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DR CONGO: No Real Programme Behind Campaign Promises

Emmanuel Chaco

KINSHASA, Nov 10 2011 (IPS) - “In truth, none of the candidates and none of the parties have a programme for society,” asserts Mastaki Mushosi, one of the leaders of the National Union of Catholic School Teachers in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Campaigning in DRC began at the end of October for the Nov. 28 presidential and legislative elections. The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) has registered around 19,000 candidates for the legislative elections, and 11 contenders for the presidency.

However, the campaigning was marred by pre-election violence. News wire service AFP reported Monday that fighting between supporters of the ruling Party for Reconstruction and Democracy and the opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress took place in Lubumbashi, the country’s second- largest city.

Despite the large number of candidates – representing no fewer than 417 political parties – only the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD), close to the incumbent president, Joseph Kabila; the Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC) led by Vital Kamerhe, the former president of the National Assembly now in opposition; and the Union of Forces for Change (UFC) of Senate President Léon Kengo wa Dondo are truly campaigning.

Potentially one of the richest countries in Africa, DRC was ranked dead last in the 2011 Human Development Index published by the United Nations Development Programme.

Mushosi and others say that instead of “demagogic promises”, candidates should explain concretely how they plan to jumpstart the economy and address urgent problems of food production, unemployment, poverty, insecurity and a lack of respect for human rights in the country.

Despite the fragile political and security situation in DRC, the World Bank believes the country’s medium-term economic prospects are positive. Overall economic performance in 2010 showed clear improvement over the preceding year. In 2009, GDP growth slowed to 2.9 percent due to the effects of the international economic and financial crisis, but recovered to around seven percent in 2010. Inflation, which reached 53.4 percent in 2009, fell to below ten percent in 2010.

“The government accumulated fiscal surpluses in 2010 which allowed it to reduce pressure on demand for foreign currency and to maintain relative stability for the national currency, with only a slight depreciation of 1.4 percent in 2010 – compared to 29.2 percent in 2009,” according to the World Bank, whose DRC commitments are among its largest in Africa, involving more than 2.5 billion dollars.

The Bank’s analysts believe DRC’s economy must aim for a growth rate of around seven percent per year – in 2011 it was 6.5 percent, boosted by increased investment and activity in extractive industries as well as a strong contribution from public works projects and the service sector.

But macroeconomic performance does not seem to have translated into improvements in the lives of most Congolese. Government sources indicate that while per capita income is growing, it remains very low at 220 dollars per person.

“No one remembers that civil servants, doctors, nurses, teachers have not received their salaries for months,” adds Mushosi, who believes the candidates are all promising the same things.

As in 2005, the ruling PPRD’s campaign has centred on job and infrastructure creation, improvements to housing, and the provision of water, electricity, health and education, as set out in the “Five Worksites of the Republic” development programme.

“Believe that if you will,” says Joe Mazambi, a resident of Kindu, in Maniema, in the eastern DRC. “Five years after Kabila’s promises (at the last election), we still don’t have roads here. We’re dying of hunger. There are practically no schools and most of the youth are unemployed. The public hospital is a place where we go to die.”

Kizito Nfundiko, who says he has been assaulted three times for being a member of the opposition UNC, adds: “Even the pacification programme here in Bukavu (in the eastern DRC) is an illusion. There have been many attacks against opposition figures here in Bukavu.”

Espérance Mawazo, director of DRC’s Parity Observatory, an NGO based in Bukavu, says: “In a situation of generalised poverty, the candidates must engage in demagoguery less than they did in 2005. They continue to promise things they have failed to deliver since 2005, including parity of women’s representation in public institutions.”

According to the Permanent Framework for Dialogue for Congolese Women, a gender equality pressure group, only 42, or 8.4 percent, of the 500 members of the current National Assembly – the lower house of parliament – are women. With women making up roughly 12 percent of candidates standing for election this year, this seems unlikely to improve significantly.

The polls are tilted in favour of those with access to substantial resources.

A press release issued at the end of October by the Kinshasa-based African Association for the Defence of Human Rights noted that “Only the party activists of the PPRD, the UFC, and those closest to them have the (financial) means to campaign, probably because they benefit from the positions they hold in (government) institutions.”

Jacques Djoli, vice president of the electoral commission, has called for candidates who are also officials and public office holders to resign from their present positions to level the playing field: “We must protect the ethics and decency which characterise public office and political engagement.”

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