Dialogue in DRC: What if we are missing the point?

Dialogue 3

For more than a year now, Congolese political life has been focussed on Dialogue. 2015 was punctuated by the publication in February of the UDPS’s roadmap, by dozens of declarations from politicians, civil society and international partners, the presidential “consultations” launched at the end of May,  the waltz of international envoys to facilitate the holding of this forum, and Joseph Kabila’s Call for Dialogue at the end of November. And since then? Still nothing.

Should we participate or not? What will be discussed? What would be its structure and duration? Who is authorised to convene it? What would be the legal basis for the decisions made? What are the hidden agendas? Should it or should it not open the way for a new period of transition? In short, there are many questions which divide the political class into those who are pro- and anti-Dialogue.

Points in common and differences

All stakeholders agree that the CENI global electoral calendar is unenforceable and that it is necessary to obtain a broad consensus for a new timetable. The registration of several million voters who have become eligible since 2011 seems also to be agreed upon unanimously. Furthermore, all involved concur that the electoral violence of 2006 and 2011 must be avoided in 2016 at all costs.

The big differences are centred around the number of elections to organise as well as their financing, the composition of the CENI, whether or not to have international mediation, and even the necessity to organise a Dialogue when all these issues can be discussed within existing institutions.  As for the enrolment of Congolese citizens living abroad, opinion is constantly changing.

A few months before the deadline

The electoral process is deadlocked.  The opposition, which swears by democratic change of power, has accused the Majority of dragging its heels. It is worried that the Majority is just using Dialogue and other subterfuges to stay in power beyond 2016, whereas the Majority asks other stakeholders not to get fixated on dates, but to discuss a compromise for the electoral process. There is a glaring lack of confidence amongst all players and the demonstrations planned in the next few weeks by each political camp add further tension to the situation.

According to the Constitution, the transfer of power from Joseph Kabila to his successor must take place on 19 December 2016. Just eleven months from the deadline and considering the different prerequisites, I don’t see objectively how the timeline can still be respected. All stakeholders hold some responsibility and every day that passes affirms a little more the much criticised “glissement”.

It’s probably with this in mind that the Opposition leaders seem more and more willing to contemplate the idea of a popular uprising to topple the Kabila regime.  For its part, the Majority has confirmed that it will maintain public order at all costs. The stage is set for a confrontation, even if the Catholic Church and partners have been trying for several weeks to calm the situation by inviting all parties to talk.

I’m convinced that street violence cannot lead to a lasting solution. At the very most it will allow certain players to arrive strengthened at the negotiating table. My belief is that a Dialogue, by whatever name or form it takes, will take place sooner or later.

And what if we are missing the point?

If Dialogue has taken up everyone’s energy for more than a year, it is because it’s the only peaceful means to face the challenges which we see today in the DRC. More than just the organisation of free, fair and transparent elections in a peaceful environment, the issue is to succeed in the first peaceful transfer of power in the country’s history. In other words, organise the smooth departure of Joseph Kabila from the presidency.

Only dealing with electoral matters during the Dialogue would be the equivalent of believing that Joseph Kabila gained his power through the ballot box, and it would be a mistake. As I stated in my last article, Joseph Kabila, like many of his counterparts in the region, got his power by force. Furthermore, his opposition often accuse him of ruling through violence and intimidation. A Dialogue which aims to organise his peaceful departure from power, must therefore also lead to a compromise on the questions of the military and security forces.

There can be no peaceful transfer of power without provisional arrangements concerning the security system. It’s an essential element that the stakeholders, who will sooner or later find themselves around the negotiating table, should add to their agenda.

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