The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is a nation with a tumultuous history, marked by conflict, instability, and political upheaval. Today, the DRC is once again facing political challenges, with the impending December election placing President Felix Tshisekedi up against 24 aspirants vying for the Presidency but none of whom, according to polls, stand a chance of unseating the incumbent. The DRC’s current political situation is a precarious one, which the EU must pay more attention to, considering its position as a hub for natural resources and and hydroelectric potential integral for Europe’s green transition, alongside its importance to peace and security in Central Africa. The stability provided by electoral continuity, despite negative allegations against President Tshisekedi, is exactly the kind of stability required by the EU, an anchor of stability in an otherwise tumultuous region.
A Shifting Landscape: Tshisekedi’s Rise to Power
In 2018, the DRC witnessed a historic moment as the nation held its long-awaited presidential elections. The election marked the end of Joseph Kabila’s 18-year rule, as he stepped down after reaching his term limit. The journey to the elections was not without controversy and challenges, and the eventual winner was Felix Tshisekedi, leader of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS).
However, Tshisekedi’s victory was not without its critics. Allegations of electoral fraud and manipulation cast a shadow over the legitimacy of his win, although these were never substantiated, and questions were raised about the role of the powerful Kabila family in the transition of power. These allegations created a divisive political atmosphere and left many sceptical about Tshisekedi’s ability to bring genuine change to the DRC.
Negative Allegations Alongside Vast Potential
Several negative allegations have been levelled against President Tshisekedi during his tenure. These have created significant challenges to his leadership and the DRC’s political stability, often bogging down the government in its ability to effect genuine change, mostly to the detriment of citizens.
The allegations of electoral fraud in the 2018 elections continue to cast doubt on the legitimacy of Tshisekedi’s presidency. Critics argue that the electoral process was marred by irregularities and that Tshisekedi’s victory was the result of a power-sharing agreement with the Kabila camp.
Tshisekedi’s presidency has also been criticized for not doing enough to combat corruption and mismanagement within the government. Despite these allegations, and the fact that corruption does remains a significant issue in the DRC, we have seen positive progress as the fight against corruption gains momentum under Tshisekedi’s leadership. According to Jules Alingete Key, who the President appointed to oversee public finance as Chief Inspector of Finance, “To speak of zero corruption, zero embezzlement, is a utopia… Our strategy is to reverse this situation”.
On the national security front, the DRC has a long history of armed conflict and insecurity, particularly in the eastern, Kivu, part of the country. Tshisekedi’s government has faced criticism for not making significant progress in resolving these security challenges. And while the presence of armed groups and violence in the eastern regions continues to disrupt the lives of millions of Congolese, the President has continued to make strides towards a lasting resolution. In this regard, August of this year saw President Tshisekedi offering a “last chance” for peace to Ituri and Northern-Kivu rebel groups.
EU’s Foreign Policy Interest
From the perspective of the European Union, it is crucial to consider why the continuity that would be provided by a second Tshisekedi term would best serve the EU’s Foreign Policy interest, including regional security, humanitarian concerns, and economic opportunities.
As was noted, the DRC is a vast and strategically important country in Central Africa. Its stability is critical to the entire region, and it shares borders with multiple countries. As has been seen in Kivu, instability in the DRC often spills over, leading to conflict and humanitarian crises. President Tshisekedi’s continued leadership however, has proven its ability to keep crises geographically contained, maintain a remarkable level stability in a tumultuous region and address serious humanitarian concerns which he has raised with international organizations regarding the Rwanda supported M23 rebel group conduct.
On the humanitarian front, the DRC has been plagued by numerous humanitarian challenges, including displacement, food insecurity, and disease outbreaks. The EU has a vested interest in supporting a government which has proven that it can effectively address these issues. President Tshisekedi’s administration, despite its shortcomings, has shown a commitment to improving the lives of the Congolese people through initiatives like free primary education.
It is exactly these kinds of initiatives, alongside the powerful image which President Tshisekedi commands among the DRC public, which has led to the positive numbers which recent public opinion polling identified. A recent poll conducted by international polling firm Global Researches, in Kinshasa, North Kivu, Katanga and Equateur suggested a strong backing of voters in key regions, with 92% of interviewed voters in Equateur and 71% in Kinshasa supporting the president while overall data suggested a positive 65% support for President Tshisekedi’s re-election campaign this December.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo remains a nation grappling with a complex and challenging political landscape. Despite the challenges that came with President Felix Tshisekedi’s rise to power, his leadership is essential for regional stability and addressing humanitarian and economic issues. The EU’s foreign policy interest should be to support his government, in order to effect positive change. Diplomacy, engagement, and constructive criticism when required are crucial tools for encouraging the DRC to move toward a more stable and prosperous future.