When Felix Tshisekedi was announced the winner of the disputed presidential election in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) it was widely assumed that he had agreed to a power sharing deal with outgoing President Joseph Kabila and his Common Front for Congo coalition.
This was denied by both parties. But the fact that the Front dominated the March senate elections, a power sharing agreement might be Tshisekedi’s only option as he tries to form a government.
Kabila’s coalition won about 70% of seats in the lower house of parliament. Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress failed to win even a single seat. Tshisekedi responded to the coalition’s dominance in the Senate by blocking the new senators from taking their seats alleging that they had bribed their way into office.
This suggests that an arrangement between the president and his predecessor may be difficult to implement. Nor are there any useful precedents to draw on in the country. The DRC has a long history of failed power sharing deals. Previous agreements have been held back by a range of challenges. These have included widespread corruption, insecurity and ongoing conflict in the country.
Chances are high that a deal between Tshisekedi and Kabila could be beset by the same problems.
History of power sharing
The DRC has repeatedly tried to use power sharing as a means of navigating conflict. In 2002, following years of civil war, the All-Inclusive Agreement on the Transition in the DRC established a transitional government.
The transitional government brought together a number of key political factions. But it excluded a number too, including the Union for Democracy and Social Progress, then headed by Tshisekedi’s father Étienne.
Executive power was shared between President Kabila and four vice presidents. Cabinet positions were divided among four key parties as well as the Mai-Mai (local militias who were established to defend communities) and civil society.
The 2002 agreement was a good attempt to break the political impasse. But the exclusion of key stakeholders like Étienne Tshisekedi was a fatal flaw. Those left out continued their armed resistance against the government.
In 2009 the country took another stab at power sharing. This time attempts were made to enact equitable power sharing provisions. As part of the deal, a rebel group based in North Kivu known as the Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple was integrated into the national Congolese army. This coming together was intended to bring peace to eastern DRC.
But the agreement only lasted until 2012.
In 2017 there was another attempt to institute a power sharing government. A transitional government was instituted with the intention of preparing for presidential elections and to facilitate the transfer of power from Kabila whose mandate had ended in 2016.
This was an imperfect solution, as groups in opposition to Kabila were convinced the president was biding his time without any real intentions of relinquishing power. At a minimum the process helped create a framework for the transfer of power from Kabila after 17 years.
Security, conflict, and corruption
Every power sharing agreement since 2002 has suffered the same fate because they have all faced the same limitations. Their effectiveness was restricted by the lack of international support, the absence of viable reforms in the security sector, corruption and conflict. These same factors will most likely impede current and future attempts to stabilise the country.
Take the problems of the country’s weak security sector. This has contributed to ineffective responses to crises and bad decisions. For example, integrating former militants into the Congolese army was seen a crucial step to uniting competing forces. But the selection and organisation of the ranking officers divided loyalties in the army.
This was coupled by a lack of training and the unsettling involvement of the new army recruits in past human rights violations. Ultimately, the army became prone to defections, rampant human rights abuses and ineffectiveness.
Meanwhile, the establishment of a national police force was beset by corruption, while the judiciary was left almost entirely unreformed.
The continued weakness of all these institutions makes it difficult to establish the rule of law or to cultivate civilian trust in the state. This environment gives armed groups more room to manoeuvre.
Corruption has been a significant challenge as well. The DRC ranks 161 out of 180 countries in the Corruption Perception Index. Despite the temporary establishment of a civil society-led commission on ethics, corruption continues within the armed forces, police, judiciary, taxes and customs office, and state-run corporations. It flourishes in a restrictive environment where civil society is muted and media outlets are gagged by the government.
Nor have external actors like the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DRC been able to turn the tide. The mission has had a limited ability to effect the dynamics on the ground. With a contingent of just 18 000 the mission is woefully understaffed to cover an area the size of Western Europe. As a result many communities have been affected by forced displacement, gender based violence, and the induction of children into armed groups.
The implementation of power sharing agreements in these circumstances has always been an uphill battle. As a result, the conflict in the DRC has stretched out over decades. The effects of the protracted conflict have been devastating with over 4.5 million people currently internally displaced. In December 2018 alone over 900 people were killed during a three day period of intense fighting.
As Tshisekedi faces increasing pressure to form a new government, another power sharing agreement appears imminent, with negotiations already underway. However, the challenges that plagued previous arrangements have not gone away.
Over the past ten years, efforts to address those challenges have been spearheaded by a well-intentioned but ultimately ineffective civil society. Nongovernmental and community-based organisations struggle to address issues ranging from the recruitment of child soldiers, to food security, and access to health care.
While these local efforts are invaluable, they cannot be expected to replace the services of a functional state. Moving forward, the new government and civil society will require additional support from external actors to rebuild institutions, stabilise the conflict, and renew trust in the state.
Julie M Norman, Research Fellow in Global Peace, Security, & Justice, Queen’s University Belfast and Drew Mikhael, Research Fellow in the School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics, Queen’s University Belfast