A genuine looking video circulated on social media during the just concluded Congolese elections, depicting a surreal electoral scene in Butembo, a small town of roughly half a million people, lying west of the Virunga National Park, in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. A young man, probably an electoral agent seems to have taped a white piece of paper onto his black jersey, on which he struggled to write: ‘CENI, Butembo, Centre Mutiri’, with the handwriting of a primary school dropout. Voters can be seen casually casting their ballot in an emptied maize flour bag, marked CENI. All this takes place in a littered empty space covered with dust, an open market no doubt…
`Lets go to the round about’, one young man says, ‘that’s where real elections are being held – no, let’s send them downtown – no, let’s send them to the stadium instead…’ All contemplating to change venues in order to hold elections in more ‘official’ conditions.
‘Where did you get that?’ another voice asks, giggling, clearly not expecting his friend holding the maize floor sack, arranged as a makeshift ballot box to be donning an official ‘CENI Agent’ vest. Behind the agent, a thumb whose owner can’t be seen in the video, is inoculating ink on each pinky, after the voting exercise.
‘What happens next, will you compile all this?’ another voter asks the agent. Well, I will take all of it to ‘them’ they’ll do the consolidation themselves, he finally answers, unconvincingly.
Mutiri Centre in Butembo where the scene takes place, is only 40 Kilometers away from Beni territory, where an unfolding Ebola epidemic that experts are calling ‘exceptionally dangerous’, reported 420 cases and 240 deaths by election day.
As I watched the little video, I realized that elections were the last thing that people of Mutiri should be wasting their energy on, especially since the outcome is likely to set them behind, if that’s even possible…
I thought it was unfair to ask poor Kambale, an illiterate daily hustler from Butembo to choose between Emmanuel Shadari Ramazani, Felix Tshisekedi and Martin Fayulu, the three contenders in the election, based in Kinshasa, 3.000 Kilometers away, once every seven or so years, then call that ‘democracy’. If Kambale had been given a real choice in life, he would have chosen basic education and a dignified occupation, so he could achieve a decent living in his Mitiri village.
Why then bother him, with matters that are of no consequence to his life, choosing between candidates that are unknown to him, strangers to his daily struggles and to whom he is just an exploitable statistic?
Who does Kambale know? He knows the priest and the policeman who both frequently extorts him, and he knows the hospital nurse and the NGO worker who help him out. Kambale’s democratic right, should there be any left, must be limited to choosing among them, who would make a good leader. The four people know Kambale and are aware of his needs, which affect them too. They in turn: the nurse, policeman, priest and NGO worker may constitute an electoral college and choose one among themselves who should represent Mutiri Village – preferably the nurse, who would make-up another college from which to choose a Butembo representative, with the understanding that they have sufficient civic awareness to choose a member of parliament, to make the house from which a head of state is chosen. In such a system, prejudice, theatrics, tribalism and populism of all sorts have less chance of winning the day, as voters are ‘woke’, as it were…
If this system seems fair and stable, why on earth then, do people not readily apply it? The answer is: Power! A leader elected in indirect suffrage at the mercy of parliament is indeed not as powerful as one boasting ‘popular support’ – real or stolen.
In fact, those elections weren’t organized for Kambale and his friends from Mutiri village in Butembo ‘territory’. This charade was conducted to give legitimacy to individuals in the capital city to scrounge minerals in Kambale’s Mutiri village without petitioning his consent, or giving him anything in return.
In his song ITT, ‘International Thief Thief’, Nigerian legend Fella Kuti castigates these syndicates of politicians and multinationals who conspire to rob Nigeria of its wealth to the detriment of the common man. And to the people they sell a dream: ‘if this leader goes, things will get better!’, or ‘This time around, I will do better’. The media too partakes in the mascarade; treating elections as a magic wand that would solve all problems. Election in, election out, people vote; but as the true meaning of democracy goes: ‘plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose…’
In the meantime, the CENCO, a Congolese branch of the Roman Catholic Church calling for democratic, popular elections in the DRC, is ruled for centuries by a totalitarian life Pope, elected in cult-like secrecy, by a restricted team of cardinals, selected in the opaquest of processes.
Ethiopia, Britain, Japan, Germany and South Africa, all stable countries do not have popular elections. In Switzerland it is a college of four concurrent leaders, while in Belgium, it seems frequent now that they do not need a head of state.
Universal Suffrages are costly, cumbersome, risky and disastrous. Why do fragile states choose them? Well, for the same reason most undemocratic and oppressive parties and states feel the need to add ‘democratic’ or ‘People’ into their acronyms. If you must explain the joke, it isn’t one anymore…
In countries like Kenya, Uganda, Ghana and DRC, elections cause economic recess and loss of human life. But popular elections aren’t a problem in Africa only. Western experts used to say that democracy was an African problem; that Africans were not ‘politically mature’. Recent catastrophic electoral outcomes in the west reveal a global phenomenon. Popular elections are like global warming, they are risky but the powers that might be refuse to pump the breaks. The more damage they cause, they more of it we’ll have; a typical human perdition path.