More haste, less speed

DRC: hasty electoral reforms

Decentralisation threatens to create more instability in this central African country

President Joseph Kabila © Helene C. Stikkel

by François Misser

On March 2nd 2015, President Joseph Kabila promulgated a law creating 15 new provinces, bringing the total to 26 as against 11. Five provinces remain as they were: the capital Kinshasa and its hinterland, Bas-Congo, North and South Kivu and Maniema. The other six provinces have been split up to create several much smaller ones.

The reform was considerably delayed. Article 2 of the constitution, adopted by referendum in December 2005 and in force from February 2006, lists all the 26 provinces. But nearly five years had elapsed since the constitutional deadline set for the creation of the new provinces expired in 2010.

The reform makes sense in many ways. The average size of the former provinces was considerable—about the size of the UK. The distance between some provincial capitals and their boundaries was enormous. Lubumbashi, the capital of the former Katanga province, was over 900 km from the border of neighbouring South Kivu, and the journey could take several days, even during the dry season, owing to the poor state of the road network.

But the reform was carried out in haste. Analysts suspected that Mr Kabila’s sudden decision to introduce the new law was aimed at justifying a postponement of the elections that would allow him to extend his term in office. According to the constitution, a president can only rule for two terms, and Mr Kabila’s second term will end in November 2016. Moreover, these critics argue that the creation of new provinces presents the country with a fait accompli and that the need for appropriate funding for the decentralisation would compete with the need to finance national elections.

In March 2015, Moïse Katumbi, the governor of the former province of Katanga told Radio France Internationale that the 2015 budget did not include funding for the creation of the new provinces. The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) has estimated the cost of the elections, due to be held between October 2015 and November 2016, at $1.15 billion.

Another speculation is that Mr Kabila saw an opportunity to get rid of Mr Katumbi, a political rival. Mr Katumbi is thought to have presidential aspirations, but his term in office expired in June as a consequence of the March law.

Other factors indicate that the Congolese authorities may have put the cart before the horse. Article 175 of the constitution stipulates that 40% of tax revenues must go to the provinces, but it has not been implemented, nor has the government drafted and approved a decree to implement it. Only 3% of the national budget that was supposed to be allocated to the provinces was spent in 2014 and most investment projects were not implemented. The 21 new provinces (as well as the other five) will lack the financial means necessary for genuine decentralisation. This factor alone is creating considerable frustration.

In the richer provinces of Bas-Congo and Katanga (the engine of the DRC’s economy), secessionist movements are on the rise. Katanga is the largest contributor of revenues from extractive industries to the country, and contributes $1.043 billion or 68% of total tax revenues, including all extractive industries revenues and royalties from the oil and mining industries.

But the province only received $88.4m, or 5.84% of the revenues that should have been transferred to the provinces from the national treasury, according to a report by the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) published in late December 2014. The current system (which does not respect Article 175 of the constitution) means that the tax administration collects the taxes and transfers the money to the central state, which redistributes only a fraction of this amount to the provinces.

Similar grievances are expressed in North Kivu. In October 2014, its governor, Julien Paluku, told UN-sponsored Radio Okapi that his province gets $600,000 per month from the central state, not the roughly $5m it should receive according to the constitution.

The sudden creation of new provinces appears to have weakened rather than strengthened provincial government. Haut-Katanga is the only new province with the skills, instruments and infrastructure needed to collect taxes. Its administration in the capital, Lubumbashi, continues to collect revenues from mining corporations. Elsewhere, new provincial tax departments still need offices, furniture and access to electricity.

Some new provinces lack administration buildings and offices. In Boende, the capital of the new Tshuapa province, the post office building now accommodates the provincial parliament, while the homes of public administration officials have become offices for the new provincial ministries. Last July, the central government told the officials who lived there to move out immediately or face expulsion.

In Nord Ubangi province, the parliament is being hosted temporarily in a motel at Gbadolite. Kenge, which used to be in Bandundu province, but is now the capital of the new Kwango province, lacks roads suitable for motor vehicles, a drinking water system and electricity. In Kasai Oriental province, civil servants went on strike in August 2015, saying their salaries had not been paid in July.

The governors and parliaments of all 21 new provinces should have been in place on August 12th, 120 days after the appointment of special committees whose task was to prepare the installation of the new provinces. As a temporary measure, reported Radio Okapi on July 30th, the parliaments of the former six provinces would be split into 21 parliaments until the provincial elections, which were originally to have taken place in 2012, but rescheduled for October 25th. The provisional offices of these new parliaments were set up in Katanga by the former elected MPs at the end of July

But the government then froze the power of the provincial parliaments in the 21 new provinces. On September 3rd, the prime minister, Augustin Matata Ponyo told the Constitutional Court the government did not have the money for governors’ elections or the installation of the new provinces. On September 8th the Constitutional Court ordered the government to take “exceptional transitional measures” to ensure order, security and the continuity of public services in the new provinces until governors and provincial governments were in place. But the Constitutional Court’s decision gave the government considerable latitude.

On October 1st, the minister of the interior, Évariste Boshab, suspended the parliaments of the 21 new provinces. In Tshuapa province, police were deployed around the parliament building in Boende to prevent MPs, who had been elected in 2006 as part of the larger former Équateur province, from accessing it. Provincial elections, which were supposed to take place on October 25th, were postponed indefinitely.

On October 29th, Mr Kabila appointed “special commissioners” to run the provinces. His justification was the above-mentioned decision by the country’s highest court, calling for “exceptional transitional measures” after the court estimated that “force majeure” and lack of funds prevented the CENI from organising the provincial and local elections as scheduled. Uncertainty prevails on the duration of the mandate of these special commissioners. The CENI did not stipulate a new date for the provincial elections.

Senator Jacques Djoli, of the opposition Movement of Liberation of Congo (MLC), says the appointment of special commissioners is “unconstitutional”. According to Article 80 of the constitution, governors must be elected by provincial MPs. But the move is no surprise. In recent years Mr Kabila has sought to gain total control over the country’s governors.

On January 20th 2011, Article 198 of the constitution, which stipulated that governors could only be dismissed by provincial assemblies, was amended. Currently, president has the power to dismiss governors by decree after consultation with the government and the speakers of the national assembly and the senate.

The former minister of defence, Charles Mwando Simba, who joined the opposition in September, says Mr Kabila opposed the election of governors because he was aware that his own candidates would not be elected by provincial MPs. Over the last few months, leaders of the seven parties of the ruling coalition, including Mr Simba’s, have defected because they oppose Mr Kabila’s bid to run for a third term in 2016, which is not possible under the present constitution.

Another major problem, stressed by Mr Simba, is that the government has created an odd situation with two systems: one in which the five unchanged provinces are still ruled according to the constitution by governors and provincial parliaments, and another in which the 21 new provinces are ruled by the new special commissioners.

The special commissioners will face many problems, including their perceived lack of credibility as political appointees. Among other things, they will have to deal with a backlog of cases of bad governance. According to Le Soft International a news outlet based in Paris, Brussels and Kinshasa, the minister of the interior has identified several embezzlement cases involving retrocession funds, or money collected by the tax authorities and redistributed by the central state.

International donors in Kinshasa are concerned that, without the appropriate resources and checks and balances, decentralisation will fail, or worse, that it will create new layers of corruption.

François Misser is a Brussels-based journalist. He has covered central Africa since 1981 and European-African relations since 1984 for the BBC, Afrique Asie magazine, African Energy, the Italian monthly magazine Nigrizia, and Germany’s Die Tageszeitung newspaper. He has written books on Rwanda and the DRC. His last book, on the Congo River dams, is La Saga d’Inga.

 

A ‘country of the future’

Angola: local elections

The MPLA government has promised decentralisation many times, but is afraid of losing power

A street in Barra do Dande, a town in north-west Angola © Creative Commons

by Louise Redvers

In April 2015 the Angolan capital Luanda hosted the inaugural “President José Eduardo dos Santos” African Mayor Awards. Three prizes, named after Angola’s president of 36 years, were awarded to cities in Ghana, Tanzania and Cabo Verde, respectively, for their achievements in local government.

The event was organised by United Cities and Local Governments–Africa (UCLG-A), which has offices in Sandton, South Africa, and is supported by the Angolan government and the IC Publications Group, a company with publishing interests in Africa. But the judging panel, which included representatives from UN Habitat and UCLG–A, appears to have overlooked a glaring irony: Angola has no locally elected officials.

“That event was just about looking good on the international stage,” Raul Danda, parliamentary leader of Angola’s main opposition party, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), told Africa in Fact. “It’s just another example of our government putting on a show for the outside world in order to conceal the reality of the country.”

Angola has held two general elections since its three-decade civil war ended in 2002, but no local elections. Opposition parties, including UNITA, civil society activists and governance experts want local polls, believing they will lead to more accountability at the municipal and provincial levels, as well as improving service delivery and budget management.

Oil-rich Angola has enjoyed an economic boom since the end of the civil war, but little of this wealth has trickled down to ordinary citizens. The United Nations’ 2015 Human Development Index ranks the country, sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest economy after Nigeria and South Africa, at 149 out of 188 countries.

Buoyed by billion-dollar credit lines from China and Brazil, the Angolan government has prioritised big-ticket infrastructure projects, including roads, airports and football stadiums, over local programmes in education, healthcare and economic development. Meanwhile, millions live in slum-like conditions without access to basic services like water and electricity. Average life expectancy is just 51.9, and one in six children die before they reach their fifth birthday.

“There is a need for a feedback mechanism: people don’t have an outlet for their grievances, processes are weak and service demands are ignored,” says Paula Roque, an Angolan analyst at the University of Oxford. “This is stirring up a lot of dissatisfaction, particularly in the provinces, which feel very disconnected from Luanda, where all the decisions are taken.”

Angelo Kapwatcha, president of the Regional Forum for University Development (FORDU), who has been part of civil society campaigns around promoting local elections, added: “Local elections would mean real participatory democracy in a country, wh[ile] at the moment all important and significant decisions are left to the president and the central government.”

“There are a number of minority groups in Angola, like the Khoisan hunters and nomadic cattle famers, who are largely excluded from society,” he added. “Local elections would be an excellent opportunity for them to claim some of their fundamental rights, such as education, healthcare and birth registration.”

Opposition parties—which collectively hold just 45 out of the 220 seats in the national parliament—see local elections as potential leverage to tackle the hegemony of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), which has governed the country since its independence from Portugal in 1975.

In the 2012 elections UNITA polled well in several of Luanda’s more densely populated neighbourhoods, such as Cacacuo and Viana, as well as in central provinces such as Huambo and Bie, where dissatisfaction with the government is high. In Luanda, UNITA got some of its candidates into parliament when it scored 24.7% of the vote as against the MPLA’s 59.3%, and its Luanda-list MPs were elected to parliament. The party believes it could win control of several local councils, given the opportunity to take part in free and fair local elections.

Local administrations, made up of three strands: community, municipal and province, currently have little autonomy. They follow orders and budget directives as set out by Luanda. Moreover, nearly all staff posts and the majority of leadership positions at community and municipality level in Angola are held by MPLA members. Provincial governors are hand-picked by the president, and in most cases they are also the first secretary of the MPLA in that province.

“You have a very politicised local government which is very party-orientated,”
explained Aslak Orre, a senior researcher at Norway’s Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI), who has written several papers on local government, or the lack of it, in Angola. “Local administrations tend more to the needs of the ruling party than to the welfare and service needs of the people in their constituencies.”

Angola’s 2010 constitution sets out the institutional framework for local elections, known as autarquia in Portuguese, the official language. The framework stipulates a local assembly whose members are elected by “free and direct local elections” and an executive chosen by the president of the autarquia.

The government has indicated several times since 2010 that it planned to introduce local elections but in each case deadlines have come and gone—the most recent in 2015. Few Angolans expect local polls to take place before the next general election, due to be held in 2017.

“There is a lot of talk about local elections,” said Mr Danda of UNITA. “But it is all just to make people think the government is serious about having them. In reality, they don’t want them because they are worried [that they] will reduce their power.”

In his 2014 State of the Nation address, President Dos Santos said the country needed the “right conditions” for local elections, listing the need for new territorial boundaries, governance systems and financing structures. In his address in November this year he said local elections would take place “at the right time”.

Even if local elections were to take place before the 2017 general elections, there are concerns that they might not involve a significant devolution of power to the local level. “How much power will municipal officials really have if the president continues to appoint the provincial governors?” asked Ms Roque.

One option being floated by the government is to test the new local election system in provinces with the highest capacity, or availability of staff to manage the elections and good transport networks, rather than those in more rural and under-developed areas. But UNITA says this would focus on MPLA strongholds, and create more opportunities for vote-fixing. The opposition party says the government’s ministry of territorial administration is spearheading the preparation for the autarquias, rather than the National Electoral Commission, which has cross-party membership and is therefore more likely to be able to provide checks and balances than a government-led team.

Analysts agree, however, that the introduction of local elections will not solve all the country’s problems. “If you can improve accountability you would hope to improve the performance of local officials and the services they provide,” says Mr Orre. “But decentralisation is not a magic wand that will instantly fix problems.”

Soren Kirk Jensen, an associate fellow of the Africa Programme at London’s Chatham House who has studied decentralisation projects in Angola, agrees.
“Angola is extremely top-down in the way projects are decided upon and it would benefit from a more bottom-up approach,” he said. “But you do have to be very careful how you decentralise spending to ensure you also build in proper control and accountability, otherwise you risk just decentralising corruption.”

Local elections alone will not be enough to achieve fully accountable local government, he says. “You need to have informed and active citizen engagement to know how to hold [governments] to account.”

In a handful of municipalities, churches have been working with local communities to train people to monitor public projects, and in 2007 Angola passed the Local Administration Law, which led to the creation of citizen councils (CACS)—social committees designed to support municipal administrations in their decision-making processes.

It has since initiated the Municipal Programme for Rural Integration and Development and Combating Poverty (PMIDRCP), a programme aimed at empowering local officials to plan, commission and pay for local government projects from a small annual budget allocation from central government.

One advantage is that the PMIDRCP involves local officials in planning for their communities, says Mr Jensen. But the challenge remains to ensure that projects are completed on time and on budget. Government projects in Angola do not often meet these criteria due to a mixture of poor management, weak human and technical capacity and corrupt officials.

However, the World Bank and other organisations have been critical of CACS branches around the country. Meetings were held irregularly, they found, while rules of membership were unclear. They also found that the overall impact and reach of the committees has been limited, or conditioned by existing political structures.

“When CACS were first introduced they were seen as an important start for local democracy,” says Mr Orre. “But they haven’t been prioritised by the government. A lot of people are now asking whether the CACS are a way station on the road to democratic local governance, or simply a detour.”

“There is a lot of discussion about the autarqias,” he said, “But there isn’t lot of substance to what is being said. Ministers tend to make generalised statements about how important local elections are, but they don’t make commitments about when they will be held.”

Grassroots opinion of the Angolan elite and its way of holding onto power is even more acerbic. Playing with an official slogan, popular Angolan rapper MCK, in the lyrics of his song O país do Pai Banana (The country of Father Banana) wryly observes: “They’ve transformed Angola into ‘a country of the future’. We’ll leave everything until tomorrow, don’t you think?”

Louise Redvers is a freelance journalist who has reported from Angola, Swaziland and Zambia for the BBC, the Mail and Guardian, the Africa Report website and other media. After five years in Africa, she recently relocated to the Middle East.