Media & Foreign Policy Analysis Paper:

2018 Democratic Elections in DRC, October 05

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Outgoing Democratic Republic of Congo president Joseph Kabila, has ruled since his father’s assassination in 2001. According to Al Jazeera’s article by David Child earlier this month, the DRC has never had a peaceful transition of power; its first democratically elected leader, Patrice Lumumba, was assassinated in 1961, one year after the country gained independence from Belgium. Following Lumumba’s CIA-backed assassination, President Mobutu Sese Seko ruled until Laurent-Desire Kabila forced him out in 1997. In turn, after Kabila’s assassination in 2001, his son, Joseph Kabila began rule. Al Jazeera reports that Joseph Kabila was declared the winner of elections in 2006 and 2011, but both polls were marred by violence and opposition allegations of widespread fraud.

 

The lack of clarity over the participation of President Joseph Kabila, whose second term officially ended in 2016 and is constitutionally ineligible for the upcoming poll, was alive and well as late as June of this year. However, in August, the ruling party coalition surprised those watching around the world by declaring the little-known Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, a former interior minister, would be the ruling coalition’s candidate. According to The Guardian’s reporting of the elections, Kabila’s People's Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD) made this announcement hours before the legal deadline for deposing candidatures for the polls expired (Burke).

 

Although scholarly research is not needed to come this conclusion, it often comes as a shock to many Western countries that many African countries have, during the last several years, strengthened their democracies (Mbaku). However the biggest issue, according to The Brookings Institution, is particularly with western news coverage of African elections and a lack of acknowledgement of the “rights and grievances of all citizens, not just those of supporters” (Mbaku). Meanwhile, reporters from Al Jazeera found that the diaspora influenced 2017’s elections in Africa. The How Africa Tweets study was released on Wednesday by Portland Communications, a UK-based consultancy. Interestingly enough, Portland’s fourth study into ‘How Africa Tweets’ deems that African governments are not immune from global issues such as “fake news, the rise of bots and external influence on elections” (How Africa Tweets 2018).

The rise of ethnic-based political parties has become a major challenge to electoral processes but the DRC’s is likely “to involve some level of sectarian conflict, especially given the rise of identity politics” (Mbaku).

 

Similar to Gilboa’s 2005 ‘The CNN Effect’ with a focus on television coverage, the importance of this analysis is to acknowledge the impact of social media debates on policy making (Gilboa, 2005). However the question then turns to how the digital divide may have a role then in rural, sub-Saharan Africa. As Gilboa points out, there are other “effects of instant communications and time pressure created by that speed also may push policymakers to make decisions without sufficient time to carefully consider options” (Gilboa, 2005) which can be even easier in areas with lack of information systems, let alone telecommunication systems. Again, this can then be compared to Hachten’s discussion with the impact televising major events that can alter the coverage and, in turn, the impact of those events. And with platforms such as twitter, not only can an individual express their point of view but they can also add visual components such as “televising” an event for even more viewers to see. Yet Freedman (2000, p. 339) distinguished among three effects of television coverage on humanitarian military interventions:

 

      the “CNN effect,” whereby images of suffering push governments into intervention; the “bodybags effect,” whereby          images of casualties pull them away; and the “bullying effect,” whereby the use of excessive force risks draining away        public support for intervention.

 

Ironically, Portland’s Communication study on How Africa Tweets feeds into Compaine’s conclusions that “In many places, governments are even more likely to be driving media coverage rather than the other way around, although it may suit governments to appear as if they bowed to public opinion” (Compaine, 2002).

 

According to The Brookings Institution’s analysis of the current DRC’s political climate, the country’s electoral commission, the Commission électorale nationale indépendante (CENI), postponing the elections was believed to be Kabila and his political supporters at work (Mbaku).  Meanwhile, AFP also announced that the DRC's electoral commission has also said it is refusing help offered by the UN mission, MONUSCO, which proposed using its helicopters and planes to ferry imported voting machines to polling stations nationwide (AFP). The juxtaposition of these two reportings is interesting to examine side-by-side. Take The Brookings Institute, a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, D.C., versus AFP, a news organization with 80 nationalities represented and a local office in Kinshasa, DRC.

 

Mbaku’s interest included asking “about whether a fair, credible, free, and peaceful presidential election will be held or will this simply be a ploy to allow Kabila to remain in control of the government” (Mbaku). Comparatively, AFP’s article focuses on  "One of the trigger points is the novel use of touch-screen voting machines which the DRC election commission says are crucial, given the problem of printing, distributing and tallying ballot sheets in a sprawling country with communications problems" (AFP). As if in a dialogue with one another, Mbaku addresses a similar point feeding on the fear that Kabila may use some excuse, such as the lack of resources and the absence of an official electoral register, to again postpone the elections.

 

Global interaction over the past century can be highlighted within two key concepts explaining the major shifts in global communications and international media. The first is one that talks about the growth of technology expanding at such a rate and profiting at such a larger rate that now it costs virtually nothing to interact with one and another online. Although even Hachten briefly skims over the idea of the digital divide:

 

      But while the new technologies are closing gaps between parts of India and China and the advanced industrial                    nations, the gaps between those countries and Africa have been widened. The world’s nations may not have a level

      playing field, but the world is changing in critical ways. And for many millions in those nations considered to be

     “developing,” their standards of living have improved rapidly (Hachten 2015, p.11).

This emphasizes the importance of foreign news / international media being one that, "serious journalists and editors have long held that important information from overseas should be reported capably and thoroughly, even though most people are primarily concerned about what happens in their own community or to themselves personally. Yet foreign news is perceived through the distorting prisms of culture and personal choice" (Hachten 2015, p.14).

 

Yet within the same swoop, Hachten criticizes current depictions of international media as purely conflict-ridden and a bulk of Americans lost interest in foreign affairs as a whole after 9/11. Arguably however within recent years, there has been a shift towards interest in foreign news in direct relation in understanding the implications on American citizens or American interests. Hence, with the expansion of technology/global communications, international media has been able to thrive by pushing news on multiple platforms and reaching multiple audiences within seconds. Understanding that global communications and international media go hand-in-hand must put into consideration the facets or relationships between communication dissemination done through technology and the consumption of international media.

Ironically, How Africa Tweets’ study observed that 53 percent of the leading voices on Twitter around ten elections on the continent during the past year came from outside the country in which the elections were contested. Similarly, “non-domestic news outlets and journalists accounted for 1 in 5 of the handles fuelling discussion and debate around the year’s elections” (How Africa Tweets). In the specific case of the DRC’s elections, the EU, UN, and US have been closely following the election buildup. AFP reported that “[The EU]  has frozen assets and denied visas to a dozen Congolese figures -- including Shadary -- on the grounds of human rights abuses since the constitutional end of Kabila's second and last mandate in December 2016” (AFP). An anonymous diplomat was quoted as saying, “ Obviously we would like to send an observer mission from the European Union. But to do that, we need an invitation from Kinshasa. In the present climate, I find that hardly likely” as a clear demonstration of at the very least international interest, if not, intervention. Historically, the US and UN have meddled with DRC’s democratic elections if they were “against” western interests, most notably with the assassination of Patrice Lumumba. To regard any differences in present-day DRC elections in the name of “democracy” would be simply naive.

 

References

AFP. (2018, August 24). Outside help not wanted, says DR Congo as key elections loom.

Retrieved from https://www.france24.com/en/20180824-outside-help-not-wanted-says-dr-congo-key-elections-loom

 

Burke, J. (2018, August 08). Joseph Kabila ruled out as DRC election candidate. Retrieved from

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/08/joseph-kabila-ruled-out-as-drc-election-candidate

 

Compaine, B. (2002, 11). Global Media. Foreign Policy, (133), 20. doi:10.2307/3183548

 

Gilboa, E. (2005, 02). The CNN Effect: The Search for a Communication Theory of

International Relations. Political Communication, 22(1), 27-44. doi:10.1080/10584600590908429

 

Hachten, W. A., & Scotton, J. F. (2015). The world news prism : digital, social and interactive.

Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com

 

How Africa Tweets 2018. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://portland-

communications.com/publications/how-africa-tweets-2018/

 

Mbah, F. (2018, July 18). How the diaspora influenced 2017's elections in Africa: Report.

Retrieved from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/07/diaspora-influenced-2017-elections-africa-report-180717185153249.html

 

Mbaku, J. M. (2018, February 01). Foresight Africa viewpoint – Elections in Africa in 2018:

Lessons from Kenya's 2017 electoral experiences. Retrieved from

https://www.brookings.edu/blog/africa-in-focus/2018/02/01/foresight-africa-viewpoint-

elections-in-africa-in-2018-lessons-from-kenyas-2017-electoral-experiences/

 

Mbaku, J. M. (2018, August 29). What is at stake for the DRC presidential election? Retrieved

from https://www.brookings.edu/blog/africa-in-focus/2018/08/29/what-is-at-stake-for-the-drc-presidential-election/

 

Media Content Notes

 

June 10, 2018 - Kabila named leading figure in upcoming DRC elections, eNCA

https://www.enca.com/africa/kabila-named-leading-figure-in-upcoming-drc-elections

  • Seen as manipulative by Kabila through loyalist affiliation in nominee. Rather than being reported as a success for Kabila to step down, “observers” contend this is a temporary answer for Kabila to run again in the next election

 

June 22, 2018 - Democratic Republic of Congo: Upcoming elections overshadowed by persistent human rights concerns, AmnestyInternational

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/06/democratic-republic-of-congo-upcoming-elections-overshadowed-by-persistent-human-rights-concerns/

  • NGO covers human rights concerns of Joseph Kabila

 

August 8, 2018 - Joseph Kabila ruled out as DRC election candidate: Ruling coalition selects little-known Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary in surprise move by Jason Burke, The Guardian

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/08/joseph-kabila-ruled-out-as-drc-election-candidate

 

August 24, 2018 - Outside help not wanted, says DR Congo as key elections loom,  france24

https://www.france24.com/en/20180824-outside-help-not-wanted-says-dr-congo-key-elections-loom

  • As reported by the AFP, DRC does not want US, UN, or EU help in regulating or following through with this election

  • Post colonial mindsets of how things should be done versus allowing natural institutions to run their course is strong and evident in western reporting of African elections

 

August 29, 2018 - Decision on Bemba Ballot Push Could Affect Congo's Election by Mohammed Yusuf, voanews

https://www.voanews.com/a/decision-jean-pierre-bemba-ballot-push-congo-election/4549324.html

 

Augusgt 29, 2018 - What is at stake for the DRC presidential election? by John Mukum Mbaku, Brookings

https://www.brookings.edu/blog/africa-in-focus/2018/08/29/what-is-at-stake-for-the-drc-presidential-election/

  • Note Brookings’ hed versus Al Jazeera’s

 

August 31, 2018 - DRC's struggle for democracy enters new era: Elevation of sanctioned official and opposition bans prompt analyst fears before December 23 presidential election by David Child, Al Jazeera

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/08/drc-struggle-democracy-enters-era-180826134647384.html

 

September 19, 2018 - DRC: Lisanga Bongaga's electoral platform says it is fighting for a joint opposition candidacy, 24congo

https://24hcongo.net/rdc-la-plateforme-electorale-de-lisanga-bongaga-dit-se-battre-pour-parvenir-a-une-candidature-commune-de-lopposition/

  • Background with other African nations’ thoughts on DRC elections

 

September 25, 2018 - At U.N., Congo's Kabila vows 'peaceful, credible' elections, Reuters

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-congo-politics/at-u-n-congos-kabila-vows-peaceful-credible-elections-idUSKCN1M531S

 

September 25, 2018 - Congolese activists convicted of inciting anti-Kabila protests, Business Insider

https://www.businessinsider.com/r-congolese-activists-convicted-of-inciting-anti-kabila-protests-2018-9?r=UK&IR=T

 

October 03, 2018 - President Lungu is concerned that unresolved issues surrounding DRC elections may spark chaos, Lasaka Times

https://www.lusakatimes.com/2018/10/03/president-lungu-is-concerned-that-unresolved-issues-surrounding-drc-elections-may-spark-chaos/

 

October 04, 2018 - Congo accuses EU of election interference for maintaining sanctions by Giulia Paravicini, Reuters

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-congo-eu-sanctions/congo-accuses-eu-of-election-interference-for-maintaining-sanctions-idUSKCN1ME1SX

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