Writing this week for "The New Statesman", Michela Wrong, author of In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz and more recently I Didn't Do It For You, gazed with fresh eyes on the problems brewing in Kinshasa in advance of the 29 October elections.
"This is not hysteria," she writes, "the ingredients for serious trouble are all in place. A new form of xenophobia between Lingala-speaking westerners, who regard themselves as "sons of the soil", and Swahili-speaking easterners, rejected as "foreigners", is being stoked by television stations owned by the two candidates. Unpaid soldiers, whose wages are routinely pocketed by their commanders, roam at will. Both men control private armies that opened fire on each other after the first round of voting, leaving 30 dead, and have been importing weapons ahead of the coming showdown. Whoever loses is certain to denounce the results as rigged. Both Kabila and Bemba, after all, are men who owe their prominence to their readiness to take up arms, so why accept the verdict of the polls?"
She concludes, "If all hell breaks loose in the DRC after 29 October - and I desperately hope it does not - it will be tragic evidence of the damage a very human inclination to hope for the best can do."
But is exporting democracy--in this case with a $420 million price tag--the best the international community can do? Most ordinary Congolese lament the lack of tangible benefits to their individual lives and to society generally. Congo needs administrative structures, a capable bureaucratic class to operate these structures, and leaders capable of managing the mechanisms of modern statehood. Can such core necessities simply be bought? Of course not, only the Congolese can provide the human element.
Elections themselves are window dressing, all would agree, and if peaceably implemented, could lend legitimacy to Congo's status in a world of states. But as William Swing, the Secretary General's envoy to Congo, said last week in Kinshasa, if elections go well and the results are accepted by the losing party --but nothing improves in the country, then that $420 million will have been a complete waste.