fair DRC is an important campaign because it encapsulates the views and aspirations of a number of grass-roots, community-based organisations. These organisations know that the only way to achieve the improvement in human rights and the rule of law that they seek is to enhance the DRC’s political stability.
And they know that they only way to enhance political stability is through a transparent, open, fair election conducted on a level playing field. This is what we hope for, and indeed what we must insist on.
Nirj Deva MEP, Vice-Chair of the European Parliament’s Development Committee and Conservative Spokesman on Development
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