When, in 2006, Joseph Kabila became the first democratically elected president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, many Congolese and international observers felt assured that stability had finally come to the country. During the previous decade, Congo had been marred by widespread violence, including the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II — a conflict involving three Congolese rebel movements, 14 foreign armed groups, and countless militias; killed over 3.3 million Congolese; and destabilized most of central Africa. But, to put it simply, stability did not come to the country. Since 2006, clashes have killed hundreds, maybe thousands, of fighters and civilians and forced half a million people to relocate. Congo is now the stage for the largest humanitarian disaster in the world — far larger than the crisis in Sudan.
So what will the current elections mean for stability in the DRC? Could new leadership usher in a new era of tranquility and peace? Or could a second term for Kabila do the trick?
I am pessimistic about the outcome. A violent backlash is expected after the general election as both government and opposition vow to counter any defeat. Furthermore, while Kabila faces only divided opposition that poses no cohesive governmental front, many fear Kabila is well on his way to becoming another African autocrat. While he has retained the support of international allies, reconciled with former foes such as Rwanda, and used coalition pacts to consolidate power, he has altogether failed to combat poverty and corruption. He is weak both in Kinshasa and the east, despite some improvements in security. He is mocked by Congolese media for an obsession with video games in a society where loud verbal sparring is typical, both in the political and public realms.
So will the current elections mean stability has finally come to the DRC? Sadly, probably not.