Friday, December 16, 2011

US to Congolese: Democracy Tomorrow, Maybe! (But not Today)

US assistant secretary of state for Africa Johnny Carson told senators at a hearing on the Congo today (Thursday, 12/15) that while there were "flaws" in last week's election, he doesn't believe that anyone can prove that the outcome would have been different had the election been run properly. He also told the senators that the US encourages the opposition to take their complaints to the courts (where they will be dismissed), but not to the streets. Peacefully assembling could provoke Kabila's trigger-happy troops, he warned, undermining US efforts to keep Kabila in power. Finally, he congratulated Kabila for the great effort he put into making the elections worth stealing in the first place.

That's not exactly what he said, of course. He's a highly paid professional diplomat. His job is to say something that gives the impression he means one thing while actually saying another, but never in a way that can be called a flat-out lie. And give him credit: he's very good at what he does.

In fact, if you don't speak diplomatese, you might have come away thinking that the US is deeply concerned about what has happened in Congo and is working hard to rectify it.

Fortunately, I lived and worked among diplomats for several years and can understand their language, although I speak it badly. So allow me to translate. First, I'll give the quote from Carson, then I'll translate what he meant into human English, and finally I'll tell what Carson would have said if, in some alternate universe, the US actually gave a damn about the Congo.

Carson: The DRC is the largest country in Sub-Saharan Africa. With a population of over 71 million, it lies at the core of Central Africa and is bordered by nine other countries. It is also a country of enormous economic potential...

Meaning: I'm going to bore you with shit I took out of wikipedia so you're all too stupefied to ask me tough questions. By the way, did you catch that phrase: "at the core of central Africa"? It takes Grade A Diplomatic Gravitas to get away with shit like that.

Alternate Universe Carson: He would have skipped this crap and gone straight to the issues.

Carson: The top priorities for the United States in the DRC are promoting credible elections . . .

Meaning: My staff worried this would promote snickering in the back in the room, but I knew I had the game to pull it off. As we all know, the top priority for the United States is to exclude Tshisekedi from power and to keep the country off the nightly news. The top priority for me in this hearing is to give you the impression the State Department gives a damn while not committing us to any action that would rock the boat.

Alternate Universe Carson: Because one of the top priorities for the United States in the DRC is promoting credible elections, we're working hard with the UN, the AU and our allies to insist that we can do a thorough recount and establish who actually won the election; if we can't do that, we're going to insist on re-doing the election partially or wholly, or perhaps holding a run-off between Kabila and Tshisekedi. This will depend on what the main Congolese protagonists say and leading NGOs and civil society groups have to say.

Carson: Both national and international observer missions (including the U.S.-funded Carter Center observer mission) identified flaws with the vote tabulation process.... Mr. Tshisekedi responded to the announced results by calling them a provocation of the Congolese people and declaring himself president.

Meaning: So there were flaws. You've got flaws, I've got flaws, we've all got flaws. Am I right? But then that bloviator Tshisekedi goes and calls himself president, which I'm hoping you'll agree is a totally self-discrediting thing to have done, especially since I'm not providing any context that might explain why he did so.

AUC: The election was a disaster, and the aftermath was worse. It didn't help that both of the main candidates promptly declared themselves winners--kind of like what happened in Florida in 2000.

Carson: We share the deep concerns [about the election] expressed in the assessments of the Carter Center...

Meaning: The Carter Center has too much credibility for us to just blow them off, so we're going to pretend we share their concerns, while playing up all the stuff the Center said about remaining uncertainties.

AUC: Several highly reputable organizations, including the Carter Center, corroborate our own finding that this election lacks legitimacy. That's unacceptable.

Carson: it is important to note that we do not know—and it might not be possible to determine with any certainty whether the final order of candidates would have been different from the provisional results had the management of the process been better.

Meaning: So really, if you think about it, Kabila might have won, and that's good enough for us.

AUC: If we have to redo the election, that's what we'll do. What we won't do is pretend this election was "good enough" to skate by. 

Carson: We have been watching the electoral process for months. .... We continue to advocate that all Congolese political leaders and their supporters act responsibly, renounce violence, and resolve any disagreements through peaceful constructive dialogue and existing legal remedies.

Meaning: We've been watching this election for months--and knew it was going to be a disaster. Now we're hoping to put Kamerhe and Tshisekdi in a bind: If they take their case to court, they'll be implicitly recognizing the government's authority. So they won't be able to claim the process is a farce when they lose--which they will, of course, because the court's stacked with Kabila's cronies. On the other hand, if they refuse to go to court, then we can condemn them for not exhausting all proper legal remedies. Tails we win, heads you lose. Your move, Mr. Tshisekedi.

AUC: We will work with our allies and international institutions to make sure that the voice of the Congolese people is heard, and that the legitimate choice of the electorate assumes the presidency.

Carson: We believe that a rapid technical review of the electoral process by the Congolese authorities may shed light on the cause of the irregularities... and provide guidance for future elections.

Meaning: If your neck hair didn't rise when I mentioned "future elections," then I, sir, have earned my pay. See, in case you haven't figured this out by now, our goal is sell this election as an imperfect but reasonable outcome whose flaws can provide us with valuable "lessons learned" for the elections of 2016. At which point what lessons do you think Kabila will have learned?

AUC: We're going to conduct a rapid technical review to make sure that if we have to re-do these elections in a few months time, the outcome will properly reflect the will of the people. I can't promise that we will be successful, but we will at the least put Kabila on notice: Stealing elections under our watch is worth more trouble than it's worth. 

Carson: Although there are major challenges with these elections, I want to emphasize that these elections demonstrated important and positive attributes of a democracy—the election was competitive, and the voters who turned out in large numbers were committed to selecting their government through peaceful, democratic means. Unlike in 2006, the Government of the DRC was principally responsible for the organization and, conduct for much of the financing of these elections. This was an important step forward. The CENI was able to register over 32 million Congolese voters, and over 18 million voters endured admittedly difficult conditions.

Meaning: So while the election was stolen, Kabila and his henchmen should at least should get partial credit for running an election worth stealing.

AUC: The principle of democracy--of one person one vote--is inviolate and the US will not countenance efforts to undermine it.

Carson: The DRC and the United States have a solid and positive relationship, and our governments continue to engage at the highest levels on all of these issues.

Meaning: If you think for one minute that the US is going to disrupt its relationship with the Congo over a measly election, you've got a rethink coming. I mean, seriously? This two-bit piece of shit country that can't keep the roads to its airport asphalted despite owning the world's best copper mines and half the world's cobalt? You want us to get all in-your-face rock-the-boat upset about this country? I'll make you a deal: The day more than two percent of Americans can identify Congo on a map is the day I will wake up worried about it.

AUC: The United States has worked hard with the DRC government to promote responsible government and accountability. All of this will be severely undermined if Kabila fails to respond to our concerns about the legitimacy of this election. Make no mistake: The legitimate democratic aspirations of 70-80 million people are at stake and I will make it my personal business to ensure they get heard.

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