Recriminations are flying in Washington over the Trump administration’s response to the barefaced theft of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s presidential election. As so often, the romantics are denouncing the pragmatists — with the former doing most of the talking, both on and off the record.
Romantic officials who lost the internal debate spilled their hearts anonymously to Foreign Policy to protest the State Department’s January 23 statement that “the US welcomes the Congolese Constitutional Court’s certification of Felix Tshisekedi as the next President” of the DRC.
They had endorsed a different, welcome-less, draft that spoke of a “deeply flawed and troubling election” and reiterated earlier vows to “hold accountable those who…undermine democratic processes”. Said one, as quoted by Foreign Policy: “If we said we’ll hold the government accountable…and five days letter we congratulate a bunch of thieves, what good are our threats?”
Riva Levinson, a one time lobbyist for Jonas Savimbi who earned redemption helping Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf into power, wrote in The Hill that she was asking herself the same question as she headed to Nigeria to observe Sunday’s election.
And then there was a post on a Council of Foreign Relations blog by Michelle Gavin, former ambassador to Botswana and Africa director on President Obama’s National Security Council, . Headline: “The Truth About United States Complicity in DRC’s Fraudulent Election”.
“The Congolese people who bravely came out to vote were treated like unwitting extras in a drama staged by elites…There are plenty of forces around the world working to devalue the meaning of ideas like democracy, or even truth, The US ought not to join them.”
For a more phlegmatic view I turned to the Tiresias of US Africa policy — Hank Cohen, the first President Bush’s Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, and author of the “The Mind of the African Strongman — Conversations with Dictators, Statesman and Father Figures”, a wry, wise and highly readable assessment of the many Big Men he dealt with during and after a 38-year career as a State Department Africanist.
Cohen’s DRC experience goes back to the early days of Mobutu Sese Seko’s presidency. He said everyone took it as a given that Mobutu’s latest incarnation, Joseph Kabila, having run out of other other options for retaining power, would try to rig the election in favour of Ramazani Shadary, a puppet.
Kabila was never going to let Martin Fayulu win because he knew Fayulu, the stand-in for his arch enemy, Moise Katumbi, would go after him and his ill-gotten gains. “Kabila really robbed the Congo blind during his sixteen years in power.” In the event, Shadary, “never a heavy hitter in politics”, did so poorly there was no way he could be declared the winner. That left Kabila no choice but to throw the election to Tshisekedi. “He had a discussion with Felix who promised to leave him alone, forget the past and focus on the future.”
The Catholic church’s vote count, corroborated by the count leaked from the electoral commission, complicated things, but once the packed constitutional court had “validated” the rigged numbers and the AU and SADC had backed off their demand for a recount, Trump’s National Security Council “decided that the main objective had been accomplished.” The predatory Kabila was out and his surrogate wasn’t in. That is what the vast majority of Congolese voted for and they didn’t seem too outraged by the fix.
In a direct riposte to Ambassador Gavin, posted on the same Council on Foreign Relations blog, Cohen said her “severe condemnation” of the US decision “emphasizes useless idealism at the expense of pragmatic progress in the right direction. I am surprised she is insisting on the perfect at the expense of the good. That does a great disservice to diplomacy.”