Two fateful words uttered in the White House in August 1960, “eliminate him”, opened the floodgates to Congo’s never-ending nightmare.
These came from the 34th US president, Dwight D Eisenhower, in reference to one of Africa’s greatest leaders, Patrice Lumumba.
Barely five months later, Lumumba was murdered and his body dissolved in sulphuric acid, denying him a dignified burial.
The gruesome act brought the country under the control of the Western conspirators’ preferred candidate, Mobutu Sese Seko. The people in the Democratic Republic of Congo have not united through infrastructure development, peace and security since independence.
After 18 years in power, President Joseph Kabila dragged his feet in leaving office despite the 10-year term limit stipulated in the constitution.
The long-awaited elections were marred by irregularities. Sporadic violence in areas dominated by the opposition parties affected the conduct. This was worsened by an outbreak of the Ebola disease in the Bikoro and Iboko provinces.
When the ruling Common Front for Congo (FCC) coalition candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, was headed for defeat, opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi became Kabila’s preferred candidate. Tshisekedi has since been declared the winner, despite Catholic Church reports of irregularities in vote counting.
Calls by the SADC and the AU to find a negotiated solution have been ignored by Kabila and Tshisekedi. Martin Fayulu has declared the process an “electoral coup”.
Although the elections appear to be an internal matter, they are critical to the SADC and the AU. First, the DRC remains the missing link in Africa’s quest for development. South Africa and the continent have invested heavily in peace and security in the DRC and the Great Lakes region.
Since the 1960s, the DRC has been a source for Africa’s worse violence, including the Rwandan genocide. Silencing the guns would stabilise the entire region.
The SADC and the AU must ensure the disputed elections do not reverse the major gains made by the international community in maintaining peace and security.
The lack of a viable state would be a huge challenge for the government of Tshisekedi.
The DRC needs infrastructure connectivity to operate. This huge country does not operate optimally for its citizens. It is vulnerable to external forces that benefit from chaos.
The DRC’s rich natural resources are not benefiting its people or the continent. A stable government is needed to harness these resources in line with regional and continental visions.
But there’s a lack of infrastructure. Inga Dam needs to operate at full capacity to boost the power grid. The country’s water reserves can supply the region, alleviating drought pressure for countries like South Africa and Zimbabwe.
South Africa, the SADC and the AU should stay engaged to nudge the new leadership to embark on a reconciliatory and inclusive government. At the same time, existing peacekeeping efforts should be boosted.
What is happening in the DRC is not in line with SADC and AU electoral guidelines. Regional institutions of political governance need to devise measures that will compel member states to comply. These should be punitive in nature, to bring about accountability and respect for human rights.
With supporters of human rights and democracy dwindling as the US battles with domestic woes and the EU seems to be weakening, Africans need to double their efforts to keep their own peace. To this end, the SADC and AU should hold leaders accountable. There is no better place to start doing so than the DRC.
* Monyae is a senior political analyst at the University of Johannesburg.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.