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Felix Tshisekedi's "Win" is Tragic


It is the beginning of 2019 and we are in for yet another year of electoral drama in Africa. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has unleashed one of the most flawed elections yet; a charade that has no place in modern day discourse on elections and democracy. I have every reason to hesitate to term the drama the world has been treated to in DRC an election. But for purposes of argument let’s grant that an election happened. It was flawed. Very. Many commentators are talking about it. A lot more is expected to come in the coming weeks and months. We can only hope that some level of stability will prevail even as people engage in debate on what actually happened and hypothesize on the possible immediate outcomes and long term implications of those elections both in DRC and beyond. There are those who seem shocked. I am not. When, yesterday 11th of January 2019, CNN ran the headline: “Congo’s Catholic Church rejects election results as opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi lands surprise win,” I immediately posed “why surprise?” That is because it did not come a surprise to me that Tshisekedi “won”. Having followed the goings on over there for a period of time, I did not expect Joseph Kabila not to rig that election. His original plans flopped but he always had a plan B. And this was it. So why should it be a surprise? 

Running an oped today on the New York Times, Jason Stearns argued that this was not the outcome that Kabila wanted and seemed to suggest that it was some sort of victory for democracy – what he termed “imperfect win for democracy in Congo” – I found reason to disagree. I see it as win for Kabila than it is a win for the people of Congo and democracy. 

Playing with the numbers a little bit, Pierre Englebert - writing for the African Arguments - has demonstrated how implausible it is to believe that Mr. Tshisekedi won. He did not win; he rigged. Well. He stole an election. But how was he to steal an election when he was just a weak opposition candidate? That is the most perturbing question for many. And that is the point at which the role of the regime comes into the picture. This is equally what makes this rigging an interesting one. Here is a case where the ruling party and the President have actually deployed the state machine to rig an election in favor of an opposition candidate. It does not happen frequently. But, why would Mr. Kabila rig in favor of Mr. Tshisekedi? That is the question that many pundits will be toying with for the next several days, weeks, months and even years.

While I agree with those, like Stearns, who opine that this is not the outcome that Kabila initially wanted, it is equally true that this was a better alternative for him under the circumstances. Whichever way, therefore, it is more of a win for Kabila than it is a win for the people of Congo in particular and democracy in general. It is another taint to the democratization project; a huge blow to electoral justice.  

But here is my trouble. It is pretty common for politicians to back-peddle and to renege on their stands. Doing it in few hours like Tshisekedi did after agreeing with his colleagues to forge for a united opposition against the corrupt Kabila regime is at best disgusting. But he it anyway. That was the time anybody who cared a thing about this man should have dropped him. Indications are that many Congolese actually did. The more reason they did not vote for him. This kind of thing speaks to a bigger problem though; the politics of painful deceptions that is rampant in Africa and the world. This man is, in my view, a terrible deceiver who must never be trusted by anybody anywhere. There are many reasons why Mr. Felix Tshisekedi is a problem man; a problem politician and a problem president-elect. I declare him one of DRC’s most significant tragedies of our time. I have no reason to disagree that he may end up at losing the end of this bargain. For the simple reason that Joseph Kabila is seasoned in what I call ‘political jujitsu.’ Kabila has played his game well and he is headed to having the last laugh thanks to people like Tshisekedi who do not stand for anything. I will not be surprised at all if, thanks to Tshisekedi, Kabila returns as President of DRC, most likely sooner than anyone may want to imagine. But this man Tshisekedi is exactly the kind of creatures we do not want in Africa’s struggle to address governance problems. Simply because he stands for utterly nothing; fights for nothing and lives for nothing other than his tummy. And he is a tragedy because he allows himself to be used to perpetuate the very things he purports to stand against. That is problematic in many significant ways.

Felix Tshisekedi's "Win" is Tragic Felix Tshisekedi's "Win" is Tragic Reviewed by Ibrahim Magara on January 13, 2019 Rating: 5

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