Here’s why DRC needs to enact a comprehensive campaign finance legal framework.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which is the largest country in Sub-Saharan Africa and one of the most mineral-rich countries in the world goes to the polls in December, 2023. The country which is the newest addition to the East African community bloc continues to suffer from conflict and political instability particularly in the North Kivu which is herb of rebel groups.
The election will be the first since the country’s new constitution was adopted in 2018 reducing the presidential term from seven to five years. The election will be held in accordance with the electoral law adopted in 2019. The Independent National Election Commission (CNEI – Commission nationale électorale indépendante) has already begun preparations for the election, including the establishment of a voter registration system and the development of a voter education program.
This year’s election will cost $600 million, way less than the estimated $1.8 billion spent in the country’s 2018 election. Congo’s elections are usually very expensive due to the fact that the country is vast and sparsely populated, requiring a large number of polling stations and personnel to be deployed.
It is estimated that Congo has a total of $24 trillion worth of untapped mineral deposits, including cobalt, diamonds, gold, copper, and coltan. And because of the country’s vast mineral wealth, foreign interference and meddling into the country’s political affairs is bound to happen.
Foreign interests in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have been present since the colonial era. The DRC has a wealth of natural resources which has attracted foreign investment from China, South Africa, the United States, France, and the United Kingdom.
In the past, foreign powers have sought to influence the outcome of elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) through various means, including providing financial and material support to favoured candidates and parties, as well as using diplomatic pressure to influence the electoral process.
In recent years, the United States, France, and other countries have expressed concern about the possibility of foreign interference in Congo’s elections. The United Nations, African Union, and the European Union have all called on all countries to respect the will and sovereignty of the Congolese people Congo and refrain from interfering in the electoral process.
In 2017 and 2018, the US government and European Union imposed sanctions on individuals and entities that it believed were involved in attempts to influence the outcome of the presidential election. They also provided financial and technical assistance to the DRC’s electoral commission to help ensure free and fair elections.
Beyond foreign voices and interventions against foreign influence in DRC’s electoral process, it is important that the DRC puts in place a comprehensive campaign finance legislation framework or face the existential threat of allowing foreign influence undermining the nation’ sovereignty.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has a long history of corruption and excessive money in politics. This can be attributed to the fact that the country lacks a comprehensive and specific legal framework governing the financing of political campaigns.
In recent years, the Congolese government has taken steps to reduce the influence of money in politics. The regulation of foreign donations to Congo’s elections is governed by the Election Law of the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to the law, foreign and anonymous donations to political parties are prohibited. The law states that “it is forbidden for political parties to receive directly or indirectly financial or material support from a foreign state.” Furthermore, the Election Law requires that all donations must be reported to the National Electoral Commission.
Relatedly, the DRC has a code of conduct for political parties which includes provisions on the financing of political campaigns. The code requires political parties to accept only donations from individuals and organizations that are legally registered in the DRC, and to make public all donations received. The code also prohibits political parties from receiving donations from foreign sources.
These laws are however limited because they limitations are mostly imposed on the political parties. There are no bans on donations from foreign interests, corporate donations, to candidates. There also isn’t a limit on the amount a donor can contribute to a political party during a non-election specific period. There is no ceiling set on the amount of money that can be spent on election campaigns and no provisions requiring donations to go through the banking system.
More so, there is currently no public funding for political parties in the DRC leading to a situation where political parties and candidates are largely dependent on private donations from wealthy individuals and corporations.
Despite these scanty laws scattered in different campaign finance provisions and other legislative reforms, money continues to play a significant role in Congolese politics and this is why it is high time DRC must enact a standalone campaign finance law.
In the absence of any legal framework, campaign finance is largely unregulated and foreign interests are able to influence the outcome of elections because there is no transparency in the funding of political campaigns. For as long as this is not tackled, DRC will continue to face a deficiency in their electoral democracy and integrity.