President Biden and President of Democratic Republic of the Congo Felix Tshisekedi at the 2021 G20 Rome summit.jpg

Elections in The Democratic Republic of the Congo This Week Have Global Implications

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is holding national elections on Wednesday, December 20th.

The DRC is a massive country with a population of around 100 million people. It is also one of the most resource-rich places on the planet, particularly in the kinds of metals found in most consumer electronics and in the batteries of electric vehicles. The EVs that are replacing gas-powered cars at a rapid clip around the world require cobalt that is almost exclusively extracted from mines in the DRC.

Needless to say, the politics of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are an issue of global importance.

Incumbent Felix Tshisekedi is seeking re-election five years after the DRC’s first peaceful transfer of power since the 1960s. However, there are serious doubts that this election will be free or fair; meanwhile in the Eastern part of the country an ongoing conflict may prevent millions of people from casting their votes.

I’m joined today by Zaynab Hoosen, a political economist at Oxford Economics Africa in Cape Town.  We discuss the major candidates and several of the key issues that are dominating the debate as Congolese head to the polls. This includes an extended conversation about the conflict raging in Eastern DRC, which has been fueled by Rwanda’s support for a resurgent rebel movement known as M23.

We discuss these dynamics in detail in this episode, which is available freely across all podcast listening platforms. The transcript is immediately available for paying members of our community.

Here’s an excerpt.

Mark Leon Goldberg: Can we expect this election to be free and fair in the first place? And if not, should we just assume that Tshisekedi will win?

Zaynab Hoosen That is one of the disappointing thoughts that I’m going into this election with — that there is so much doubt that the vote will even be free and fair at all. One anecdote: when Felix Tshisekedi delivered his State of the Nation address a week before campaigns officially started, the president of the Constitutional Court actually stood up and clapped. And that was kind of like a sign that the two of them are too close, especially considering that his court has the final say over the results if they are disputed in court.

Mark Leon Goldberg That’s an interesting anecdote. Here in the United States whenever the president gives the State of the Union address, the Supreme Court, by tradition, has no reaction — doesn’t clap, doesn’t stand, just sits there silently. But you’re saying that the head of the equivalent of the Supreme Court in the DRC gave a standing ovation to Tshisekedi in a recent speech? That seems telling.

Zaynab Hoosen Exactly. And it also comes after there’s been a lot of rumors that the two of them are close. And it brings into question the independence of the judiciary as a whole if they are able to publicly display their support for one another. And remember: the presidential election results were disputed in 2018, but they were eventually upheld in court. And I think if it gets to that point this round, the chances of the judiciary ruling in favor of any type of petition against the results is just so small.

And we also know that Tshisekedi has the support of a lot of state apparatus behind him. And then we’ve also got a lot of violence in the east — it’s turned out that elections can’t even be held in some of these areas. So there’s already a bunch of factors that are weighing on the credibility and the fairness of the election before it is even started.