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DRC’s fragile but important transfer of power

What happened?

After elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) were delayed for more than two years, official figures on DRC’s election commission surprisingly showed on January 10 that opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi had won the presidential election. He had defeated other opposition candidate Martin Fayulu, and Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary who was backed by the ruling People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD). However, parties supporting the PPRD expanded their majority of seats in the National Assembly, and Fayulu claimed that Tshisekedi had won because of a deal with outgoing President Kabila. As such, fear of election rigging rose, with the influential Roman Catholic Church supporting Fayulu’s claim of victory and casting doubt on official election results. Since then, violence has erupted across the country.

What does this mean?

Congo is the world’s 11th largest country and located in the middle of Africa, bordering various countries. DRC’s population is currently over 85 million and rapidly growing (almost fivefold this century, to 380 million). However, the country is also very poor: measured by GDP per capita, it is the world’s eighth poorest country, and an economy roughly the size of the Dutch province of Overijssel. Furthermore, the country is urbanizing rapidly, having the eighth highest urbanization rate in the world and its capital Kinshasa will be the largest city by 2075. DRC is also hugely important to the global economy, as it is home to many rare metals and minerals that will be used in next-gen technologies, such as lithium (used in batteries), cobalt (used for magnetic alloys which make our smartphones work), refined copper (used in electrical equipment), tantalum (used in capacitators in computers) as well as precious minerals such as diamonds and gold.

What’s next?

The DRC is pivotal to a peaceful and prosperous future for Africa. Given its location, size and pace of change, violence could spread to many other countries, and political instability could destabilize the whole African continent, possibly leading to more refugee flows all the way to Europe. Furthermore, post-election sentiments may be a bellwether for Sub-Saharan Africa’s crucial political year, as many new elections will be held there this year (South Africa, Nigeria, Senegal, Botswana, Cameroon, Namibia, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar, Mali, Malawi and Chad), as well as in North Africa (Egypt, Algeria, Libya and Tunisia). If power can be transferred peacefully to Tshisekedi, not only will it be the first peaceful transfer of power in DRC since its independence in 1960, it might spark a brighter future far beyond its own borders by giving a boost to Africa’s democratization process.