DR Congo: Slide into civil unrest inevitable after contested election

  • A Shadary win remains almost inevitable, but the extent of manipulation remains unclear
  • Nationwide civil unrest is increasingly probable, driven by the likelihood of contested results
  • Government stability forecast to decrease in the next 6 months

In our latest edition of Mining Journal, we looked at how a Shadary win in DR Congo threatens further squeeze on miners' profits. This week, we focus on DR Congo elections, as after two years, and an extra week-long delay, Congolese voted in presidential, legislative and provincial elections on 30 December. As expected, the polls were chaotic, with reports of vote-buying, intimidation and malfunctioning electronic voting machines. A few isolated violent incidents marred an otherwise mostly peaceful process.

The electoral commission, CENI, which works at the pleasure of President Kabila, is almost certain to publish results that endorse his chosen successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, regardless of popular will.

Official results unlikely to reflect independent tallies

CENI has announced that preliminary figures will be released on 6 January and then finalised on 15 January, with the new president inaugurated three days later. But the outcome is unlikely to reflect the true picture or stick to the timetable. Three days after the vote, the electoral commission had only received 17% of completed ballot tallies from voting stations. The government has cut internet access and interrupted mobile phone messaging services to hinder independent vote tallying operations, as well as the media’s reporting of provisional numbers from polling stations.

All civil society tallies so far, while largely partial and unreliable, point to an opposition victory. The majority favour Martin Fayulu and the Lamuka coalition, others Félix Tshisekedi and his Cach grouping. Both opposition camps are claiming victory, while ruling officials have been quick to claim the success of their candidate, Kabila’s chosen replacement, Shadary. We maintain the outcome will be skewed in favour of Kabila’s proxy candidate, behind closed doors.

Widespread civil unrest inevitable

As the manipulated count becomes public over the next few days, CENI’s tactic of keeping the population in the dark, through both media and internet blackouts, will prove costly. It is inevitable that large crowds of people will take to the streets to contest the result nationwide. Any increase in civil unrest from current levels has the potential to hamper mining production levels. Foreign nationals have largely been advised to return home from DR Congo, limiting manpower and expertise. Mass citizen mobilisation will block crucial export routes, particularly around the eastern provinces and Kasumbalesa in Zambia, and reduce the workforce for both industrial and artisanal mining nationwide.

Civil society organisations have returned with renewed support after CENI delayed the elections from 23 December to 30 December. Contested results are even more likely as one powerful Catholic civil society organisation, CENCO, was able to field 40,000 electoral observers nationally, making the outcome harder to manipulate. CENCO and another pro-democracy Catholic group, the CLC, organised the large anti-Kabila protests that swept the country in late 2017 and early 2018 and have great sway over a largely Catholic population.

As the seat of government and an opposition stronghold, Kinshasa will bear the brunt of any eventual protests, but unrest will likely break out in other areas over the coming weeks.

The government postponed voting until March 2019 in three eastern constituencies expected to vote for the opposition, blaming the Ebola outbreak and insecurity. This move effectively disenfranchised 1.2 million people and increased the chances of unrest reaching extreme levels in the east of the country. Other hotspots include Lomami and Sankuru provinces where officials blocked voters from accessing polling stations. Observers in Kinsangani, Bukavu and Lubumbashi faced restrictions, and witnessed apparent largescale electoral fraud. We expect these cities to materialise as hotbeds of unrest.

Other provinces likewise at acute risk of widescale civil unrest are those where leading opposition figures come from. Moïse Katumbi, backing Fayulu, holds strong influence in the four Katangese provinces. Jean-Pierre Bemba, another Fayulu backer, will have the ability to mobilise the population in the northwest, and Vital Kamerhe, Tshisekedi’s running mate, has large sway over the Kivus. Nationally, therefore, the picture for civil unrest looks bleak.

Government stability on downward trend for 2019

Our Government Stability Index Projection for 2019-Q3 reflects the uncertainty surrounding the election, and the near certainty of a chaotic vote, prompting us to forecast a 58.9% probability of an increase in risk. DR Congo is already rated high risk for government stability, impeding government decision-making and policy formulation. While the country is unlikely to slide to an extreme-risk rating on this index within the next six months, the chances of an illegitimate transfer of power have risen, making it more likely for the score to slide further into the high-risk category.

The questionable legitimacy of the process, coupled with widespread protests, opens the door to a scenario where CENI’s count could be discarded and the Kabila presidency is extended pending fresh elections or an inclusive transitional government. While somewhat remote, that would present a worst-case scenario for the risk of civil unrest nationwide.

Ultimately, government stability will be tested over the next six months. Civil unrest levels are likely to rise as the result of the election becomes clearer, and, as we expect, the vote is manipulated in favour of Shadary.


Indigo Ellis

Head of Africa