Why Is Democracy Still A Difficult Concept To Grasp In DR Congo?

December 2008

Why Is Democracy Still A Difficult Concept
To Grasp In DR Congo?

The concept of democracy has been cherished in the West for some centuries, ever since some of the major revolutions like the French Revolution and the American Revolution. Its roots came from some of the Greek philosophers who had already explored the concept in order to establish some good in their own society. In an etymological sense of the term, demos refers to PEOPLE and the –cracy would mean the ruling. In short, the concept basically means the ruling of the people, by the people and for the people.

This concept has been quite difficult to grasp in many African countries, as far as the voting system is concerned. If one was to look at most of the elections that have taken place in different African countries, the loser never easily accept the defeat. The recent election in December of last year in Kenya brought serious conflict among the opponents. This was because the results from that election were rigged by the president. The election was between President Kibaki and his opponent Odinga - who appeared to have the majority of the votes. President Kibaki could not accept this and decided to manipulate the results, “winning” the election once more. The opponent finally cooled down once he obtained the position of prime minister. Later on in the beginning of this year, the Zimbabwean president Mugabe openly rigged the election between himself and his opponent Tsvangirai, giving him no other choice than to accept sharing power. That situation is still not resolved completely. In many other cases, when in reality the opponent loses, they never accept the defeat. Rather, their first reaction is to cry out that the election was rigged.

While in most of the Western countries, it is quite the opposite scenario. The loser easily congratulates the winner and most of the time, they say: “The people have decided”. This example is seen in both the French Royal-Sarkozy election and in the recent McCain versus Obama election in America. Both losers easily accepted the defeat and automatically said: “Le peuple a décidé, regardons vers l’avenir tous en tant que Français” or “The American people have decide, let us join together as one country. I am ready to cooperate with the new elected president for the good of the Americans.”

This is my preoccupation: why is it that in most African countries, the loser is not ready to accept the defeat? Why are they not willing to cooperate with the winner, though differences can still be maintained? Many reasons can arise such as: the concept and desire for power in most African leaders, the fear of bad governance, corruption, and many other reasons that are connected to the ill-mental structure of the concept of power.

Being a Congolese, and after reading the report from Human Right Watch written by Anneke Van Woudenberg in Kinshasa, I want to shed some more light on the concept of democracy in DRCongo. The concept was not developed from the time of King Leopold II- the landlord of the Congo- through the Belgian colonialism and the dictatorship of Mobutu. It started developing towards the end of the Mobutu regime to the present day with the turmoil in Eastern Congo and the shaky government. The current mentality stems from the decades of abuse of power by the colonizers and the ruthlessness of Mobutu through law enforcement- using flogging as a way to control or persuade one to obey or agree. These circumstances have shaped the minds of the people. They could no longer consider opposition as simply disagreeing with another´s plan or idea, but instead regard opposition as a tool to reject every idea that comes from the opponent, especially the one in power, even though their idea may be constructive and helpful for the country. Opposition has become a defense mechanism in many of their mindset – both sides, the in-charge and the opponent -. An example is seen with Bemba, who has been a main opponent of the present government in DRCongo. He lost the election but, as all too common in many African countries, he would not accept the defeat. He wanted to keep his soldiers´ body guards within the center of the capital in spite of the election. As described in detail in the Human Right Watch report, we should understand that at times, the Bundu Dia Kongo (BDK) religious-movement claimed for more autonomy of the Bas-Congo province with ferocity and with an unconstitutional understanding of autonomy.

While the government has, at times, used some measures that should not be accepted in any circumstance –as described in the Human Right Watch report- we need to make sure and help the Congolese people start to change their mentality. We need to help them, and any other countries that struggle with this, grasp the true meaning of democracy and how it would look. They need to learn how to integrate the fundamental values of democracy and how to accept defeat like the Western countries, while still maintaining their own cultural values. Lastly, they need to learn the value of working together - becoming unified people - ones that collaborate in order to better their country, instilling in themselves and generations to come, a sense of pride, accomplishment, and honor.

David Suze Manda, MA in Peace, Conflict and Development