The DRC is on the verge of an election that has the strong possibility of being one of the freest and fairest that has ever taken place in Africa.

This is largely due to the decision of the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to respect the autonomy of CENI (its Independent National Electoral Commission), the high standards of the Commission particularly its adherence to international electoral standards, the willingness of most Congolese stakeholders to participate in its work as mandated by the law and the enthusiasm of the Congolese themselves to participate in a free and fair election.

For those who follow the evolution of democracy, the possibility of a free and fair election in the DRC should not be a surprise, A whole compendium of literature has been developed on how to run a free and fair election on the continent, CENI has mastered this literature, adapted to the Congolese situation and is now implementing it.

Observers relying on outside reporting for their information about the DRC would be surprised if free and fair elections were held. Afterall, the operation of CENI has been under incessant attack not only by a few outspoken members of the opposition and the Catholic Bishop but also by Western-based NGOs. These groups have preconceived notions about how things work in the country and/or are naïve about the real situation in Congo DRC relying on the opposition for their views. Also, one might not know of the current President’s commitment to Democracy given that he is the scion of a family that led to the fight for democracy against three dictators in power for about fifty years and were subject to imprisonment, exile, and having their property confiscated.

  
First, one should know something about how CENI works. Congolese religious leaders and civil society are responsible for appointing the President of CENI. This is often a divisive process, and this year was no exception. Six of the denominations (Revivalists, Kimbanguists, Muslims, Salvation Army, Orthodox, and independent churches) nominated Denis Kadima. The Catholic Church (CENCO) supported by the Church of Christ in the Congo (ECC) supported a different candidate. This stalemate resulted in a 28-month delay before the Parliament accepted the nomination of Kadima by the majority of the Church leaders tasked to choose CENI’s president. This was not CENI packing but simply a recognition by the Congolese Parliament that Kadima had a majority of the votes and the members of the non-traditional religious groups supporting him make up a majority of Congolese believers. Thus, the claim that President Tshisekedi appointed one of his loyalists leaves the wrong impression; he only accepted the recommendation of the Parliament. Other unfounded criticisms of CENI for its failure to consult with stakeholders; allow an independent audit of its work and a review of voting rolls.

In fact, CENI’s accomplishments so far are impressive. Despite the 28-month delay in selecting the President of CENI, the boycott at various times of the electoral process by a number of leading candidates. President Tshisekedi and CENI have stuck to their commitment that elections would take place as scheduled on December 20th. Unlike what occurred before the previous elections, there is no effort by the incumbent President to postpone the election so as to illegally extend his term in office. They are not scheming to extend their terms by delaying elections. In fact, before the end of the year, Congolese voters will be electing a President, five hundred members of the National Assembly, members of twenty-six provincial assemblies, and for the first-time members of around three hundred municipal communes on time.

With ten weeks left before the election, CENI has already completed the registry of over forty-three million voters and eliminated more than two million registrants who were duplicates, underage, and suspected registrations. The voting list is now digitalized and updated to ensure that it only contains eligible voters. A security operations center (SOC) is being deployed to ensure that outside forces do not tamper with vote totals. Transparent measures will ensure that the results from each polling station are protected and securely delivered to “voting central” to allow accurate tabulations that are not subject to human manipulation. In the past, there were globally circulated but unsubstantiated complaints that vote totals were tampered with between their tabulation at the local voting station and the final totals announced by CENI. Similar charges, if raised after this election should not have any credibility.

Evidence that CENI is functioning more effectively this year compared to the past is that CENI has approved twenty-eight candidates to run including three candidates who could pose a serious challenge to the incumbent. This contrasts favorably with the previous election in 2018 when two of the four leading candidates were disqualified from running.

In fact, CENI has publicly committed to following the steps suggested by the independent audit including those from The Carter Center to ensure that the election is conducted as efficiently as possible.

These recommendations include:

  1. The publication by CENI before the election period starts of the Atlas of registration centers to allow candidates and stakeholders to organize their participation in the voting.
  2. The activation of CENI’s geocoding of registration kits to allow the tracking of registration center activity by location.
  3. The implementation of a comprehensive IT audit to ensure secure and timely transmission of the results.
  4. Allocation of a substantial budget for communication of election activities and results.
  5. The integration of modalities for preventing misinformation from disrupting voter participation and confidence in the outcome of the election.
  6. Holding regular meetings of stakeholders to build trust.
  7. Revising the legal/regulatory framework to streamline the complaint and dispute procedures relating to the identification and registration of voters.
  8. Organizing oversight in such a way that would allow urgent consultation frameworks with all n with a view to finding a political and legal solution for voters in territories where registration has not taken place.
  9. Taking steps to ensure a balance between the need for CENI to protect the confidentiality of the personal information of those registered to vote on the one hand and the need to build trust among the Parties that the voter registration list was compiled objectively.

What is beyond the control of CENI is the need for the Tshisekedi Government to uphold democratic principles during the election including ensuring security for the voters, the poll workers​,​ and the candidates as well as freedom of assembly, speech, and the press. Although this article focuses on CENI, initial indications are that the Tshisekedi’s Administration will uphold democratic principles. After all, he is the scion of a family which over the past sixty years has been the leading defender of human rights in the DRC despite having their property confiscated and being imprisoned and exiled. Further evidence of his commitment to human rights is that the President has emptied the jails of political prisoners. allowed the return of political dissidents and unlike his three predecessors has not limited the ability of his opponents to participate in the political process. In fact, twenty-four candidates have been registered to run for President.

Unfortunately, the press reporting in the US and the commentary of some of the NGOs have been one-sided dwelling on three or four complaints of human rights abuses without mentioning the other side of the story. The negativity may not stem from intentional bias. Instead, it could be attributed to limitations in staffing resources, which hinder a full vetting of these reports. Notably, each allegation of misconduct by the Tshisekedi Administration can be countered with factual evidence. Yet these counterarguments are often overlooked and ignored. While views may vary, what remains concerning is the one-sided presentation of these issues by both the press and NGOs. A more inclusive approach considering diverse viewpoints is crucial for a holistic understanding of the situation.

 

The Authors:

Stephen Lande Ngoie Joel Nshisso

Mr. Stephen Lande -

President, Manchester Trade, International Business Advisor

Dr. Ngoie Joel Nshisso

President, Forum of Congolese and Diaspora Intellectuals (FICE)

 

 

(To Read Article in PDF Format - English Version) 

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(To Read Article in PDF Format - French Version)

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