What Congo’s election tells us about active citizenship in Africa

by Iweka Kingsley

Congo’s recent presidential election has been on the news following the surprise announcement of Felix Tshisekedi as winner and rival opposition candidate Martin Fayulu, quickly denouncing Tshisekedi’s victory.

Since gaining independence from Belgium in 1960 Congo has not had a peaceful, democratic transfer of power. This election could change that, but the possibility hangs on a rope, and relies heavily on the active citizenship of a team of 40,000 observers from the Catholic Church, whose results suggests that Fayulu won the presidential race with 61 percent of the vote. Congo’s constitutional court is now considering his challenge to the results and has seven days to respond.

Although history may suggest there is no cookie-cutter model for democracy, but what we have seen consistently is that one of the most important steps towards building healthy societies, especially for new democracies, is active citizenship.

In fact, democracy as it were, does not ensure good governance any more than other forms of government (communism, dictatorship or monarchy) do, there are examples of good governance from all these forms of government and there are examples of poor governance from each as well.

However, good governance is largely a consequence of good democracy, and hence, for the African context, while we aim for excellent governance powered by the people and for the people, we must continue to push for electoral accountability and transparent democratic processes.

The example of Congo, while it shows us that electoral accountability can be achieved through active citizenship as led by the Catholic Church there, it also emphasizes that there is more that active citizenship should reach for. For instance, righteous pressure should be put on the electoral commission there to respond and address the conflicting numbers between what they reported and what was reported by the Catholic Church observers. The constitutional court thereafter should be charged to uphold and enforce the stipulations of their constitution in this case.

At the end of the day, we have to see active citizenship as a power that should not only be used once every four years or when there is an election, such power is not powerful at all. We are talking about a power that can and should be used every day and every time. “Active citizenship means people getting involved in their local communities and democracy at all levels, from towns to cities to nationwide activity. Active citizenship can be as small as a campaign to clean up your street or as big as educating young people about democratic values, skills and participation,” – Open Society Foundations.

Across Africa many countries are not too far from the situation in Congo, even in countries where there have been relatively peaceful, democratic transfer of power. Nigeria and South Africa go to the polls in February and May respectively, the outcomes of these elections are crucial on many levels, especially with defining the growth of Africa’s democratic process. One of the presidential candidates in Nigeria’s elections, Oby Ezekwesili, has hinged her campaign largely on active citizenship and has been a strong proponent for the citizenry to realise the immense power they wield. How this pans out will be a defining moment for the continent and the world at large.

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