President Joseph Kabila
My country has spent years working to emerge from war and poverty, struggling with self-determination after emerging from brutal colonial rule. Now, the Democratic Republic of Congo stands at a crucial juncture: multi-party talks have led to the formation of an interim government that will allow for the first peaceful transition of power in our nation’s history.What my country needs now is support from our friends around the world, especially in the new U.S. administration and 115th Congress, to help us make this work. What will harm us are the fresh sanctions recently issued against a number of officials in my country’s government, by the European Union and the U.S.
They are exactly the wrong answer at exactly the wrong time.
In their view, the EU and U.S. are punishing the government for outbreaks of domestic violence in the DRC’s capital of Kinshasa earlier this year. But if the EU and the U.S. really want to help the DRC, as they claim to, and not hurt it, as they appear to, they will offer my country a carrot, instead of continuing to bash it with sticks.
The DRC is at a critical moment. In December, the second term of President Joseph Kabila ended. However, the nation is not ready to hold national elections. Because of the damage caused by years of civil war, voter rolls are outdated and democratic institutions are just growing. If a national election were held now, as many as many as half of all eligible DRC voters would be disenfranchised, unable to vote.
No one – not the DRC, not the U.S., not the EU -- wants this. All parties want fair and free elections and a continuation of the stability Kabila is building. Twenty-five years ago, the U.S. sanctioned then-Somali
President Biarre and a number of military members, which aided the government’s downfall and Somalia’s descent into bloody anarchy. Please do not repeat that mistake in the DRC.
An interim government is the best solution, all parties agree. Elections will be held this year.
The election delay is no surprise. The DRC’s independent electoral commission has said the country cannot stage a free and fair election now. And, per the constitution, Kabila cannot run for a third term. He is not seeking to be president-for-life.
Yet, our Western friends are punishing us because we are holding our elections on our timetable, not theirs. This smacks of the sort of colonialism that the DRC left behind when it won its independence in 1960.
At this delicate time for the DRC, the nation’s citizens need to know they will be safe, and that rule of law will be maintained. However, the sanctioned DRC officials are all from the security and law enforcement sectors of our government, and include the minister of state security, the minister of interior, and various generals. In other words, they are precisely the people who in any government anywhere in the world would be most responsible for maintaining public order and peace in challenging or tumultuous times.
At age 29, Kabila became president due to the assassination of his father. Counter to the stereotype of an African strongman, he committed himself immediately to ending a bloody war in our country that had cost more than 5 million lives, drafting a constitution that is widely seen as one of Africa’s most democratic and organizing elections, which he proceeded to win.
Sixteen years later, the time for change has come. But to honor the nation’s democracy, it should come in a peaceful, orderly fashion and from the ballot box – not in response to the demands of a provocative group of street protestors and Western powers. No one who cares about the DRC could possibly disagree – unless they have already chosen a political side in our country.
In government, our task is relatively straightforward: we must maintain a functioning and orderly state until elections can be held. So how exactly is our task helped by sanctioning our top security officials?
Since our independence in 1960, the Congo has known too much disorder, too much violence, and too much interference from other countries. Despite this we have managed to tame the monsters of war, mass targeting of women by combatants, disease and poverty. Our work is nowhere near done, but our progress – despite the massive obstacle we have faced – cannot be understated. What we need, and deserve, is help. Yet the recent statements from Brussels and Washington are long on criticism and short on any offers of assistance.
The recent sanctions are disproportionate, counter-productive and, in our view, mistaken. We hope they are overturned. Targeting security officials in a fragile environment is not an approach for peace, but it could be understood as a pressure campaign rooted in the goal of regime change. We hope this isn’t the case, because each time a foreign government imposed regime change on the Congo, millions died and our situation only became worse.
Going forward, we can only hope that the bearers of sticks will consider the wisdom of their recent policies and strive instead to work with us as partners and friends in achieving our democratic dreams.
Jean-Claude Mokeni is the chairman of the DRC Senate’s foreign affairs committee.