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National dialogue: will the quest for new political order in the DRC be successful?

A quick roundup of all that is being is said and/or done around the national dialogue in the Congolese political class inevitably leads pundits to highlight two facts.

On the one hand, the dialogue is a proof enough that 2011 presidential elections failed  to usher in a legitimate dispensation. Rather than materialise voters resolve for change, it is believed by most Congolese and was underscored by various electoral observation missions fielded to the DRC that polls results were not reflective of the people’s choice. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be any need for the forum. On the other hand, the dialogue seems to be a belated (retrospective?) panacea proposed by the international community to reboot the DRC, as it were. This idea formed part of the recommendations made in the Addis Ababa Peace, Security, and Cooperation Framework  agreement signed on 24 February 2013.

But previous attempts to bring the regime, the opposition, and the civil society together in a forum to deliberate on the future of the DRC have often yielded, at best, power-sharing governments or, at worst, an even more fractious society. In the early 1990s, the National Sovereign Conference was a national dialogue meant to help DRC transition from dictatorship to democratic rule. All it succeeded in achieving was pit the opposition against the regime, and politicise the civil society more in the process.

Many years of instability ensued, leading yet to another dialogue i.e. the Sun City Inter-Congolese Dialogue which, unlike the National Sovereign Conference, culminated in a power-sharing Global Agreement. This agreement ushered in a zero-sum dispensation whereby the nuisance capacity of each component, far more than concensus, maintained the whole superstructure in place.

This lasted until first general polls in 2006 which created an East-West split in the country, pitting the Swahili-speaking (East) part of the DRC which massively voted for Kabila, against the country’s Lingala-speaking part (West), which voted for Jean-Pierre Bemba.

And then came 2011….with an election that left the country and international observers uncertain, if not skeptical, of the outcomes.

Does all that mean that the DRC desperately needs a new political order, the foundation of which should be genuine dialogue in an unconstrained forum? If so, what should be the rules of the game, and above all, how can a level playing field be guaranteed?

In response to this question, the regime decreed the sanctity of the institutional order from 2011 polls. So, Kabila has recently signed a decree setting the rules of the game and defining what appears to be a very unlevel playing field. The opposition reacts by questioning the regime’s initiative to steer the process and wants everything to be debated….including the institutional order, and international oversight.

The process seems headed to a deadlock. It hasn’t stalled yet though.

Unlike past iterations of the dialogue, this time round the opposition apparently is not interested in a power sharing government. They want assurances that democracy is entrenched in the country. At least so it seems.

Whether the foundations of a new political order will be laid or stem from the dialogue remains to be seen. If the dialogue were held….that is.

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