Too often, foreign policy conversations that aim to be global in scope lack sufficient attention to African opinions and equities. By 2050, one in four people in the world will be African. From questions of war and peace, the future of capitalism, the viability of democratic governance, and the fate of the climate to the institutional architecture that facilitates international cooperation, the future should be informed by Africans.
In an effort to bring a broad range of perspectives to the CFR community, Senior Fellow for Africa Michelle Gavin spoke with a number of prominent Africans in different fields about their work and priorities. No one person can speak to the incredible diversity of the continent’s opinions and ideas, but our hope is that these dynamic individuals can help enrich readers’ awareness of and sensitivity to African dynamics, and perhaps encourage readers to learn more about their work.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is a country of 84 million people, extraordinary natural resources, tragic history, and weak government. The country is confronting challenges including ongoing conflicts, massive budgetary shortfalls, and health crises that include an Ebola outbreak and now COVID-19. CFR Senior Fellow for Africa Michelle Gavin interviewed Martin Fayulu about the relationship between trust in government, the current COVID-19 crisis, popular legitimacy, and the country’s future.
Martin Fayulu is the President of the Engagement for Citizenship and Development Party in the DRC. He ran for President in 2018, representing a coalition of opposition groups.
The whole world is grappling with the immediate threat of COVID-19, looking for trusted voices of authority for guidance, and trying urgently to anticipate the humanitarian, political, and economic consequences of the pandemic. What does this effort look like in the DRC, where health infrastructure is often quite weak, and trust is in short supply?
Unfortunately, the response to the pandemic in our country has been chaotic and ill-conceived. The administration parachuted Dr. Muyembe (a renowned Congolese epidemiologist who led the Ebola response) on the frontline and completely renounced its responsibility to lead through the crisis. Communication is confusing at best and the scale of government funding remains a question mark. Though I have the utmost respect for Dr. Muyembe’s scientific credentials, it is not his role to steward the country alone through the crisis, just like it wouldn’t be Dr. [Anthony] Fauci’s role in the United States to draw a parallel. Experts’ recommendations ought to be factored in when pondering complex policy responses, sure. But for those measures to be effective, people ultimately need to have confidence and trust in the country’s authorities to weather the storm. This is not the case in the DRC at the moment and that lack of trust is compounded by the fact that the authorities are illegitimate. So it creates an environment in which nongovernmental players need to step in to fill in the void and mitigate the damage. I have myself teamed up with Caritas International (a Catholic Church-led nongovernmental organization) to set up a nationwide relief fund to support our population in the midst of the pandemic and I know a range of nongovernmental led initiatives are underway to supply masks and other lifesaving equipment as well as social support to families and individuals in need. But make no mistake, as honorable as those initiatives are, they simply cannot replace the role of a functioning government.
In December 2018, millions of Congolese people cast ballots for you in your country’s presidential elections, and credible analysis indicates that you received the most votes out of all the candidates. Despite the fact that a different candidate, Felix Tshisekedi, was announced as the winner and sworn into office, the widely known facts about the election give you a certain kind of standing and authority. You do not have access to the state’s levers of power, and yet you represent the choice of the voters. How is it possible to exercise that kind of moral authority in your situation? What mechanisms can you use, and to what end?
The tragic impact this novel corona pandemic might have on our population is the perfect illustration of why democracy matters. In our case, the people voted against an old regime, yes. They voted for a coalition representing unity, yes. But more importantly, they voted for competency and the idea of someone who could solve their problems. Instead, they got short changed with false results and, to add insult to injury, now have to pay the additional cost of incompetence. In light of this, my moral imperative is to never betray the trust the Congolese people placed in me. I ought to show my people that I value their sovereign expression and that despite the fact that it got sidestepped they need to keep faith in the democratic process. So I do not take this popular legitimacy lightly and I try to use the moral authority it confers in a number of ways: regularly tour the country to stay close to our people’s concerns; communicate relentlessly about my crisis exit plan to resolve the legitimacy crisis born out of the last electoral cycle; engage with partners so that they can play a constructive role in helping us build our institutions; and engage our dynamic diaspora so they get involved and share their experience living in functioning democracies. The desired culmination of my efforts is a fair, free, and transparent democratic process in which the Congolese people get to choose the leaders they want, free of any interference whatsoever. Only then will we be able to begin to rebuild our country.
Given the irregularities that characterized the last elections, how can citizens hold governing authorities accountable in the DRC? How can the demand for security, better services, more economic opportunity, and less corruption be signaled in a way that actually increases the supply of these public goods, and what does that mean for how politics should be conducted?
Well, I think that we need to realize that change doesn’t happen in one's comfort zone. We all need to mobilize, rally, and make our voices heard in order to challenge the status quo. I am very proud of the work our civil society has done over the past few years. We have youth movements like Lucha, Filimbi, and many others who are going through extraordinary lengths to inform and educate the people about the issues that truly matter, often putting their lives at risk in the process. We now see the emergence of a strong democratic consciousness in the DRC, despite attempts by some shady politicians to suppress it. It is an irreversible process. I will keep doing my part, without compromise, in spurring such positive change. I urge our elites, who are often too complacent, to play their part, too.
The people of eastern Congo have not known lasting security for decades, despite various attempts from the center to pacify the region and costly international peacekeeping efforts. What has been missing in efforts to stabilize the situation? What will it take to bring lasting security to eastern DRC?
When talking about security in the DRC it is important to look to the genesis of recent instability in the country: the invasion of our country in 1996 by external forces, sponsored directly or indirectly by some of our eastern neighbors. The series of events that unfolded left us with an army which is a mosaic of various rebel groups and is, in essence, infiltrated at its highest levels of command by forces opposed to a free and democratic Congo. So long as we do not address and remedy that state of affairs, progress on the security front is utopic. Furthermore, an open and honest dialogue needs to be engaged with our neighbors about their destabilizing role. There can be no peace without truth and justice. To that extent, I have repeatedly laid support to Nobel Peace Prize [recipient] Dr. Denis Mukwege’s efforts to dig out of the graves the conclusions of the UN mapping report which clearly identifies the root causes of our security challenges. With regards to peacekeeping efforts, I am a proponent of revisiting the UN mandate to adapt it to the realities on the ground and to make it more effective. The combination of a truly sovereign army and a more adequate UN mandate will go a long way in alleviating conflicts in the east.
Thinking ambitiously but realistically, what would you like the DRC to look like in 2040? In a best case version of the country’s future, what would characterize the relationship between the state and its citizens? What would the economy look like, and what would the DRC’s foreign policy look like?
Throughout my political life, I have always fought for a dignified, strong, and prosperous Congo. In 2040, I envision a DRC where legitimate and strong institutions as well as access to basic public goods are the norm. I envision a DRC where leaders work in the best interest of their people, free of the negative influence of dark interests. I envision a country where elected officials are accountable and sanctioned through the ballot box if they fail to fulfill their duties to their constituents. I envision a country that broke away from the reign of impunity. In short, I envision an inclusive economy where our people benefit from our land’s great wealth. In such a country, we would live in peace with our neighbors. We would play a positive role in our regional integration so that, together, we would be able to capitalize on our comparative advantages to better weigh in on the world stage. Congo would finally be the engine of growth for the entire continent and fulfill its promise.