Ramaphosa’s SADC washes hands of DRC election; sides with Russia, China

LONDON — Biographer Anthony Butler tells us that as a young man South African president Cyril Ramaphosa was rarely seen without a bible under his arm. So this one-time practicing Lutheran is well aware of the role Pontius Pilate played in the death of Christianity’s icon Jesus Christ. Earlier today Ramaphosa adopted Pilate’s playbook, agreeing with a decision to overrule bolder SADC members like Angola which had called for an independent recount of votes in the DRC presidential election. On the face of it, SADC’s statement leaves citizens of the DRC at the mercy of Joseph Kabila, an unelected tyrant who over 18 years has plundered himself into becoming one of the richest men on earth. As we read in this excellent piece from the Africapractice analysts, SADC’s Pilate approach is likely to confirm what the Financial Times of London called one of the greatest electoral frauds of modern times. Barring the discovery of an independent backbone, that is, from DRC’s Kabila-packed Constitutional Court. Hopefully Ramaphosa knows something the rest of the world doesn’t. Because even in this cynical world, miracles still happen. – Alec Hogg

By Roddy Barclay and Daphne Piriou*

Roddy Barclay

Amid much speculation around the direction the SADC community would take as it held an emergency summit today on the elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the regional bloc issued a relatively toothless statement, calling on international actors to recognise the sovereignty of the DRC. This follows a week of policy statement flip-flopping in which the bloc initially called for a vote re-count before back-tracking on this call. SADC’s emergency summit followed two separate data leaks originating from the electoral commission (CENI) which provide further alleged evidence to support claims by losing opposition candidate Martin Fayulu – and supported by polling and electoral monitoring data – that he had in fact won the election by a considerable margin. SADC’s latest statement may have killed any prospect of any concerted and coordinated response from the international community. Accordingly, all eyes will now turn to the constitutional court, which is known to be aligned with the ruling authorities and subject to their influence.

Daphne Piriou

Behind all the controversy lies an election that has followed along extremely unusual lines. Despite being relatively peaceful if a little chaotic in its conduct, few observers expected an opposition candidate to emerge as the victor as President Joseph Kabila seeks to retain influence and control. Yet even fewer thought Felix Tshisekedi would emerge the victor, defying both political analyst expectations and polling data. This dynamic is at the heart of the subsequent investigations led by domestic and international actors into the result. We understand that the Kabila clan – faced with an inability to rig the vote in its favour such was the poor showing of its candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary – sealed a back-room deal with Tshisekedi, who is seen as the least objectionable candidate to Kabila. A source within CENI went as far as to state an agreement had been reached since November as the ruling coalition quickly realised Shadary had no chance of winning.

As we await a constitutional court ruling that will likely reject Fayulu’s claims or result in a stage-managed recount process, paving the way for a Tshisekedi administration, big questions remain around the political forces that will make up the new government. The exact parameters of the alleged deal struck between Kabila and Tshisekedi remain unclear. At a minimum, the new government is likely to avoid aggressively pursuing Kabila and his allies, noting the considerable financial powers and influence over the state and military apparatus that Kabila can still leverage. However, the deal may well go further and even grant Kabila influence over certain appointments as a means of sharing power between the two political leaders. The FCC’s very strong showing in the concurrent provincial and legislative elections has also guaranteed the party continued local and national influence in this regard.

The reaction to the standoff has been muted despite some isolated protests in Fayulu’s strongholds, with an internet shutdown limiting mobilisation and the fact that Tshisekedi – a known opposition figure – has won, limiting the extent of popular anger. In some respects, this outcome can be deemed to have spared the country the potential instability and violence that could have greeted a victory for Fayulu, which could have proven unacceptable to Kabila, or a rigged and contested Shadary win, which would have galvanised opposition supporters into mass protest.

Following on from SADC’s statement, we believe that the international community’s desire for stability will prevail; a position further reinforced by the lack of unity between international actors. For instance, South Africa, once a crucial ally to Congolese democracy, sided with China and Russia in the UN meeting on the situation in the DRC last week at a time when France, the US and EU were criticising the poll result. We expect a short period of upheaval as the Fayulu camp seeks to challenge the outcome through the courts and the street, imploring the international community to action but to limited avail. Ultimately protest fatigue and the advancement of legal processes to inaugurate a new government will likely cause even the most ardent Fayulu supporters to end their protests.

Businesses in the DRC will ramp up their operations again sooner than anticipated as a result of this election result. However, the country still faces deep structural issues linked to its mineral dependence. The economy has been buffeted by slowing growth since the commodity price crash in 2014, leading to a poor fiscal situation only compounded by the USD 600-700 million spent on the election organisation in the past year. Whilst foreign direct investment will recover gradually after a prolonged period of uncertainty since 2016 in which spending slowed significantly, Tshisekedi faces a vast challenge in the continued presence of armed groups, lacking power and transport infrastructure across the vast country, and institutionalised corruption. Interestingly, he previously criticised Kabila’s controversial mining code amendments in 2018, saying it had gone too far and labelling it “anti-investment”. However, his tone may change now that he is in office. He will be both constrained by an FCC-dominated legislature and wary of the political and fiscal implications of a backtrack on such a popularly-backed measure.

The UDPS lacks governing experience and Tshisekedi in particular has no track record to speak of. There is no programme or policy agenda, and fault lines within the UDPS suggest a coherent strategy will be difficult to conceive. As such, we anticipate that Tshisekedi will bring politicians and technocrats from across the spectrum into government, ‘widening the tent’. This will result in a degree of business continuity with barely any policy reform or changes to the business environment in the medium-term beyond substantial personnel changes at a ministerial and parastatal level, as well as changes in the informal power structures that sit behind these positions, complicating engagement activities. Investor confidence will rise soon but sustained improvement in the business environment under a Tshisekedi administration will depend entirely on who he surrounds himself with – both formally and informally. For now at least, Kabila does not appear to be departing the stage and this could complicate matters as power struggles emerge in this new fudge of a government whose perceived legitimacy will remain questionable in the eyes of many.

  • Roddy Barclay is the head of intelligence and analysis; and Daphne Piriou is an associate consultant at Africapractice, a strategy and communications consultancy.