The African Union is calling for the announcement of the disputed results of the presidential election to be suspended. This is unprecedented.
Supporters of the allegedly defeated opposition presidential candidate Martin Fayulu in Kinshasa last Saturday Photo: reuters
For the first time in its history, the African Union (AU) is taking sides against a government of its member states in a conflict over disputed elections. At a special summit at AU headquarters in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa late Thursday night, the organization called on authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo to "suspend" the announcement of the final results of the Dec. 30 elections, expected in the coming days. There were "serious doubts about the consistency of the preliminary results announced by the electoral commission with the votes cast," the statement added.
This brings the dispute over Congo’s elections to a head internationally. The country’s electoral commission had surprisingly declared opposition politician Felix Tshisekedi the winner of the presidential election on Jan. 10: He was ahead of the main opposition candidate Martin Fayulu, who was credited with 34 percent, and government candidate Emmanuel Shadary, with 23 percent, with about 38 percent, it said. But the opposition, which is grouped around Fayulu in the majority, immediately rejected this.
What was celebrated on the one hand as a historic admission by the Congolese government of its own electoral defeat was rejected in the days that followed by more and more observers as a gross falsification.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference CENCO, which maintained the largest Congolese election observer network, detailed to the UN Security Council a week ago why it believed the official results did not conform to its own data. Several international media outlets this week published detailed datasets from the electoral commission showing a clear victory for Fayulu.
Two-thirds majority in parliament
The strategy of President Joseph Kabila’s outgoing government became clear when the electoral commission last weekend certified that the previous ruling parties would maintain their two-thirds majority in parliament. According to this, the Kabila government would remain in power – but by having an opposition figure as president, it would avert further mass protests and uprisings by the united opposition.
But internationally, Congo’s government remained isolated with this strategy. Before the AU, the regional organizations SADC (Southern African Development Community) and ICGLR (International Conference of the Great Lakes Region) had already expressed doubts about the official election results. In an unusually critical statement, the ICGLR had even bluntly called on Congo’s authorities to "count the votes."
The special summit in Addis Ababa now united SADC and ICGLR with the AU. It was convened by acting AU Council President Paul Kagame – president of Rwanda and a historic opponent of the Kabila government. Kagame and AU Commission chief Moussa Faki of Chad now plan to travel to Kinshasa on Monday for talks.
This presents Congo’s government with a dilemma. The Supreme Court in Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, has been hearing Fayulu’s election challenge since Tuesday. A verdict is expected on Saturday. If Tshisekedi’s victory is confirmed as the official final result, as is widely expected, he is to be sworn in as president next Tuesday. However, a lightning visit by the AU on Monday significantly disrupts those proceedings.
In an initial reaction, Congo’s government spokesman Lambert Mende said Congo’s judiciary is independent and the AU has no say in the Supreme Court. Whereas the option to suspend the announcement of an official final result also benefits the government: The longer it all takes, the longer Kabila himself remains president.