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Congo Elections – No Shot At Stability

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On December 20, nearly 40 million Congolese voters headed to the polls to cast their vote in the presidential elections. As a sign of the country’s instability, voting was extended one day with accusations of fraud and calls for fresh elections.

With no results declared, opposition candidates have called for protests on December 27. 

Incumbent President Félix Tshisekedi is seeking a second term against Martin Fayulu, a former ExxonMobil executive, and Moïse Katumbi, a wealthy businessman and owner of the TP Mazembe football team. Many working class Congolese people would breathe a sigh of relief to see the pro-capitalist, corrupt, and incompetent Tshisekedi regime defeated, as many in Congo, including the influential Catholic Church, saw Martin Fayulu as the rightful winner of the 2018 elections. 

However, for the increasingly poor masses of Congo, none of these candidates can offer any relief to their collective strife nor a way forward, as they are all in the fold of the capitalist system and multinational companies that have been plundering Congo for decades.

Tshisekedi is running on a platform of increasing wealth through economic investments within the country. Emphasizing his own “Congoleseness,” (his father Etienne was the main opposition politician for decades) Tshisekedi whips up nationalist rhetoric against his opponents as being linked with the regime in Rwanda, which has been a source of decades long conflict and violence on the Eastern border. Voting registration agents have been attacked in the East, where most ethnic minorities live, and fears of election day unrest were prevalent among the population. Nicolas Kazadi, the country’s current finance minister, scapegoated ethnic minorities for the country’s problems by saying, “We are taking our country back. That is what is at stake in this election.”

Resource Rich, Economically Poor

Congo, or Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is considered the richest country in the world in natural resources, including 70% of the world’s coltan, 30% of the world’s diamonds, and other precious metals such as copper and cobalt. Valued at $24 trillion, Congo sits upon the metals considered essential for a green transition around the world. However, this immense wealth, most of which lies near the border with Rwanda, is far from the hands of ordinary Congolese. 

With 70% of the Congo’s mines in the hands of Chinese companies, Congolese hardly see the fruits of the country’s economic output, with two-thirds of the population living below the poverty line. The cost-of-living crisis is driven by the lingering effects of the COVID-19 and ebola crises, and inflation is exacerbated by the war in Ukraine. In 2019, Tshisekedi attempted to boost DRC’s economy by restoring relations with the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and launching initiatives such as free primary school education and free healthcare for women. However, these have not been fully realized, nor enough to offset the effects of imperialist interests in the resource-rich area. “Restoring relations with the IMF” will only mean more of the same “Structural Adaptation Programs” that the IMF and World Bank enforced on a row of African countries during the 1980’s, including Congo, leading to enormous cuts and privatizations.

A New “Scramble for Africa”

Congo, which achieved independence from Belgium in 1960 as the result of a widespread independence movements, is today far from free as it faces new challenges of deepened capitalist crises. 

The New Cold War between the US and China continues to reshape global politics and relations, with entire continents in some cases being pulled into one camp or the other. Africa is no exception, with resources for battery production essential to the tech war between the US and China. With military coups destabilizing the Sahel region, and imperialist interests adding flame to the fire, alliances in Africa are being reshaped, and in some cases, reversed. In a 2008 deal, then DRC President Joseph Kabila and Chinese owned firms agreed to a joint venture for the Congo’s Sicomines profits to finance infrastructure such as roads and hospitals. However, with not even $1 billion of the $3 billion promised invested in infrastructure and the Chinese firms holding a 68% stake, Congo has received the short end of the stick. 

Earlier this year, Tshisekedi met with Chinese President Xi Jinping to begin re-negotiations. In the meantime, the US is looking to grab its own stake by backing the development of an electric vehicle batteries supply chain between the Congo and Zambia. According to the US State Department, over 50% of the DRC’s total exports to the US is copper, a material needed for semiconductors. The US seeks to develop this investment as it de-risks battery production through programs like the CHIPS Act.

The Path Forward

The weakening of the Congolese franc against the US dollar has spiked inflation, and over half of the population earns $2.15 a day or less. But according to Tshisekedi, “In terms of the economy in general, finances in general, the country has made enormous progress.”

In a country that has faced wars, militant clashes over territory and natural resources, lowered living standards, and a coup attempt in 2022, Tshisekedi’s economic plan will only serve the outside imperialist interests to which the Congo is inextricably and increasingly beholden to, not the masses of ordinary Congolese. 

In the new Era of Disorder, neither US nor Chinese imperialism offers any real way forward. Both versions of imperialist exploitation base themselves on ethnic divisions to maintain control. This mentality offers nothing to the vast majority of ordinary Congolese people, who have a shared interest in fighting for good jobs, good schools, quality housing, access to healthcare, and affordable basic goods.

To unite ordinary Congolese into a common struggle, what is needed in Congo is the building of fighting, democratic trade unions together with a democratic, workers’ socialist parties that can offer a real alternative to the masses, and throw out the rampant imperialism and the corrupt politicians and capitalists plundering the country and the continent.

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