With opposition parties in the Democratic Republic of Congo failing to back a candidate to face off against President Joseph Kabila’s designated successor, the political trajectory will probably be one of continuity and not change.
Incumbent President Joseph Kabila is backing hardline Interior Minister and loyalist Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, and the decks are stacked in his favour.
Exactly a month before the landmark elections, the opposition had unequal access to the media which is largely controlled by the government.
There have been cases of opposition rallies being blocked while Shadary’s rallies have been in full swing. The most popular opposition leaders have been prevented from running in the elections. Jean-Pierre Bemba, who came second in the 2006 elections, was blocked by the government from returning to the DRC in August, and the popular Moise Katumbi was barred from entering the DRC at the border when he tried to return home in August.
Concerns remain around the reliability of the voting machines being delivered from South Korea and whether they might enable fraud. With low computer literacy throughout the country and limited electricity supplies, it is unclear whether the registered voters will be able to cast their votes, especially considering many of the 80000 voting stations are in rural areas. There are also questions around the validity of 10million of the 46million registered voters.
But despite the complaints of opposition parties about the dwindling political space, it was believed that if the opposition were able to unite, they would stand a chance of unseating Kabila's ruling party. But, once again, egos have got in the way of uniting the DRC’s fractured opposition.
While seven of the main opposition parties signed an agreement in Geneva on Sunday to back a single candidate, by the next day the leader of the largest opposition party on the ballot, Felix Tshisekedi, had pulled out of the agreement, his Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) party not supporting the compromise.
With 36 political parties and little political will to form a united front against the ruling party, it becomes difficult to effect real change.
The UDPS clearly feels it has more to gain by contesting the election on its own, rather than supporting the opposition candidate agreed on in Geneva - Martin Fayulu, who has Katumbi and Bemba's support. This election is a one-round contest that will be decided by a simple majority, meaning that multiple candidates will split the anti-Shadary vote.
Where does this leave the DRC's medium-term future trajectory?
It suggests many of the political leaders who have benefited financially from their positions of power will continue to do so, and they will also try to rid the DRC of foreign interference, even forcing the withdrawal of the UN peacekeeping mission, Monusco, which has operated in the country for two decades. Without a UN presence there will probably be a proliferation of militia groups, particularly in the east where rebel groups run amok.
The ADF rebel group that has operated near the border with Uganda since the 1990s has been targeting both the national security forces as well as Monusco staff and civilians in North Kivu. The national army clearly lacks the capacity to address the challenge posed by rebel groups, and without the presence of Monusco forces, the militias will have a free for all, preying on the population in the Kivus, a place considered to be the rape capital of the world.
The WHO has called the instability in the DRC “a perfect storm”, given that the spreading Ebola virus could easily spin out of control, especially now that health workers are pulling out after three Red Cross workers were attacked.
Kabila’s government has little to show for its 18 years in office - the DRC ranks 135th out of 140 economies measured by the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report of 2018. There have been useful projects that were initiated such as the Inga Dam which could have solved the electricity needs of the DRC and even South Africa and other neighbouring countries but, thanks to inefficiency, progress on such initiatives has been stalled for decades.
The DRC government has signed an agreement worth $14billion (R195bn) with Chinese and Spanish companies to build the largest hydro-electric project - the Inga 3 Dam which is supposed to generate 11000megawatts of electricity. If this project comes off, it would have immense benefits not only for the DRC but South Africa considering that, in 2013, we signed a treaty with the DRC committing our country to buying half the projected output.
If Shadary takes power in January, which looks increasingly likely, it would be in our national interest to initiate a sustained engagement with the new government in the hope of influencing and assisting the DRC’s development trajectory, which impacts on our own.
* Ebrahim is Independent Media’s group foreign editor