After more than two years of delays, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is in the early stages of its first democratic transition of power since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960. A peaceful transition would represent a huge step in Africa's transition toward democracy, but major questions remain. Following the announcement of election results, rumors are swirling that the winning candidate struck a deal with the country's outgoing president, outside powers are still planning their responses, and the elections impact on the country's critical mining sector is still taking shape.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo's independent electoral commission has declared opposition candidate Felix Tshisekedi the winner of the country's recent presidential election. However, competing opposition candidate Martin Fayulu denounced the results, the Roman Catholic Church declared that the announcement does not match its findings, and France and Belgium have both expressed skepticism. Moreover, unconfirmed reports suggest that Tshisekedi may have struck a deal with outgoing President Joseph Kabila to protect the former leader's deeply entrenched business interests — as well as his physical safety — in exchange for a peaceful pathway into power. Kabila's hand-picked candidate, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, was a distant third in the results.
Why It Matters
A democratic transition of power would be a watershed moment for the Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, the results as announced have produced plenty of suspicion, although they are reportedly being celebrated in Kinshasa — the capital city and a Tshisekedi stronghold. But anger has escalated in Kisangani and in eastern border areas that heavily supported Fayulu. Voting in some of those regions was canceled due to threats from militancy and an outbreak of Ebola, taking more than 1 million potential votes that might have tipped the scales in Fayulu's favor off the table. The country's constitutional court has until Jan. 15 to ratify the results, but election delays and growing opposition may challenge that deadline.
From a more international perspective, the Democratic Republic of the Congo's rich reserves of cobalt, copper and other minerals make it important to global supply chains. If the rumors of a deal between Tshisekedi and Kabila prove to be true, the outgoing president's deep ties to the mining industry could be maintained under his predecessor. However, it's unclear whether a Fayulu presidency would leave existing mining contracts untouched, or for how long.
What to Watch For
The significant skepticism over the Democratic Republic of the Congo's election results will place tremendous pressure on the election commission to release its findings for public scrutiny. Regional blocs such as the Southern African Development Community may condone the election to support peace efforts, but it will be important to watch for less conciliatory reactions from onlookers such as France, the United States, China and the Catholic Church — a key institution in the country. Currently, the clear skepticism from Western powers suggests they will press for more transparency.
If opposition to the election results mounts, the constitutional court could face pressure to refuse to validate them over irregularities. Though not a particularly likely scenario, the results could be annulled, plunging the country into yet another period of uncertainty.