Congo Election News Roundup

Since I was here in the Congo during the election, I thought I’d go ahead and put together a roundup of sorts for those following.

Here’s some context. Joseph Kabila’s second term as president was supposed to end in December of 2016. If elections had been held and a new president taken power, it would have been the first relatively peaceful transition of power in the country’s history. Instead, though, and following a trend of “constitutional coups” across Africa, Kabila tried to pull a Museveni-Kagame-Nguesso and change the law in order to run again. He faced widespread protests and ultimately failed to do this, so instead he simply delayed the elections, securing the ability to stay in power until a successor was chosen despite the end of his mandate. Every delay is another act of glissement, or slippage, in Congolese parlance.

Alongside the delays, several leading opposition figures were also deemed ineligible to run. After attempts by the opposition to consolidate behind one candidate (an effort which succeeded for 24 hours), there emerged two: Martin Fayulu and Felix Tshisekedi were the major opponents to the regime’s chosen successor, Emmanuel Shadary. In the final month leading up to the elections, the state violently suppressed the opposition at every turn, with reports of the recruiting youth to instigate violence at opposition rallies, the use of live bullets and tear gas to disperse rallies, the refusal by government officials to allow rallies to occur.

My first night in Congo, I watched TV while having dinner in an Aru hotel room. The leading story was that a large fire had damaged a majority of the voting machines in Kinshasa, the country’s capital. The voting machines were already a source of suspicion for many, but the burning of them was also suspicious, as many believed it was an attempt by the state to justify yet another delay. This only made matters worse for elections that have faced logistical problems, partially because CENI, the electoral commission, rejected any foreign assitance (see Laura Seay’s twitter thread about the difficulties of Congolese elections, with or without MONUC/MONUSCO assistance). In the end, CENI announced a one-week delay of the elections.

And then, in the intervening week, CENI announced that the vote would be further delayed until March in three locations—Beni and Butembo in North Kivu and Yumbi in Mai Ndombe—due to concerns around the ongoing Ebola outbreak in the former and insecurity in the latter. This decision effectively disenfranchised over a million people, all in opposition strongholds, and for reasons that didn’t pan out. As many pointed out, Ebola has been a persistent problem in North Kivu for months, but people continue to go to school, church, and markets, they could surely vote. In the following days, protests in North Kivu resulted in several deaths. As one friend here said, “C’est un provocation.”

Heading into the election, the Congo Research Group and BERCI released a major opinion poll about the vote. You can access the full report here [pdf], but the key takeaway is this:

If elections are free and fair, an opposition candidate would be almost certain to win the presidency. According to our survey, Martin Fayulu is clearly the favorite, with 47% (BERCI: 45%, Ipsos/GeoPoll: 49%) of the intended vote, ahead of 24% for Felix Tshisekedi (BERCI: 28%, Ipsos/GeoPoll: 20% ); and 19% (BERCI: 20%, Ipsos/GeoPoll: 18%) for Emmanuel Shadary.

With two years of delays, denying several opposition candidates the chance to run, cracking down on popular mobilizations, and disenfranchising several opposition towns, the regime still faced massive rejections by the populace. It was obvious to both observers and Congolese that a free and fair vote would go to the opposition—the question was whether or not the elections would be rigged.

During election day, it quickly became apparent that the elections did indeed turn out to be a logistical nightmare—marred by technical failures with machines, people not showing up on voters rolls, and polling stations opening many hours late—as well as problem of the polls’ security—with reports of armed groups intimidating voters at multiple stations. In Beni, activists held a mock vote in an act of resistance to their disenfranchisement, demonstrating that a vote could be held without incident. When I took a tour around Dungu late that morning, I passed by three voting stations where people were queued and the situation was calm (I didn’t talk to anyone), though I did later hear of potential issues elsewhere in the province. In the days after the election, though, reports about election day began to get more complicated.

There were reports of “systemic irregularities, particularly missing or broken machines, missing or incomplete voter lists, late openings, long waits, restricted access for independent observers, interference by armed actors, and fraud.” The day after the election, the government shut down internet in most of the country, as well as SMS, to prevent “chaos.” On January 4, the Catholic Church, which had 40,000 observers at polling places across the country, issued a statement that, according to their observations, one candidate clearly won the election, and they called on the government to publish accurate results. The next day, Human Rights Watch published a report outlining instances of both voter intimidation by armed groups and spontaneous violence in confrontations between voters and police or CENI staff. Christoph Vogel wrote a useful update focused on the Kivus – of note is that armed group intimidation was diverse, with different groups rigging the vote for the ruling party and opposition.

Jason Stearns tweeted an important note as everyone awaited the vote tally. “What happens in the next 1-2 weeks will have a huge impact on developments over the coming decade,” he wrote. “This could unfold in many ways. I find it v hard to believe that Kabila/Shadary will accept defeat and step down. I also don’t think they will be able to rig elections and move on, as we now know that the Catholic Church, opposition and civil society, will put up a fight.” Stearns noted that, in the event of a return to mass violence, especially in major cities and in the East, these weeks were a key moment on which things would pivot (see Laura Seay’s thoughts on what could be done). We are still within a critical juncture as this continues to play out).

Everybody said that they had won. Especially concerning was when someone from Shadary’s campaign said “For us, victory is certain.” A few days later pictures circulated of Shadary’s campaign preparing for a victory celebration. Many were concerned about a rigged win for the regime. But soon these worries were replaced by rumors that a deal had been made. Tshisekedi’s camp had met with ruling party officials to ensure a peaceful transition. People began speculating that he had negotiated some sort of power-sharing transition deal in exchange for beating out Fayulu. Many suspected that whatever the election “results” would be, they would be negotiated by elites rather than represent the actual will of the people.

And so the provisional results were set to be presented on January 9th at 11:00pm in Kinshasa (midnight here), and state television began broadcasting shortly before. As we “slipped” from the 9th and into the 10th, people on Twitter joked about yet another instance of glissement. After a long pre-game show of watching people file in and out of the room, CENI finally began around 2:00am my time. CENI officials then proceeded to name each of the more than 700 provincial deputies elected in the country, an announcement that wasn’t supposed to happen for weeks, pushing the presidential results until 4:00am here in Dungu, where myself and three others sat watching TV in the paillote in the compound.

Finally, in the early hours of the 10th, the results were announced.

Tshisekedi had won with 38% (7.05 million votes), followed closely by Fayulu’s 34% (6.36 million), and with Shadary’s 23% (4.36 million) a distant third. Many were releieved that the election hadn’t been rigged for Shadary, but for most it seemed an even stranger outcome: that the government had rigged the election for the opposition in an effort to deny a different opposition candidate the presidency. Reuters later confirmed that the Catholic Church had privately briefed some diplomats that Fayulu had won handily.

In the days since, there were instances of violence in a number of cities on the 10th and 11th. While over a dozen have been killed since the proclamation, and several died on election day, in the face of the potential of riots or a return to civil war, it feels like an instance of declaring it “all quiet on the front” here despite the violence. Fayulu has explicitly called the results fradulent, and may be moving forwards with a formal complaint. Meanwhile, Tshisekedi leaned into his victory, lauding Kabila as partner of democracy in Congo (really).

Some have speculated that Tshisekedi’s deal may have been arranged as far back as when he initialy bailed on the opposition coalition. Pierre Englebert reevaluated the CRG/BERCI opinion poll to show that the results were implausible, stating that “data suggests that the probability Tshisekedi could have scored 38% in a free election is less than 0.0000. There is a 95% chance his real numbers would be somewhere between 21.3% and 25%.” He ends his analysis with some good hypotheses as to when, why, and how Tshisekedi’s bid may have played out.

Regardless, the situation—expertly played by Kabila—hands power over to a constrained opposition candidate (especially with the legislative elections apparently going to the ruling party) while also pitting the opposition against itself as Fayulu tries to organize supporters against Tshisekedi’s ascendance to the presidency. As Stearns put it in a recent op-ed for the New York Times: “If Mr. Tshisekedi is reduced to a figurehead president, the current system of governance will most likely continue. Millions will be displaced, thousands will be killed, and the international community will be left to deal with the wreckage.”

Many have taken this moment, rightly, to call attention to how contingent political processes, and the control that ruling leaders have, can be in the face of popular resistance. Two and a half years ago, Kabila was plotting how to stay in power for a third term. Instead, he not only didn’t run, but his hand-picked candidate lost, even in elections marred by irregularities and implausible results. While this cannot and should not be called democracy, this outcome a symbol of Kabila’s frustrated attempts to remain president, and that was achieved on the backs of (and with many sacrifices among) youth, civil society, the Catholic Church, human rights activists, and civil rights groups.

What comes next, however, is yet to be determined. Fayulu may try to contest the results, but it’s not clear if he has any leverage. The Church has decried the results as rigged, but won’t commit to releasing its numbers. Tshisekedi may become president in a relatively peaceful transition, but it is an open question if he will be able to do anything or if Kabila and his elite circle will be able to continue to run the country from behind closed doors. The official results are due in coming days, and the new president is supposed to take power by the end of the week. What this mean for Congo is unclear – we’re still in the midst of a critical juncture for the future of the country.

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Weekend Reading

Spring time/New year’s reading:

Human history, by definition, is history beyond whiteness. Human history is about the future. Whiteness is about entrapment.

Whiteness is at its best when it turns into a myth. It is the most corrosive and the most lethal when it makes us believe that it is everywhere; that everything originates from it and it has no outside.

We are therefore calling for the demythologization of whiteness because democracy in South Africa will either be built on the ruins of those versions of whiteness that produced Rhodes or it will fail.

In other words, those versions of whiteness that produced men like Rhodes must be recalled and de-commissioned if we have to put history to rest, free ourselves from our own entrapment in white mythologies and open a future for all here and now.

Readers of Ngugi wa Thiong’o will already have some framing of the vernacular: Vernaculars are “home” languages banished from colonial institutions, especially schools; they are anti-oppression tools used by those excluded from elite institutions; they are frames through which we apprehend the world, following Fanon; and they are ­practices for building community. In colonial and post-­independence Kenya, vernaculars were also framed as elementary languages—the languages taught in lower primary classes, up until standard 3 or 4, at which point English and Swahili were introduced as “more mature” languages. Vernaculars are ways of claiming and shaping space.

Vernaculars also discipline, producing habits and dispositions, ways of acting and feeling and thinking. Most of Kenya’s official political vernaculars—corruption, impunity, national security, for instance—are disciplinary. They name real issues, but they also manage how those issues are handled. One notes the repeated cycle: Identify an issue, call for investigations and firings, establish a commission, commission a report, then file the report in the graveyard of reports. Even those who are aware of how this cycle works—even those most critical of it—cannot imagine anything else. And thus, each new scandal enters the established cycle of the political vernacular.

Weekend Reading

Links to read:

The song is a paean to Southern blackness. Lyrics include “I like my baby hair, with baby hair and Afros” and “I just might be a black Bill Gates in the making.” Police are not mentioned at all. The extent of Bey’s “attack” was a simple reference to American police officers shooting black people, symbolized by a young hooded black child. These are facts, not contentions — but facts that the sheriffs’ association would rather you not hear or see.

An institution that reads the mere mention of its very violent flaws as an affront is incapable of reform. Those who see Beyoncé’s allusions to police racism as an attack on policing unwittingly assert that this racism is an essential and representative part of policing. They elide critiques of racist police violence with critiques of all police. It is they who call a hoodie-clad dancing black child a danger to policing, hauntingly echoing the police’s assertion that 12-year-old Tamir Rice presented a threat enough to justify a shot in the stomach.

[Muslim students] describe feeling constantly suspected by many Americans and by law enforcement. Their sense of security — to feel safe on campus or in their mosque, to build community, and to engage in politics — has been compromised. Islam is a welcoming religion, but now, they tell me, they have to view new community members with suspicion. Particularly the more politically engaged students have found themselves holding back in discussions, sometimes in class and especially outside of class. They worry that things they said could be taken out of context and that criticizing the treatment of Muslims in U.S. society could be grounds for more surveillance. After the AP’s investigation, signs went up in the offices of Muslim student groups across the city exhorting members not to discuss any politics whatsoever in these spaces. Many students stopped being active in the Muslim Student Association network out of fear of informants.

In her thesis, Fatima described how such surveillance changes you. Using Foucault’s theory of the panopticon (where social discipline is so pervasive that one internalizes it) and interviews with dozens of Muslim students throughout New York City, she wrote about the ways such state surveillance produces self-surveillance. She revealed how coming of age in the aftermath of 9/11, Muslim American students have grown up in the glare of suspicion and thus constantly feel they have to watch themselves. They watch how they talk in class, socialize, engage in political activities, participate — or don’t — in their mosque and MSA. And perhaps most significantly, surveillance has altered what young people allow themselves to think about or imagine for themselves.

Scholars have for years wrestled with the question of a “policy gap” between the official aim of tough migration controls and the frequent permissiveness that nevertheless results. Despite the cost and the perennial lack of efficacy, the “why” of border security is nevertheless rather straightforward on a political level: it is spectacularly effective. Numerous analyses of U.S. border operations – from 1990s-era Hold the Line and Gatekeeper to more recent measures – have shown how these fill political and psychological functions in broadcasting controls and pushing routes out of sight rather than in reducing migrant numbers. To theorist Douglas Massey, vigorous border enforcement and similar measures “serve an important political purpose: they are visible, concrete, and generally popular with citizen voters. Forceful restrictive actions enable otherwise encumbered public officials to appear decisive, tough, and engaged in combating the rising tide of immigration.” That is, the border spectacle is its own end.

Weekend Reading

These readings all meet the 15% rule:

It is not wrong to ask why mainstream Democrats don’t support reparations. But when the question is asked to defend a radical Democrat’s lack of support, it is avoidance. The need for so many (although not all) of Sanders’s supporters to deflect the question, to speak of Hillary Clinton instead of directly assessing whether Sanders’s position is consistent, intelligent, and moral hints at something terrible and unsaid. The terribleness is this: To destroy white supremacy we must commit ourselves to the promotion of unpopular policy. To commit ourselves solely to the promotion of popular policy means making peace with white supremacy.

[…]

The point is not that reparations is not divisive. The point is that anti-racism is always divisive. A left radicalism that makes Clintonism its standard for anti-racism—fully knowing it could never do such a thing in the realm of labor, for instance—has embraced evasion.

[T]o think about American slaves merely as coerced and unpaid laborers is to misunderstand the institution. Slaves weren’t just workers, the Sublettes remind the reader—they were human capital. The very idea that people could be property is so offensive that we tend retroactively to elide the designation, projecting onto history the less-noxious idea of the enslaved worker, rather than the slave as commodity. Mapping 20th-century labor models onto slavery spares us from reckoning with the full consequences of organized dehumanization, which lets us off too easy: To turn people into products means more than not paying them for their work.

Weekend Reading

Weekend Reading Jonas will leave streets covered and doors shuttered:

[G]utting public infrastructure wasn’t the only way that neoliberalism brought out the worst that the winter storms had to offer. It was also the speed-up at work, the shredding of social safety nets, and the fracturing and atomization of communities. All of these factors combined to leave people tired, frustrated, isolated, scared, and cold.

Snowstorm after snowstorm was dealt with in more or less the same fashion, while people grew more desperate and more exhausted with each passing week. Workplaces remained open while public transit ground to a halt. Children were given snow days — but not adults.

Conflicts around language-use and representation always emerge out of attempts to shift hierarchy. Each incident follows the same general pattern. People with less power demand or request that people with more power moderate their speech or actions. The people with more power use “that’s just being PC” as a rhetorical hedge to reinforce their dominant position. By their very nature, then, efforts to shift language are generally subversive; the backlash, generally regressive. Any attempt to analyze a given incident of “politically correct” action or repression must therefore look not at what’s being demanded, but where power actually lies.

It turns out that agitation for less offensive speech and safe spaces become dangerous to free speech or academic freedom only when powerful, entrenched forces co-opt such movements for their own purposes.

Weekend Reading

Readings:

Weekend Reading

These links only circle the Earth once every seven days:

For the Bundys, then, nothing really happened before the 1870s. They do not mention Spanish explorers in 1532, or French Canadian trappers, or the British occupation after the war of 1812, or Oregon statehood in the 1850s. Their story most definitely does not begin thousands of years ago, when the first people settled the region. They have no time for how the U.S. Army resettled the northern Paiute in the Malheur Indian reservation in 1872—emptying Harney County for settlement by white people—nor how those same white settlers demanded (and got) the reservation dis-established in 1879 so they could have that land, too.

[…]

The U.S. military first had to ethnically cleanse the land, getting rid of the various native peoples that had lived in these stretches for thousands of years. But even after the land had become “free” to white settlers, prospective ranchers still needed markets for their cattle, especially once their primary market for meat, the U.S. Army, had moved on to other territories. It was the federal government that stepped in and bailed them out, taking on debt by an act of Congress to finance and build a railroad system. Without the Central Pacific Railway, those thousands of cattle could never have been sold.

As Reconstruction ended and Southern white men reclaimed political power, they dropped out of the Klan, no longer limited to secret outlets for their violence… The Klan itself was dying, but only because white supremacy was resurging right out in the open, with the sanction and participation of law enforcement and white society at large. Now they had Jim Crow laws. They had a criminal justice system that disproportionately punished Black people and imprisoned them in prison farms, on former plantations. They had lynch mobs, who no longer concealed their identities.

As Gwendolyn Chisholm would comment over a century later, about the white supremacists who tortured and murdered James Byrd Jr. in 1998, “They look like normal people, don’t they? That’s the way they are nowadays—they don’t wear hoods anymore.” Late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century lynchers also looked like “normal people.” The complete absence of any hood, costume, or concealment presented, literally, a new face of white supremacy. Journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett estimated that in the twenty-five years after the Civil War, lynchers murdered 10,000 black Americans. Starting in the 1880s, spectacle lynchings attracted crowds of up to 15,000 white participant-witnesses, who booked special excursion trains to reach lynching sites. They snatched victims’ clothing, bone fragments, and organs as souvenirs; they photographed themselves, smiling, posing with their kids beside the broken, burned bodies of their victims; they scrapbooked the photos and mailed them as postcards, confident that they’d never be held accountable for their terrorism. They didn’t wear hoods, because they didn’t need to.

Weekend Reading

If your New Year’s resolution was to click on some links, I’ve got a few for you:

Legitimacy is what is ultimately at stake here. When Cooksey says that her son’s father should not have called the police, when she says that they “are supposed to serve and protect us and yet they take the lives,” she is saying that police in Chicago are police in name only. This opinion is widely shared. Asked about the possibility of an investigation, Melvin Jones, the brother of Bettie Jones, could muster no confidence. “I already know how that will turn out,” he scoffed. “We all know how that will turn out.”

Indeed, we probably do. Two days after Jones and LeGrier were killed, a district attorney in Ohio declined to prosecute the two officers who drove up, and within two seconds of arriving, killed the 12-year-old Tamir Rice. No one should be surprised by this. In America, we have decided that it is permissible, that it is wise, that it is moral for the police to de-escalate through killing. A standard which would not have held for my father in West Baltimore, which did not hold for me in Harlem, is reserved for those who have the maximum power—the right to kill on behalf of the state. When police can not adhere to the standards of the neighborhood, of citizens, or of parents, what are they beyond a bigger gun and a sharper sword? By what right do they enforce their will, save force itself?

It is funny growing up under a free-market dictatorship masked as business as usual. A child cannot be too different, and the education system drills conformity like clockwork. Activist deaths and disappearances and suppression of freedom of speech are not on the news when we come home from school. Families affected by the long shadow of 1965 cannot speak of it, especially those with “Communist sympathizer” lineage. Despite the academic understanding some of us have of Soeharto as a dictator, it still feels funny in my mouth to say “diktator.” Despite the “real history” education at home given by parents who fell in love as student activists, he is for many years just the president. It is generally understood—despite political talk at home and leftist books filling our bookshelves, despite my friends and I not being completely oblivious to the fact that there is a status quo—that it is dangerous to speak against the way things were in public. Most everyone toes the line in public, adults behaving as obedient schoolkids do, quick to ostracize. In middle-class Jakarta, life is supposed to be “normal” and as usual, but there is a tightness in the air.

Weekend Reading

I’ve emerged from my grad school hole! I don’t know if that means winter will actually start or not. Enjoy some readings before we reach peak holiday:

Initially, I thought migrant deaths were unintended consequences. But when I got deeper into the origins of the policy, I discovered that federal documents plainly stated that fatalities were going to increase because of this policy. One document I cite contains a table using migrant deaths as a metric for demonstrating the policy is working. Realizing that some government official was typing this up and recognizing these things, was when I thought: This is a machine that kills people. It isn’t collateral damage. These aren’t unintended consequences. These are direct consequences that, in the initial stages of design, people were thinking about.

[…]

The Mediterranean is in many ways like the Arizona desert. People die there, and the bodies disappear because nobody wants to claim them. The big difference with the European crisis is that it is much more visible. If you’re lying on the beach in Lampedusa in your bikini and all of a sudden a bunch of bodies washes up, that’s shocking. Or that photograph of the infant in Turkey, Aylan Kurdi, who became the human face of the migrant tragedy.

In Arizona, it happens in the middle of nowhere. There are no people with cameras or folks out there to be shocked. So it keeps going, unseen and mostly unreported.

Before Northwestern students were able to force Ludlow from campus, they taught him a lesson about how words really modulate. The struggle to expand the meaning of “rape” to include Ludlow’s attack on his former student was just that: A struggle. It was fought through the school administrative bureaucracy, the courts, and decisively by students putting their bodies and voices in the way of business as usual. Language is alive, but how it grows is a function of conflict and power. It’s a lesson I don’t imagine the man who will now be known as rapist former-philosopher Peter Ludlow will soon forget.

When Lukianoff and Haidt wrote in the Atlantic that colleges should “equip students to thrive in a world full of words and ideas that they cannot control,” what they meant is that college should equip students to endure a world full of words and ideas that they cannot change. Colleges, however, are faced with students who aren’t interested in that kind of training. Instead, students and young people outside the academy are building the power necessary to change the way Americans think, talk, and act. It’s no wonder people who rely on the old definitions are worried. Some of them should be.

Weekend Reading on Student Protests

A short reading list this weekend: