Tshisekedi peut-il gagner les élections au Congo?
Firebrand Attracts Votes in Congo, Dismaying West
Source: The New York Times
Published: December 2, 2011
NAIROBI, Kenya — Could Étienne Tshisekedi, a 78-year-old career rabble-rouser who is immensely popular in the streets of his country but definitely unpopular inside Western embassies, actually win the presidential election in the Democratic Republic of Congo?
It’s a long shot, analysts say, but not impossible, though Congo’s election this week has been so chaotic and often violent, with poll workers slugged in the face and polling places burned to the ground, that it may be difficult to ever know who truly won. Countless ballots have now been reduced to ashes; many others have been tampered with. On Friday, election observers sounded despondent, saying that the official tallying centers looked like disaster zones, with ballots dumped in the mud and the supposedly sacrosanct tabulation sheets fluttering loose in the wind.
Still, the early results that have not mysteriously vanished or been destroyed show Mr. Tshisekedi leading handily in Kinshasa, the capital, and drawing many votes nationwide, creating the possibility of an upset against President Joseph Kabila, who has ruled Congo with an increasingly heavy hand for 10 years.
“It’s neck and neck,” said Jason Stearns, a Congo specialist whose blog, Congo Siasa, which means Congo politics, is considered by many to be the electronic handbook for the country. “The results look good so far for Tshisekedi.”
Yet, whether a country with a long and bitter history of authoritarian rule actually lets an opposition leader claim the presidency — that’s a whole other matter, Mr. Stearns said.
“There are certainly people in the ruling party — how can I put this diplomatically? — who would resort to extralegal means to prevent Tshisekedi from being president,” he said.
Few Western diplomats predict Mr. Tshisekedi (pronounced CHISS-say-KAY-dee) will win, and many of them have been hoping against it. Though the vast and potentially rich Congo has been stuck in a violent rut under President Kabila, many people both inside the country and out fear that an abrupt change of leadership could destabilize the nation even further. Analysts say Congo’s bevy of international donors is also suspicious of Mr. Tshisekedi for his strident and often anti-Western views and his firecracker remarks, like unilaterally declaring himself president last month.
“The West sees Tshisekedi as intransigent, rigid in his positions, and radically populist,” said Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, a Congolese professor of African studies at the University of North Carolina, who worked briefly with Mr. Tshisekedi in the 1990s. “However, these are the qualities that endear him to the Congolese people, whatever the province, insofar as they see his positions as reflecting their deepest aspirations.”
The stage is now set for explosive unrest across Congo, no matter who wins. Mr. Kabila’s men have already shown how they deal with dissent, with the business end of their machine guns.
Human Rights Watch said Friday that at least 18 civilians had been killed and 100 seriously wounded in election-related violence in the past week and that “the majority of those killed were shot dead by Republican Guard soldiers.” For the past week, the Republican Guard has been making a clear show of force in Kinshasa, cruising around with heavy weapons, red berets and sunglasses; its soldiers are considered Mr. Kabila’s closest men.
But Mr. Tshisekedi’s base is also primed for violence, with his supporters vowing to riot if he loses. He has become the embodiment of hope and change for millions of desperately poor Congolese who have invested in him their expectations of a better life — jobs, schools, peace. Congo is, after all, probably the most underachieving country in the world. Despite being huge, hugely fertile and blessed with an embarrassment of natural riches — gold, diamonds, cobalt, copper, timber and oil, just to name a few — the United Nations recently ranked Congo the least developed country on earth.
Mr. Tshisekedi has become the leading channeler of all this discontent — there are nine other presidential challengers — for a few reasons. He has been on the Congolese political scene for 50 years, one of the handful of well-educated Congolese back in 1960, when the Belgians granted Congo independence after decades of brutal colonization.
As one of Congo’s first lawyers, he served as justice minister, interior minister and prime minister, and at one point was close to Mobutu Sese Seko, the country’s kleptocratic dictator for 31 years until Mr. Kabila’s father staged a rebellion in the mid-1990s to oust Mr. Mobutu. But Mr. Tshisekedi broke from Mr. Mobutu well before that over the regime’s corruption and was jailed, exiled and tortured several times, securing his reputation as a dedicated populist — and as clean.
Mr. Stearns says it is hard to know how much better Mr. Tshisekedi would do than Mr. Kabila at managing beleaguered Congo, which has never really recovered from the rebellion in the 1990s. But, he said, Mr. Tshisekedi “hasn’t really been bought off” and his anti-corruption stance seems solid. On the campaign trail, he stumped for free primary education and universal health care, much needed in a country where life expectancy is 55. He has also threatened to review many of the questionable mining deals that the Kabila government has signed, which critics say have deprived the Congolese people of billions of dollars while allowing a few men to get very rich.
In the coming days, Congo’s weak institutions will be put to the test, especially if the results are close. This year, Mr. Kabila, 40, pressured Parliament to change the Constitution to eliminate a second round of voting, meaning that whoever wins the most votes now, even if it is only 30 or 40 percent, will be president.
The national election commission, run by one of Mr. Kabila’s friends, is determined to release presidential results by Tuesday, even though observers say poll workers are exhausted and overwhelmed.
John Stremlau, a leader of the Carter Center’s monitoring delegation, described the tabulation process as “rushed, underprepared and underequipped.” With all the pressure building, he said, “it’s really, really worrying.”