Thursday, 5 April 2012

Political Maturity in Congo

The obvious news coming out of Congo in the past few months relates to electoral fraud, human rights violations and attempts at forming a government.

Examples of political maturity on the part of ordinary Congolese seem to me, however, to be under-reported. I spent a good part of March in Congo (Kinshasa and Bas-Congo) asking people what they consider to be signs of political maturity.

Informants bitterly reported that authorities (particularly those at the CENI) proved to be brilliant in their ability to cheat and manipulate the electoral process. But there was also a clear sense of awareness, maturity, patience and good judgement on the part of ordinary people. They claim to be informed of what is going on on the political landscape. They are committed to keeping Kabila under scrutiny saying ‘ce Monsieur doit être plus prudent’ and ‘la pression peut affaiblir’.

Despite the huge potential for post-electoral violence, people did not express strongly felt political frustration through violent means. There were incidents but these were relatively limited. Most of the violence that did take place was carried out by the police and military – not by the people.

The discourse of violence also mutated. Heeding the lessons of the Arab Spring, Kinois claim their cell phones (tshombo) are their weapons and text messages bullets. This was a concern to the government which shut down SMS transmission from 3-28 December.

Another example of maturity is voting patterns. Of course we don’t really know who won the presidential vote but the legislative results are truly remarkable. The vast majority of MPs who sat in the previous legislature were not re-elected. They were sanctioned for not delivering on their 2006 promises. They voted themselves $6,000 per month salaries and perks while neglecting social priorities.

People also said that the free tee shirts and tins of sardines that were distributed on the campaign trail were not going to influence their vote as in the past.

Important political figures – even some Ministers (José Endundo - Environment, Alexis Tambwe Mwamba – Foreign Affairs, Martin Kabwelulu - Mining, Raymond Tshibanda - International Cooperation…) were not re-elected. This proves that a well financed campaign is not enough to maintain the trust of a frustrated constituency.

Alphonse Awenza Makiaba, a man with no political experience who feeds his family by transporting bags of rice and manioc on his bicycle, was elected to represent the city of Kisangani at the national level! This candidat des pauvres generated massive popular support precisely because voters could empathize with him.

While ethnicity structures Congolese society, last year’s voting was not always tribal. The election of Désiré Khonde Vila-ki-Kanda is a case in point. Originally from Bas-Congo where he ran and lost in 2006, he now won a seat in the North Kivu city of Goma where voters remembered his accomplishments as Provincial Governor during the Mobutu years.

Dictatorship, war and social stagnation have taught Congolese to be patient. And patience is another sign of political maturity. While some people say that the election fiasco has discouraged them in participating in the voting exercise, others are already gearing up for the next round in 2016.

1 comment:

  1. Well it was about time that people sobered up and smelled the coffee...