On August 8th Joseph Kabila officially announced that he would not run for a third, unconstitutional term as president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The announcement was welcomed by the international community, which had worried for years that Kabila would run, plunging the DRC into a chaos that could spiral through the region.
His not running would seem a step in the right direction, especially given his supporters’ actions in May and June which seemed to signal that he would. His opponents would have taken to the streets in numbers, incurring a violent military response. In fact, in light of the 2016 election postponement, just before Kabila’s August announcement, hundreds of protestors were killed.
All the same, this development will be unlikely to save the DRC from the conflict, corruption, and instability that has characterized Kabila’s tenure as president. The man that Kabila’s party, the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD), has chosen as the next presidential candidate is none other than former Interior Minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.
Ramazani has been part of the DRC political scene since 1997 when Kabila’s father became president in the wake of a deadly civil war which overthrew the military dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko. Since then Ramazani has served in various roles including the governor of the mineral-rich Maniema province, Deputy Prime Minister, and Interior Minister. His record in each of these posts suggests how he would govern the entire country, and that is cause for concern.
While governor of Maniema, Ramazani was complicit in allowing natural resource smuggling networks to thrive, enriching himself while doing so. Further, he is widely critiqued for fostering a system of weak, corrupt institutions, from 2000 to the present day, leaving that province a hotbed of conflict. Illicit natural resource trade feeds the DRC’s ongoing conflict in the east, which has killed nearly ten million people. Ramazani laid the groundwork for the system that allows it to flourish.
Ramazani’s record as interior minister is no better. He was appointed in December of 2016, at the height of the tensions surrounding Kabila’s decision to delay presidential elections. Rather than being a pacifying force, Ramazani coordinated the deadly response to anti-Kabila protesters which killed hundreds and blocked investigations into 42 mass graves in the Kasai region. Thereafter, in June of 2017, Ramazani was sanctioned by the European Union, and the United States.
Ramazani is a well-known Kabila loyalist; Kabila and his father were responsible for Ramazani’s rise in Congolese politics. Can he act independently of his benefactors? It is reasonable to expect that if Ramazani occupies the presidential office, Kabila will remain the power broker in the DRC.
Jennifer Cooke, director of the Institute for African Studies at the Elliott School of International Affairs of George Washington University stated bluntly, “Kabila declining to run for a third term changes little. With the selection of Ramazani Shadary as the proposed successor, he appears to be following the Putin-Medvedev model. It’s unlikely he’ll relinquish control of the criminal enterprise that is the Congolese state.” Some muse Ramazani could even appoint Kabila as his Prime Minister.
Despite Ramazani’s troubling record and his Kabila connections, some remain optimistic, saying there’s no guarantee he’ll win the election come December. This is wishful thinking. First, the prospect of the election being run with integrity is doubtful. The country’ east and the Kasai region are in conflict. Given that the Kinshasa government lacks control of the country as a whole, it is unlikely that nation-wide elections would even be carried out.
In addition, electoral preparations signal the government intends to rig the election in its favor. For example, despite international pressure, the government has insisted on using electronic voting machines, not paper ballots. It’s safe to assume this is so because electronic voting results are easier to tamper with. The government has ignored concerns about voter rolls including the names of dead people, and excluding live, registered voters.
Many hoped the 2018 elections would lead the DRC into a post-Kabila era. One wherein the disparities and violence that have confronted the nation could be addressed. More wishful thinking, unfortunately. Ramazani has demonstrated throughout his career that he is a ruthless, corrupt, barbaric leader without respect for human rights. This, coupled with the compromised electoral process, all but guarantees Ramazani will become the next president of the DRC. In doing, the country will be dragged into another chapter of inequities and bloodshed.