The Case for a more Prosperous and Stable Country: What is at Stake in the DRC?

ACCORD COVID-19 Conflict & Resilience Monitor
Photo: UN Photo/Abel Kavanagh

It will take more than just the political will of international and national actors to pave a smooth path for long-term stability in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Based on its security, social, and political dynamics, the DRC needs a total rebuilding of its institutions.

One of the most important aspects in this process of rebuilding the DRC would be to end the personification of the country’s political institutions which is characterised by the idea and practice of mystification of leaders. From President Joseph Mobutu to Desire Kabila, to Joseph Kabila, and now Felix Tshisekedi, the DRC continues to be a country of strong men, rather than strong institutions. This view of the political space hinders every opportunity for progress and state-building. To tackle this complex reality and take the country on the path of sustainability, the following determinants need to be addressed: good governance, modern root cause of instability, and the institutionalization of power sharing. 

The #DRC continues to be a country of strong men, rather than strong institutions. @DrYvanYenda

Good governance

Good governance does not necessarily reflect good political intentions. Ethical leadership, good planning, effective implementation of government programs, and positive/satisfactory results should be on the list of what would make good governance effective in the DRC. 

Firstly, the current political dynamics in DRC continue to demonstrate that beyond democratization processes and narratives, the country needs to be supported in establishing ethical political leadership that would separate personal ambitions, party interests, and public service. In fact, one of the expectations of the upcoming government is to demonstrate the ability to minimize political ambitions of opportunist actors, and channel every governmental effort toward building the country. Of course, this is possible if both local and international partners work alongside government in developing and supporting a realistic development plan. 

Secondly, corruption must be reduced. The debacle with the infrastructure project known as part of the “hundred days” program of Tshisekedi and the recent court ruling regarding the embezzlement of public funds allocated to public education show how corrupt the system is. To end this haemorrhage, the momentum started by President Tshisekedi to re-establish the rule of law would need to be sustained by a strong and independent judiciary system.  

The #DRC would have to take a bold step in revisiting its constitution in order to make the political system more suited to its context. @DrYvanYenda

Addressing modern root causes of instability

The term ‘root cause’ has become part of the most appealing international jargon in peace and stability operations, even if its exact meaning continues to be subject to interpretation based on context. Focusing on the past twenty years of the DRC, some of the root causes of the current instability and fragility include: an inadequate political system, a democratic process which is considered an experiment of democracy rather than the real process, and a politicized civil society that focuses more on politics than community-based programs. 

(a) an inadequate political system: While the constitution establishes a decentralized political system with the central government as the ultimate decision-making body, there are growing concerns in provinces establishing the failure of development and transformation and the distance between the government and the people. Although seen as a system of compromise between federalism and centralized systems, its resulting misunderstanding and disagreement between the central government and local actors creates a lack of trust, which in turn fuels insecurity, criminality, and promotes poverty. The DRC would have to take a bold step in revisiting its constitution, in order to make the political system more suited to its context. 

(b) a democratic process which is considered as an experiment of democracy rather than the real process: This persistent consideration of DRC’s solutions as temporary continues to fragilize the country and undermine peace efforts. For instance, while being aware of major irregularities regarding the 2018 elections, the option for peace and institutional stability at the expense of transparency and integrity of the electoral process, shows today that a quick and temporary fix has never and will never serve the just cause of the DRC. On this front, the DRC would have to focus on reform of its electoral system now, to avoid future delay in the electoral process. Such a delay will lead to more violence and institutional fragility. This presents an opportunity for both multilateral and bilateral international partners to accompany the Congo with more robust reforms and capacity building.   

(c) a politicized civil society that focuses more on politics rather than community-based programs: The DRC’s civil society space has either been hijacked by political actors, or has turned toward political battles, hence ignoring other critical societal domains. For instance, the Catholic church, which is one of the leading voices among civil society organizations has in the past thirty years become more vocal on issues of political concerns, hence diverting some of its resources to political campaigns. While the impacts have been incredibly positive, the ideal would be to have such an influential civil society organization lead or support projects and programs of social impacts rather than attempting to fix the politics. This is to argue that along with government institutions, the DRC civil society space needs to rebuild and refocus.  

Along with government institutions, the #DRC civil society space needs to rebuild and refocus.  @DrYvanYenda

Institutionalization of the power sharing mentality at the expense of meritocracy

Since the Sun City Accord, the DRC has exercised an intense practice of power sharing as a means of organizing and creating an inclusive political space. Of course, the results of such a misstep continue to be negative. Most recent examples are the infamous coalition between the CACH (Cap pour le Changement) and FCC (Front commun pour le Congo) of President Tshisekedi and the former President Kabila. Their failure to harmonize their political programs and to govern, demonstrated another negative side of power sharing ‘a la congolaise’. The incoming government will unfortunately also be a result of political agreement and power sharing between those who joined the newly established coalition known as ‘Union sacrée’. This coalition as the previous ones is also based on political representativeness rather than meritocracy. Again, the biggest task ahead for a more stable and prosperous DRC lies in building a political system that takes advantage of the right expertise rather than right political positioning. 

Dr. Yvan Yenda Ilunga is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science at Providence College and an Instructor of Political Science at James Madison University. He is the author of ‘Humanitarianism and Security: Trouble and Hope at the Heart of Africa’ (Palgrave McMillan Inc, 2020). He Tweets at @DrYvanYenda

Article by:

Yvan Yenda Ilunga
Yvan Yenda Ilunga
Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Relations Salve Regina University (USA)

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