Joseph Kabila and Where the Election in Congo Went Wrong

What Happened When the World Looked Away From the DRC

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is going to the polls today and tensions are high. From Kinshasa to Lubumbashi, from Goma to Mbuji-Mayi, clashes have broken out between supporters of incumbent President Joseph Kabila and opposition groups. At least 30 people have been killed; many more have been wounded. 

It was not supposed to be like this. After 32 years of kleptocratic rule by the Cold War-era strongman Mobutu Sese Seko, the European Union spent more than half a billion dollars in Congo to underwrite a nationwide election in 2006. It was not perfect, but it was a success. Kabila won the race with 58 percent of a runoff vote with then Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba. 

In the years that followed, Congo made meaningful political and economic progress. Starting in 2007, Vital Kamerhe, then newly elected president of the national assembly, encouraged vigorous policy debates, allowing both the majority and the opposition access to the floor. Parliamentary commissions held hearings on sensitive matters, such as the $9 billion mining investment by the Chinese that set off a national debate about balancing the sovereignty with economic development.

The democratically elected government in Kinshasa made economic gains, as well. The country coasted through the global financial crisis relatively unscathed. In 2010, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank approved a $12.3 billion debt relief package to help alleviate Kinshasa's financial burden, part of the Mobutu legacy. And largely because of investment in the country's extractive sector, particularly copper, the World Bank expects Congo's economy to grow over the next several years at around seven percent annually, one of the fastest economic growth rates in Africa. This success has led the European Union, long the country's largest outside patron, to pat itself on the back, proud to have fostered democracy in what the world considered a failed state. Since 2007, Brussels has largely stepped aside.

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