Monday, 12 September 2011

Decentralization Ministry Abolished

Ex-Decentralization Minister Antipas Mbusa

Lack of progress in territorial decentralization has put into question the political will of the Kinshasa authorities to redefine the administrative map of the country and transfer rights and responsibilities to new decentralized political entities.

President Kalila just took a bold decision by abolishing the Ministry of Decentralization and Urban and Regional Planning. While it could be interpreted as reprisal against former rebel leader Antipas Mbusa and now ex-Minister of Decentralization for entering the race for the presidency, it is more likely a commentary on Kinshasa’s policy about this financially important and politically sensitive priority.

When the Congolese people ratified the 2006 constitution they were promised greater local-level autonomy within a three-year period. The aborted decentralization process reveals how an important constitutional commitment was made without taking into account overwhelming administrative, political and macroeconomic challenges. The commitment was also made without thinking through the mechanisms and technicalities of implementation. Research shows that low income countries emerging from conflict rarely have the human and material resources to make decentralization happen. It should have been obvious at the outset, given the extent of state collapse, Congo would not have the means or the political will to decentralize.

Decentralization is a complicated political process that requires the commitment and involvement of both central government and provincial authorities. It cannot take place in a democratic vacuum where political actors ignore – or distain – the principals of accountability. The process requires the establishment of overlapping interests and the achievement of mutual trust between the central government and representatives from the decentralized entities.

From the Kinshasa perspective, decentralization is antithetical to its efforts to consolidate power. The government’s objective is to capture and secure power, not redistribute it. A system has to be strong to share power; the Congolese government is too vulnerable to share.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Pre-election violence in Kinshasa: a hint of what’s to come

Dead soldier, Kinshasa, March 2007 @Getty Images
Pre- and post-election violence is to be expected in Kinshasa because insufficient effort has been made at trying to restore people’s faith in government or in improving their well-being. The government’s main objective in the past five years has been regime consolidation and personal enrichment, abetted by Congo’s compliant international partners.

Factional violence shook Kinshasa last week just hours after Etienne Tshisekedi officially entered the race for the country’s highest office by registering with the CENI.

UDPS headquarters was vandalized and the studios of a radio and television station close to the opposition - Radio Lisanga - were set ablaze on 5 September. A PPRD office was also destroyed. The next day police broke up a UDPS demonstration, killing one and wounding at least two others. The following night, the Congo Embassy in Paris was attacked with Molotov cocktails by unidentified assailants. Pursuing opposition politics abroad is an indicator of political repression back home.

Governor of the Kinshasa ville-province, André Kimbuta (whose son Gaylord Kimbuta was murdered in Belgium earlier this year) temporarily banned political demonstrations. UDPS and PPRD activists declared they would respect the ban. Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo spoke out, appealing for calm. UDPS has been demonstration in front of the CENI offices demanding access to their computer files to ensure transparency in the registration and voting procresses.

These flare ups are harbingers of what will come following elections. Results will be contested by the runner up with a possible Côte d’Ivoire style stalemate. The type of violence that resulted in hundreds of deaths in March 2007 when overzealous troops loyal to Kabila clashed with Bemba militiamen in Kinshasa won’t surprise anyone. Capturing power is one thing, but transforming it into a social agenda is something else.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Election snags in Congo

Pastor Ngoy Mulanda, president of the National Independant Electoral Commission - CENI, has systematically confirmed that elections will take place as scheduled on 28 November. But with less than three months to go, ballot boxes, voting booths and other equipment are unavailable. The material has not been delivered by Chinese, South African, German and Lebanese suppliers who have received 70% of their purchase fees. MONUSCO has committed to dispatching voting equipment within the country - but has refused to import it from abroad.

Ngoy has recalculated the budget. The new one is now $1.2 billion, up from $700 million. While international partners paid most of the voting costs five years ago, the brunt of the burden is on the Congolese government this time around. To generate money needed to carry out the polling, the government has proposed to sell of Gecamine state assets in what has been reported as shady deals.

There are growing concerns that the elections will consequently be delayed. While this is not a major problem for most of Congo’s international partners who are more preoccupied about fairness and transparency, delays would be severely condemned by opposition leaders. This is somewhat of a paradox because the opposition seems to timidly making progress in talks about presenting a single opposition candidate - so they could benefit from delays. Another concern about delays is that they will give the Kabila camp more time to figure out how to cheat on results reporting. This will be done by a sophisticated computer system that even the best intentioned elections monitors will be unable to control.