Why Congo’s Election Outcome Is Raising Hackles

(Bloomberg) -- The Democratic Republic of Congo, sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest country, is aiming for its first transfer of power via the ballot box since the cobalt- and copper-rich nation gained independence from Belgium almost six decades ago. But elections held in late December haven’t produced a clear outcome. One of the losing candidates has called the vote fraudulent and declared himself the rightful winner, while the Catholic Church and a group of African countries have raised doubts about the veracity of the results.

1. What happened in the election?

Why Congo’s Election Outcome Is Raising Hackles

The official outcome confounded expectations. Heading into the Dec. 30 vote, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, the hand-picked protege of outgoing President Joseph Kabila -- who had ruled Congo for 18 years -- was expected to walk away with the job. But Shadary, 58, garnered just 24 percent of the vote, according to tallies released by Congo’s National Independent Electoral Commission. Opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi, 55, got 39 percent, while another rival, Martin Fayulu, received 35 percent. On Jan. 20, Congo’s Constitutional Court confirmed Tshisekedi as the official winner.

2. Why isn’t that the end of the story?

Runner-up Fayulu, 62, a former Exxon Mobil Corp. manager who heads a small party in the National Assembly and won backing from several heavyweight politicians, alleges that the results were fabricated. He’d previously complained about broken voting machines, delays and vote-buying on election day. After the Constitutional Court ruling on the results, Fayulu remained defiant. “From now on I consider myself the sole legitimate president of the Democratic Republic of Congo,” he told reporters.

3. Who else is raising questions?

Congo’s influential Catholic bishops say the electoral commission’s tallies didn’t reflect the findings of its 40,000-strong nationwide observer mission. Leaked voting data obtained by the New York-based Congo Research Group showed that three times more people supported Fayulu than Tshisekedi. And the African Union, a 55-nation inter-governmental organization, said it had “serious doubts” about the vote tally and called for a suspension of the proclamation of Tshisekedi’s victory.

4. Was the vote credible?

That depends who you ask. The electoral commission postponed balloting in three regions until March, citing concerns about an Ebola outbreak and militia violence. That effectively deprived 1.2 million people in opposition strongholds from having a say. Also, despite the presence of more than 16,000 United Nations peacekeepers, Congo’s government refused logistical support from the UN and financial assistance from international donors to organize the vote, which was originally supposed to be in 2016. The chairman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee at the time of the election described it as “neither free nor fair.” But the Southern African Development Community congratulated the president-elect and called on all Congolese to accept the outcome.

5. Why was Shadary expected to win?

The Kabila family led Congo for more than 20 years -- the outgoing president succeeded his assassinated father, Laurent-Desire, in 2001 before winning elections in 2006 and again five years later. Barred by the constitution from seeking a third term, Kabila, 47, chose Shadary, a loyalist and former interior minister, to run for the ruling Common Front for Congo coalition. That fueled suspicions that he intended to remain the power behind the throne and that huge financial resources and state support would be thrown behind Shadary’s campaign. When it emerged that Shadary was unlikely to win, Kabila may have negotiated a deal with Tshisekedi in return for immunity from prosecution and protection for his family’s vast business interests, according to Robert Besseling, the executive director of business risk consultancy EXX Africa.

6. Who is Tshisekedi?

He’s the leader of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress, Congo’s oldest and second-biggest political party. He was elected to the post in March 2018, thirteen months after the death of his father, Etienne, who had previously led the party. He teamed up with Vital Kamerhe, who finished third in a 2011 vote and ran Tshisekedi’s campaign. Kamerhe, a key Kabila ally until 2009, will likely play a central role in the next administration. Tshisekedi has pledged to clamp down on rampant corruption, enhance security and promote development.

7. What are the risks going forward?

The disputed result could lead to a prolonged period of political uncertainty -- the last thing that’s needed in a nation already confronting rampant poverty and insecurity, particularly in the eastern regions. Despite Shadary’s poor performance, Kabila’s ruling coalition won a large majority in the National Assembly, which could undermine the new president’s authority.

8. What are investors watching?

Congo, a nation of about 81 million, accounts for two-thirds of global production of cobalt, a metal used in rechargeable batteries needed by electric vehicles, and has deposits of gold, diamonds, tin and coltan, an ore that contains a metal used in mobile phones. The prospective change of administration may spur optimism among mining investors including Glencore Plc and Barrick Gold that they can reverse elements of a fiercely disputed new industry code that raised royalties and added taxes, although changes are unlikely if Kabila allies retain control of the mining portfolio. The economy is forecast to grow 3.8 percent this year, and an average of 4.3 percent annually over the next three years, according to the International Monetary Fund.

The Reference Shelf

  • A Human Rights Watch report on a crackdown on pro-democracy activists in Congo ahead of the elections.
  • A Bloomberg story about the ruling coalition’s candidate and another on how voting proceeded.
  • A Bloomberg investigation into the Kabila family’s business dealings.

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