Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What Happens in 2011?

My best guess on what happens with the next presidential election: Obviously, Kabila can't pull a Kagame, and jury rig an election winning 97 percent of the vote. The Congo is just too vast, too disorganized, and too undisciplined to impose those kind of results. Kenya, and to a lesser extent Zimbabwe, provide the more obvious parallel. In this scenario, Kabila will delay the vote, create all sorts of logistical glitches, steal the election with last-minute chicanery, and then hold out the promise of negotiating a power-sharing agreement with elements of the opposition. This will be easier to do if the opposition isn't united, which it probably won't be. But even if it is, political figures in Congo are under such pressure to secure positions for themselves and their clients that Kabila is likely to be able to coopt enough of his adversaries to remain president. I doubt the Congolese people would revolt: they're not, politically or materially, where the Filipinos were when Marcos attempted a similar maneuver in 1986. Nor will the donor nations object too much; with China emerging as the dominant outside power in the region, they're far less influential than they once were, and they know it.

On the other hand, unlike Mugabe and Kibaki, Kabila doesn't have a very strong ethno-political base to rely on for a significant share of the votes. Were he to hold an election and lose in a landslide, and were the opposition and donors to be steadfast in insisting on observing the results, it's possible he could be forced out.

Obviously, a million things can happen between now and then, so all this is just speculation. But an exercise in straight-line projection can help to clarify the logic of a situation, as long as you don't rely on it to plot the future.

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