But it is still not too late to prevent it and ensure a free and fair vote.
April 14 was an important date in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). My colleagues and I from across the spectrum of civil society and the political opposition met in the city of Lubumbashi to discuss the deteriorating state of our country and potential solutions.
We are profoundly concerned about a number of issues that, if left unaddressed, will severely compromise the integrity of the upcoming election, scheduled for December. The problems are evident, and alarm bells are mounting.
Since taking power after an election that was widely seen as fraudulent by both domestic and international observers, President Felix Tshisekedi has brazenly violated our constitution in a selfish pursuit to once again wrest power away from the Congolese people.
He has appointed judges unconstitutionally; handpicked partisan members of the supposedly independent electoral commission (CENI); imposed or otherwise failed to reform unfair electoral laws that are favourable only to him; and declared a “state of siege” – which amounts to martial law – in North Kivu and Ituri provinces, areas known to be opposition strongholds.
Meanwhile, CENI has been failing to meet its voter registration responsibilities. In January, the commission said it had managed to enrol only 7 million Congolese voters, from 10 provinces. Then for several months, CENI officials refused to release new figures upon repeated requests made by our coalition. In the past few weeks, CENI has declared that it has enrolled nearly 47 million Congolese out of an estimated 49 million eligible voters. There aren’t many people in the DRC who believe these figures to be credible, not least because of the fact that they were not broken down by electoral district.
The legal system continues to be used to quash dissent. Opposition leaders, as well as critical journalists, artists, and human rights activists, have been slapped with criminal charges or other trumped-up and arbitrary legal actions. This is creating a climate of fear, as documented by numerous international human rights groups – including the Committee to Protect Journalists and Human Rights Watch – and is meant to discourage opposition activity and participation as well as citizens’ access to information in the lead-up to the election.
As things stand today, the situation in the DRC is not conducive to a free, fair and credible election. Under the Tshisekedi regime, political rights and civil liberties in our country have sharply declined as its collapsing ratings on the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, Freedom House’s Freedom in the World report and Transparency International’s Anti-Corruption Perceptions Index demonstrate. Even the Catholic Church expressed public concern, much as it has in the past.
Nevertheless, the December election remains our best chance to peacefully address the failures of our government. We maintain that the only solution is to plan for and duly conduct a transparent, impartial, and peaceful poll. Our leaders must ultimately be accountable to us, the Congolese people, and we must avoid a repetition of past electoral failures, including the one in 2018, which have rubber-stamped illegitimate processes.
The task of ensuring a free and fair election largely falls on us, patriotic Congolese. However, there are important steps that the international community, and the United Nations in particular, can take to help us move the DRC towards peace and stability.
First and foremost, the UN and its relevant agencies must urgently assist with the needed resources and expertise to save our voter registration process from failure as CENI clearly struggles with its responsibilities.