The Sober Day After: On the Relationship Between Crowds and Parties in DRC

On Monday September 19th, Kinshasa and other cities across DRC were the scenes of mass popular uprisings against President Kabila’s bid to illegally maintain power. Protestors took to the streets in order to denounce the government’s failure to organize elections by the September 19th constitutionally-mandated deadline. The state security services responded with bullets and mass arrests. All things told, Human Rights Watch has estimated that security forces fatally shot at least 50 civilians, while 6 police officers and one PPRD party official were killed by the crowd.

In response to this latest round of violence, Jason Stearns, head of the Congo Research Group, has asked whether the African Union, the United Nations, and other diplomats can wrest the momentum away from the streets, or whether the deaths of dozens of people, the torching of political party offices, and the lynching of policemen will spin out of control? His concern, in other words, is that a rift has opened between the political process and the politics of the streets.

Mr. Stearns is not the only commentator to have noted this apparent trend. In an interview with RFI, fellow Congo researcher Kris Berwouts argues that the September 19th protests, like those of January 2015, were a ‘spontaneous’ expression of popular outrage, which ‘did not depend only on the orders of the opposition or on civil society’. Berwouts speaks of ‘strong pressure from below’ as well as a ‘loss of moral authority’ on the part of institutionalized political actors and a ‘climate of self-help’, all of which are resulting in increased political polarization between the people and the politicians.

Arguing the opposite position, Congolese military and political analyst Jean-Jacques Wondo told Le Point Afrique last week that the ‘link’ between the opposition and the street is ‘strong’. In his view, since Etienne Tshisekedi’s return to DRC in July, the population has sought ‘une cohesion et une dynamique commune’ with political actors. In fact, Wondo goes as far as to argue that Tshisekedi is a national icon, ‘le seul homme politique capable de lancer un mot d’ordre qui sera suivi par une majorite des Congolais’ (‘the only politician capable of commanding the majority of Congolese people’).

So who is right? Have the people given up on the possibility of a peaceful negotiated (elite) solution, or, is Tshisekedi’s UDPS orchestrating popular revolt from above?

While there is some truth to both positions, neither view accurately reflects the present relationship between the people and the politicians in DRC. While Tshisekedi is presently leading the charge, his positon owes not to his own charisma, ideology or political platform, but to: a). the fact that he represents the popular Moise Katumbi in exile, and b). his refusal to partake in the highly unpopular AU-backed national dialogue. The ‘streets’, in other words, have leant Tshisekedi their voice for the time being, in the absence of a better candidate. The moment he enters the dialogue, however, his popular support will dry up and so too, sadly, will the popular struggle itself.

The Spontaneity of the Crowd

As political theorists have long argued, no ‘crowd’ is ever as spontaneous or irrational as it appears from the outside. Mass demonstrations require not only leadership, but finance, infrastructure and an organized communications strategy. Take, for instance, the Arab Spring, while fetishized by techy-liberals as a perfect example of a spontaneous, post-political, pro-democracy flash mob, recent research has in fact revealed that the most successful of the Arab Springs – Tunisia and Egypt – benefitted from the involvement of both organized labor and political Islam. In short, crowds don’t make movements parties do.

The same logic must also be applied to the September 19th protests. While news media images appear to show ‘hordes’ of angry Congolese youth ransacking Kinshasa without purpose, in reality the protests were highly organized. As Stearns himself points out, the protests were coordinated by the opposition political parties, principally the youth wing of the UDPS, with the help of Martin Fayulu’s Ecide, Frank Diongo’s MLP and Joseph Olengankoy’s Fonus. Not only did the opposition put out the initial call, but they also instructed their supporters to descend on downtown in small groups so as to make it more difficult for the security services to police the crowd.

Far from a spontaneous upsurge of popular dissent, the opposition parties had long planned to make September 19th a key moment in their fight against Kabila (and their planned rise to power). Behind the scenes, opposition politicians have been talking about September 19th, November 27th, and December 19th as key dates in the struggle against dictatorship since way back in December 2015 when the opposition parties first formed the Front Citoyen 2016. In June, representatives of the different opposition parties met at Genval were they worked out their differences and announced the formation of the Reassemblement united opposition platform. The founding document of the Reassemblement stresses September 19 and December 19th as the two key dates which the population must not ignore. Moreover, upon his return to DRC in July, Tshisekedi told a crowd of thousands in Kinshasa that September 19th was the first ‘red line’ which must not be crossed. He has since called for the Congolese people to maintain their mobilization until December 19th, once again sending a signal to the ‘crowd’ as to the pace and tempo of the popular struggle.

Also of relevance, during the lead up to September 19th, the UDPS was aided in their organizing efforts by human rights and pro-democracy activists like Filimbi, LUCHA and Civil Society. LUCHA, for instance, was present during the initial Reassemblement opposition conclave at Genval and all three groups were present at the second Reassemblement conclave which took place yesterday in Kinshasa. Indeed, the state’s attempts to infiltrate, divide and arrest activists from these organizations in the days leading up to September 19th clearly indicates the influence these organizations have over the urban youth of DRC.

While the protests of September 19th and 20th were much larger and more aggressive then were previous manifestations held earlier this year, they should not be confused with a spontaneous popular uprising. The demonstrations were planned over the course of months as part of the opposition’s efforts to force the president out of office.

UDPS: The Tip of the Spear?

None of this is to suggest, however, that the Congolese youth are mere dupes to the opposition’s game, far from it. Berwouts is correct to note a decline in the moral authority of the institutionalized political parties. The Congolese news media and blogosphere are filled with recriminations of all Congolese politicians, with Tshisekedi being a favorite target. To give but one example, earlier this week La Prosperite ran an article by Kajepa Molobi which called into question the popular notion that a face-to-face meeting between Kabila and Tshisekedi is the only solution to Congo’s woes. In this article, Molobi perfectly sums up the skepticism which has long surrounded the name Tshisekedi:

Incapable de tenir parole, donc de réaliser ses promesses, l’homme semble avoir résolu de se confiner dans un rôle d’opposant à tout pouvoir national, afin de n’avoir pas à gouverner et, conséquemment, à n’en rendre compte à aucun moment.  Ainsi, habilement, il a, depuis de très longues années, esquivé toute occasion qui se présente à lui de participer à la gouvernance du pays, préférant égoïstement demeurer, sa vie durant, en position de donneur de leçons, tout en vivant aux dépens de la République et aux frais de gens de bonne foi, abusés et illusionnés sans doute par le mystère et le mythe qu’il parvient à cultiver autour de lui.

For English-speakers, Molobi’s point, in a nut shell, is that Tshisekedi has earned the rather unfortunate reputation of a ‘permanent, professional antagonist’. Someone who opposes all forms of power while never accepting the challenge of governing himself, even as he lives off the largess of the state.

In fact, prior to Genval, no one outside of the UDPS party really considered Tshisekedi to be a viable threat to Kabila. The talk around town was of Moise Katumbi and the G7 alliance, particularly the question of whether or not Katumbi and Kamerhe could put aside their differences in order to form a united bloc against Kabila. While Tshisekedi and the UDPS were certainly courted by Katumbi and Kahmere in their bid to unseat the President, Tshisekedi’s participation in any opposition alliance was considered more supplementary then essential.

Tshisekedi, for his part, felt spurned by Katumbi’s (on again off again) alliance with Kamerhe and for this reason chose to pursue his own course of action, accepting (and then unaccepting) President Kabila’s offer to join in the preparatory meetings for a new national dialogue. This, in turn, confirmed in the minds of many Congolese that Tshisekedi was simply too old and too tired to put up much of a fight.

In short, prior to June, neither Tshisekedi nor the UDPS could leverage much popular support, even in their stronghold Kinshasa. For instance, they played almost no role in the January 2015 protests against proposed changes to the electoral law. That protest was led almost exclusively by networks of university students and, in fact, some commentators believed at the time that the absence of the UDPS from the political scene had allowed a usually divided student body to coalesce into one political bloc.

This all changed, in June, however, when Katumbi’s half-brother Raphael Katebe Katoto approached Tshisekedi with the possibility of forming an alliance with the G7 (what would become the Reassemblement). Katoto had previously worked alongside Tshisekedi in 2002 during the Sun City Peace talks when the two men jointly organized the l’Alliance pour la sauvegarde du dialogue (ASD). Katoto sought to use his close working relationship with Tshisekedi in order to convince the old stalwart to head up a coalition of opposition parties following Katumbi’s forced departure from DRC.

Tshisekedi has shrewdly used his agreement with Katoto and Katumbi in order to reinvigorate his public image. Tshisekedi has championed himself as the defender not only of the democratic process but of Katumbi in exile. Moreover, Tshisekedi’s alliance with the G7 has allowed him to take a hardline approach against the very national dialogue which he had earlier accepted. With a potential Katumbi presidency on the horizon and replete with new G7 financing, Tshisekedi no longer has the same incentive to talk. This, in turn, has rejuvenated Tshisekedi’s activist reputation, helping him to reach out to student and youth groups who had all but given up on the UDPS.

Tshisekedi’s newfound popularity is, however, tenuous at best. Outside of Kinshasa, especially in the Kivus and Katangas, Tshisekedi’s popularity remains entirely based on his alliance with Katumbi. During the September 19th rally in Goma, protestors made this perfectly clear holding up banners featuring the image of Moise’s face. What is more, while the September 19th protests continued the following day in Kinshasa in response to the military’s attack on UDPS’s headquarters, in the east things quickly cooled off. This is not to suggest, of course, that Goma residents were content to accept the violence of the Kabila regime, but, the truth of the matter is the Kabila-Tshisekedi tit-for-tat simply doesn’t play as well in the East as it does in Kinshasa.

Moreover, as we have already said, Tshisekedi’s present link to the streets is based in large measure on the relationship between the Reassemblement and civil society. Groups like LUCHA and Filimbi have been persuaded to join the UDPS cause owing to the latter’s broad-based coalition with the G7 and other opposition parties. That said, LUCHA has already sent representatives to the national dialogue and their main concerns are the revision of the electoral calendar and the rotation of office, not the UDPS’s place in any interim government. While they are at present backing Tshisekedi’s line that the interim regime should not be led by the president, if, or rather when, the talks break down into partisan bickering over the distribution of power, civil society is likely to part ways with UDPS.

Civil Society’s Impossible Choice

In sum, while Tshisekedi is presently leading the popular struggle against President Kabila, this should not be confused with popular support for Tshisekedi himself. Rather, the youth of DRC have chosen Tshisekedi as their leader in the interim for lack of a better option. The moment he enters the dialogue, however, and this looks increasingly likely, he will have difficult time distinguishing himself from Vital Kamerhe and the rest of the opportunistic opposition, especially when the discussion (inevitably) turns to partisan wrangling over who gets what in any power-sharing deal.

At this point, civil society will be faced with a difficult (if not impossible) choice: either back an unelected interim regime (which will likely include the President), or continue their mobilization in the hopes of disrupting the entire process (with no clear end in sight). Absent an alternative leader, however, the politics of the streets will likely fizzle out. Indeed, the sad truth of the matter is the UDPS’s recent resurgence may very well have blocked the emergence of a more radical youth movement devoid of the same predatory, partisan, instincts.

First as Tragedy, Second as Farce: MONUSCO’s Response to the Beni Massacres

On August 13th, somewhere between 50 and 100 people were hacked to death by militia in a neighborhood on the edge of Beni, DRC. According to activists and reporters in Beni, people had seen the assailants in town earlier in the day and had alerted the authorities as to the threat. Yet, when the attacks began later that evening the FARDC were nowhere to be found. MONUSCO, for its part, once again lived up to its reputation as the most costly debating society on the planet; UN peacekeepers arriving on the scene only after the fighting had ceased.

In response, on August 30th the head of MONUSCO, Special Representative Maman Sidikou announced a change in strategy, specifically stating that ‘compassion is not enough’, that MONUSCO must change its approach to the fight against armed groups in Beni. Sidikou offered no details, however, as the exact nature of this strategy change. There is good reason to believe that MONUSCO’s promised strategy change is merely a PR stunt; that they will continue to pursue the same offensive, ‘neutralization’ approach to the fight against so-called ADF terrorists in Beni, while ignoring the need for better civilian protection.

Following from the most recent Beni massacre, NGOs in North Kivu sent a letter to the SRSG imploring them to improve their protection of civilian efforts in Beni area. The letter identifies three gaps in MONUSCO protection programming in Beni: a lack of community access to MONUSCO, a lack of knowledge of the perpetrators and a lack of contingency planning. With this in mind it recommended that MONUSCO: Increase regular consultations and communications with communities in Beni, establish an early warning system drawing on best practices from MONUSCO’s Community Alert Networks elsewhere; establish a permanent Joint Mission Analysis cell in Beni town, and enhance accountability by launching a formal investigation as to when and in what format MONUSCO has received alerts on the massacres in Beni.

None of these recommendations are particularly controversial and the overall tone of the letter is non-combative. In fact, prior to drafting the letter the authors consulted with MONUSCO staff in Goma who all agreed that more civilian staff were needed to properly research and respond to the Beni massacres.

The NGO community was therefore more than a little surprised when it received the following response from MONUSCO:

The SRSG of MONUSCO is in receipt of the joint letter from … a number of INGOs, pointing out perceived gaps in MONUSCO’s protection mandate. While a formal response is being prepared please note that the suggestions and recommendations in the mentioned letter to the SRSG, have been in place for some time. The regular HCT and HAG briefings from MONUSCO provide some of the information apparently lacking to INGOs.

MONUSCO’s response, in other words, was a rather curt ‘Don’t speak about what you don’t know’; a clearly defensive reaction meant to insulate the UN from culpability and deflect from the urgent need for change. While it has subsequently come to light that the author who penned these words does not represent the opinion of all MONUSCO ‘brass’, it is nevertheless telling that this rather ignorant response was released the same week as Sidikou’s promised shift in strategy.

As if this were not enough, on August 27th civil society activists in Beni reported that MONUSCO conducted a massive leafleting campaign aimed at convincing ADF terrorists to surrender. While these reports remain unconfirmed, the photo which is presently circulating online depicts a letter displaying both MONUSCO and FARDC’s logos, addressed to members of the ‘ADF’. The leaflets, written in French (odd given MONUSCO’s past claims that ADF is a Somali-backed Islamic terrorist network), warn ADF that they must lay down their arms, cease their illegal economic activities and join a demobilization program or else face the joint wrath of the FIB and FARDC. If this is in fact true, this would suggest that MONUSCO’s promised strategy change is mere dissimulation.

As is by now well known, the UN’s own Group of Experts report found that ‘ADF’ no longer really exists, the group having broken up into a number of smaller armed elements scattered across Beni, none of which exhibit the traits of an internationally-backed Jihadist network. What is more, the Congo Research Group, headed by former Group of Experts member Jason Stearns, has documented witness testimonies which suggest that the massacres in Beni have been perpetrated by a diverse mix of assailants including FARDC soldiers and former members of the ADF, M23, CNDP and RCD/K-ML armed groups. The fact that MONUSCO’s leaflets continue to identify ADF as the ‘enemy’ suggests a stubborn refusal to admit their past misconceptions and an inexplicable willingness to proceed without proper knowledge of the context.

Above and beyond these two rather damming anecdotes, there is also a more structural reason to doubt Sidikou’s promised strategy change. MONUSCO remains bound by its mandate, a mandate which commits peacekeepers to the neutralization of armed groups in support of the state. While it is true that the mandate has, since 2000, also called for the protection of civilians (PoC), in reality PoC has been gradually subsumed under the rubric of stabilization and neutralization. What this means in practice is that those battalions willing to use force are deployed on offensive operations against armed group positions, while those who prefer not to engage are given the task of protection. Indeed, despite the well intentioned efforts of civilian PoC and stabilization staff, the entire Mission now seems to operate on the assumption that neutralization = state stability = protection of civilians. In other words, the UN helps protect the state and the state protects civilians.

The present electoral crisis has exposed the fallacious nature of this assumption. Kabila and his party have done everything in their power to delay the present electoral cycle. This includes the deployment of state security organizations to intimidate, imprison and abuse civil society and opposition party activists who want nothing more than to uphold the constitution. MONUSCO, in other words, is presently supporting a state which systematically abuses its citizens for the personal gain of the president and his cronies.

It is in Beni, however, that this contradiction is most glaring. Activists in Beni are convinced that the massacres have been perpetrated by Kinyarwanda-speaking civilians and soldiers on behalf of President Kabila, if not the Rwandan state. While this conspiracy theory is hard to square with the facts, there is nevertheless a growing body of evidence linking the regime to at least some of the massacres. FARDC informants, for instance, have suggested that some of the massacres were part of a state sanctioned counterinsurgency effort to drive a wedge between the population in Beni and an emergent armed group linked with the still popular RCD/K-ML. If this is true, then the Beni massacres may arguably qualify as war crimes or even crimes against humanity; charges which ought to trigger an R2P-style ‘humanitarian intervention’ rather than continued ‘state support’.

MONUSCO has known of these accusations since at least March 2016, if not earlier. In fact, civil society activists have been calling for UN-led investigations into the massacres since 2015; a demand which MONUSCO ignored when it chose to recommence joint operations with the FARDC earlier this year. MONUSCO thus seems intent on supporting the Kabila regime at all costs, even at the cost of its own reputation.

Without a significant rethinking of the present UN mandate in DRC, any proposed change in strategy is unlikely to bear fruit. While the continuation of the status quo risks fanning the flames of popular resentment against MONUSCO itself.

The Devil’s Dialogue

As reported by Aaron Ross, the international community is presently divided over the question of whether to impose targeted sanctions on DRC in response to the President’s ongoing administrative coup. Ross argues that Democratic Senator Markay and US Special Envoy Perriello continue to push for sanctions while European powers remain sceptical; particularly Spain owing to a pending construction contract in DRC. Europe, it would seem, is blocking American attempts to salvage democracy in Congo.

While certainly there is some truth to this narrative, the supposed Euro-American divide masks a much deeper foreign policy consensus. In the Great Lakes region, the US, EU, UN and increasingly the AU, have displayed a marked historical preference for political dialogue and power-sharing over popular democracy (or for that matter Libyan-style humanitarian intervention). Whether we are talking Rwanda or Burundi in the 90s, DRC from 2000 to 2006, Kenya in 2007, or present day Burundi, elite-focused political negotiations have been the international community’s ‘standard operating procedure’. Indeed, what the international community appears to have learned from the Rwandan Genocide and resulting Congo Wars is that ‘Africans’ can neither be left to languish under the iron first of dictators, nor empowered to overthrow them, both options having produced regional instability. Instead, it would seem, the only viable option for making ‘failed’ African states ‘work’ is a proverbial ‘council of elders’ (or rather ‘big men’).

It is in this light that we need to consider the present debate over sanctions in DRC. US sanctions, as we shall see, are by no means a progressive attempt to bring down a dictator in solidarity with the Congolese people. Nor for that matter have the well-intentioned efforts of US policy makers been thwarted by greedy European politicians intent on preserving their share of the African power pie. Rather, proposed US sanctions are the ‘stick’ to the EU’s ‘carrot-like’ calls for political dialogue. They are but one small part of a larger foreign policy strategy in the Great Lakes region; a strategy which has long favoured stability over democracy.

On June 6th, the EU, AU, UN and Francophonie (IOF) issued a second joint statement on the political impasse in DRC. The first statement, released in mid-February, urged ‘all Congolese political actors to spare no effort, within the framework of the country’s Constitution, to ensure the successful holding of elections’, adding that the four organizations ‘underscore the importance of dialogue and the search for agreement between political actors’. The second letter, by contrast, inverts the above remarks, stressing, ‘the crucial importance of holding a successful political dialogue with all Congolese stakeholders leading to a consensus that would allow for free, fair, transparent and credible elections’. While this difference may seem superficial, the second statement clearly communicates a shift in policy: for the EU, AU, UN and IOF, it is now necessary to negotiate a new political consensus, for the Constitution no longer seems up to the task.

Just as important as the content of this second statement was its timing. The joint statement was released to the press just days before the opening of an opposition conclave in Belgium, the intent of which was to launch a united front against President Kabila’s ongoing ‘administrative coup’. The international community’s message to the Congolese opposition could not have been more clear: put aside your political differences and get ready for negotiations. Almost as if to emphasize the point, Henri Mova Sakani, Secretary General of Kabila’s PPRD party, warned that if the opposition proved unwilling to negotiate the government would simply organize a referendum to change the Constitution (and by ‘organize’ he clearly meant ‘rig’).

The opposition, for its part, would appear to have gotten the message, announcing at the end of their two day conclave an ‘unprecedented’ historical alliance and a willingness to partake in inclusive dialogue. In fact, much of the discussion at the conclave seemed dedicated to clarifying the conditions under which the different opposition parties would partake in negotiations with the President (and probably also what they wanted in return). To this end, conference organizer Etienne Tshisekedi stated that the opposition would consider negotiations if the following conditions were met: ‘respect for the constitution, release of political prisoners and oversight by the international community’ (the same conditions named by the EU, AU, UN and IOF in their joint statement).

The UK’s response to the present political impasse falls halfway between that of the Americans and their European counterparts. In March, the UK government attempted to take the high road, telling Kinshasa that if it commenced preparations for elections it would release 17 million worth of electoral aid. As of April 11th little progress had been made and British Parliament expressed concern that the window of opportunity for organizing a November election was quickly closing. Finally, on May 13th, during a visit to Kinshasa, Special Envoy to the Great Lakes region Danae Dholakia publically reminded the government of DRC that in Burundi ‘the actions of the government led to sanctions against a number of senior figures in government and the security services’. She also, however, called for dialogue, noting that ‘the Congolese political classes must come together in some form to decide on a date for the Presidential elections’, while imploring both sides to show ‘flexibility’.

Across the pond, the Americans have taken the hardest line against the Kabila regime.  Like in the case of the UK, the Americans started with the ‘carrot’ before brandishing the ‘stick’. In May 2014, Secretary of State John Kerry promised $30 million in aid for stabilization and democracy if President Kabila agreed to step down at the end of his term. Then, in late January 2015, following a wave of election-related violence, the State Department changed its tune, stressing the importance of ‘protecting political space’. By February 2016, things had reached a head.  Democratic Senator Edward Markay wrote an open letter to John Kerry calling for sanctions to be imposed if President Kabila ‘fails to meet clear benchmarks required to hold a free and fair national election this year’. Since this time, three separate sanctions-related resolutions have been introduced into Congress (S. RES. 479; H. RES. 780; S. RES 485); the most forceful of (H. RES. 780) calls for both sanctions and a review of present US assistance to DRC.

US officials, however, have also encouraged dialogue. In late February, for instance, US Special Envoy Perriello held a press conference in Kinshasa where he emphasized the need for negotiations dedicated to ‘resolving any of the questions that remain on the table’. He also applauded the opposition’s decision to switch tactics from ‘mass mobilization to a ville-morte’, which he took to be a ‘de-escalation’ and a move in the direction of ‘political resolution’. Subsequent to this, on May 20th, the State Department cautioned that the President cannot call for negotiations while simultaneously arresting his political opponents, once again urging all sides to participate ‘credible’ negotiations. Most recently, Senate Resolution 485, while ostensibly about sanctions, calls for ‘credible, independently monitored, and technical dialogue’.

It is important to bear in mind that the US has known about Kabila’s planned administrative coup since at least September 2013, when the President attempted to turn the previous national dialogue into a constitutional convention. Since this time, the US has had ample opportunity to approve or at least consider sanctions in response to human rights violations. Instead, the US and EU have both played the waiting game, while the AU took the lead first calling for dialogue back in January 2015.

In short, the recently reported Euro-American divide on the question of sanctions, masks a much deeper international consensus on the ‘path forward’ in DRC. The EU, AU, UN and US all remain committed to a negotiated solution in DRC. This they believe to be the lesser of two evils.

Democracy v. Stabilization

The French philosopher Claude Lefort once wrote that the essence of democracy is the ‘emptiness’ of power. While the throne may temporarily be occupied by any man, no man shall claim it as his own. If this is true, then the Congolese have good reason to be angry.

On Thursday May 26, the Congolese people took to the streets to vent their disgust with a recent Constitutional Court Ruling which determined that in the absence of elections President Kabila will maintain his seat on the throne, even if this absence is of his own making. The Court’s ruling, while deeply disquieting, accurately reflects recent Congolese history, where the dominant political principle has become not the emptiness of power but its continuity.

DRC’s first popularly elected Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba was forced out and later killed for proposing a radical break from Belgian authority. NATO partners then ushered in a military strongman who, it was believed, had sufficient control of the army to quell growing unrest. This same international community then looked the other way as Mobutu feasted for decades on a fattening mix of mineral monies and foreign aid, only introducing ‘democracy’ in his final days as a means of protecting his neck.

The rest as they say is history: as Mobutu’s power waned DRC’s neighbours ushered in a new king, the guerrilla-for-hire Laurent Kabila. Kabila was then assassinated for having turned the tables on his former masters, only to be replaced by his son Joseph.

Once the new President was in place the international community set to work ensuring he would remain there for some time to come. In the lead up to the 2006 election Kabila received strong support from the Kinshasa based CIAT, an internationally-backed parallel executive which came to be known around Kinshasa as the sauver le pouvoir or ‘support the incumbent power’ (Trefon, 2011: 23). This, coupled with renewed donor financing to the tune of $3.9 billion led many Congolese to believe that Kabila was ‘the candidate of the white man’ (Reyntjens, 2009: 272).

On the military front, in 2003 the European Union launched a military stabilization mission in support of the President’s efforts to pacify Bunia. By 2008, MONUC, the UN mission in DRC, had set up a small stabilization office to help develop a similar counterinsurgency strategy for the entire Eastern Region. In 2010, the mission was renamed MONUSCO, the ‘S’ denoting the mission’s new mandate to help stabilize conflict zones on behalf of the state. Then, in 2013, MONUSCO’s mandate was expanded to include the ‘neutralization’ of armed groups through the creation of an all-African ‘Force Intervention Brigade’. Simply put, the UN has made its soldiers an appendage of the Congolese government.

It is no wonder then that the UN chose to look the other way when in 2011, despite a fractured opposition, the President’s supporters chose to tamper with the vote. While certainly MONUSCO would have preferred free and fair elections, the UN had simply invested too much time and money in President Kabila to stand up for democracy. MONUSCO, in other words, proved incapable of differentiating between support for the Congolese state and support for the Kabila regime.

Flash forward five years and it would seem MONUSCO remains incapable of drawing this distinction. While certainly some individual MONUSCO officials have taken steps to protect democracy, it has simultaneously gone ahead with fresh joint military operations against the ADF rebels and continuous to push for similar joint actions against FDLR. This, despite the fact that the army (FARDC) have been accused of serious human rights abuses in both cases. While MONUSCO’s hope is that by neutralizing armed groups they may help create space for democracy, the reality is that FARDC stabilization activities cannot be detached from the President’s bid to maintain power.

In the case of FDLR, for instance, Human Rights Watch has found evidence to suggest that the FARDC lured and imprisoned Rwandan refugees, ex-combatants and demobilized child soldiers under the guise of fake registration schemes. They then subsequently counted these individuals as captured combatants, allowing Foreign Minister Raymond Tshibanda to arrive at the absurd conclusion that FDLR had been reduced to 108 fighters. These actions have a clear political logic: on the one hand, the Foreign Minister’s rhetoric is meant to put pressure on the UN to leave or reduce its numbers; MONUSCO’s continued presence in DRC 10 year on being a major blight on the President’s record. On the other hand, arbitrary arrests are clearly meant to send a signal to Rwanda that the President is serious about the elimination of FDLR; a message meant to secure tacit Rwandan support for Kabila’s bid to maintain power. (As if to confirm this reading, the government has just this week recommenced negotiations with M23).

Equally, in the case of ADF, MONUSCO’s choice to partake in joint operations adds a thin veneer of legitimacy to government’s misleading claims that the attacks in Beni have been perpetrated by ‘Islamic terrorists’ from Uganda.  While it is true that Congolese civil society groups have in the past called on the UN to take action taken in Beni and Lubero to stop the recent spate of massacres, most activists are now well aware that these attacks are linked to members of the government and/or military and have for this reason called for an international criminal investigation into the killings. In the absence of such an investigation, joint operations against ADF may mean that MONUSCO does little more than reshuffle economic and political power dynamics in Beni in favour of the Presidential coalition.

Even worse, by backing operations against ADF in the absence of a criminal investigation the UN has also sent a clear message to Congolese civil society activists: that MONUSCO operates through the office of the President not as an independent check on his increasingly arbitrary authority. In fact, during street protests in Goma MONUSCO frequently deploys armoured personal carriers and peacekeepers who line up alongside the police and, on occasion FARDC, forming a solid security wall which clearly communicates where MONUSCO stands. While there have been a few cases in which MONUSCO officials have shielded protestors from arrest, this is not the norm and I have personally witnessed arbitrary arrests being made in full view on-looking peacekeepers.

In short, the UN is incapable of supporting democracy in DRC because its operations have, since independence, been based on the same flawed theory of ‘stabilization’ which holds that sovereignty flows from the top down. Despite recent attempts on the part of the Stabilization Support Unit to rethink stabilization as a concept, the norm remains ‘Clear, Hold, Build’ a military strategy which views all ungoverned spaces as islands of instability. According to this view, an absence or even contestation of state power is equivalent to a power vacuum; meaning, for the UN, the only safe form of democracy is a ‘transitional’ or ‘interim’ one. This, of course, works all too well for the Congolese political class whose approach remains: ‘first we negotiate, than the people vote’.