Political Risk Analysis - Prospects For State-Building Remain Slim Amongst Structural Headwinds - MAR 2017

BMI View : Domestic and international efforts at state-building in the Democratic Republic of Congo will be undermined by structural challenges, varying in nature from the sheer size of the country to its lack of democratic roots. While political volatility will likely be a frequent occurrence over our long-term outlook, these structural headwinds to stability will make it difficult for successive governments to progress with the state-building project.

While efforts at constructing the state have seen some success over the past four years in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), significant structural headwinds to this process will prevent the country from unifying under the authority of Kinshasa over the next decade. Any successive government is unlikely to overcome these challenges, with the scope and influence of the Congolese state instead extending only to certain areas of the country. Regular flare-ups in instability will continue to weigh on meaningful economic development over this period, although its impact on headline growth will be relatively limited due to the country's commodity-driven model of economic growth.

Long-Term Political Risk Index

This outlook informs the DRC's poor score of just 27.1 out of a possible 100 in our proprietary Long-Term Political Risk Index. The DRC scores particularly poorly in the 'Characteristics of Society' component of the index, with widespread poverty feeding into the proliferation of a number of armed rebel groups concentrated in the country's eastern regions.

Fractious State Weighs On Long-Term Political Outlook
DRC - Long-Term Political Risk Index, Score Out Of 100
Source: BMI

Key Challenges And Threats To Stability

Size Of Territory: One of the main challenges facing any government in the DRC is the sheer size of the country they are charged with administering. While this means that vast resource wealth falls within its borders, no government in the past 20 years has proven strong enough to exert its authority over the entirety of the country's territory. This has left the DRC vulnerable to local insurgent groups, which have been prolific since the First Congolese War in 1996, particularly in the eastern regions where the government has found it most difficult to exert its authority. Porous borders with nine neighbouring states and thousands of square kilometres of dense rainforest make it almost impossible for government forces to defeat these groups militarily. A UN intervention brigade was authorised in 2013 under an aggressive mandate to seek out insurgents fighting under the M23 banner in the eastern regions. While this was successful, more groups have sprung up in this area since, continuing to undermine the state's authority.

Bad Neighbourhood: In addition to the destabilising effect of domestic armed groups, the DRC's neighbours have a history of intervention in the country's domestic affairs, particularly during periods of heightened political instability. The threat of insecurity in the DRC was deemed sufficient for Rwanda and Uganda to launch a joint invasion in 1996 to install a new government under Laurent Kabila. The Rwandan government has since been regularly accused by the UN of further destabilising its larger neighbour by supporting armed rebel groups in Congolese territory. In each instance, the Rwandan government has justified its behaviour on the grounds of protecting its own borders and ethnic minorities under threat in the region, but it is thought this is a mask for securing access to the DRC's mineral wealth. The oncoming period of instability we expect over the coming two years as the Kabila administration looks to hang onto power beyond its constitutional mandate will leave the country open to further interference from its neighbours. International observers have taken an increasingly critical stance towards Rwandan involvement in the DRC, but with President Kabila's international support rapidly waning, there is scope for regional actors to once again add to the country's instability.

Lack Of Democratisation: The government's recent failure to adhere to the democratic standards imposed by the country's own constitution is evidence of the weak roots the democratisation process has in the DRC. Since independence in 1960, the DRC has not had a single peaceful transition of power. President Joseph Kabila had made some progress towards installing the fundamentals of democracy when he passed a new constitution in 2006, which included term limits for incumbent presidents and mandatory elections. However, the government's decision to delay a presidential election previously scheduled for November 2016 until April 2018 has served as a reminder of how fragile this progress is. Even if a presidential election does go ahead as planned in 2018, it is unlikely any future government will be willing or able to continue to democratise fast enough to appease a population that has proven quick to anger over their lack of representation. President Kabila's various efforts to hang onto power over the past year have often been met with widespread protests and mass strike action, usually ending in violence.

Derailment Of Democracy Threatens Further Unrest
DRC - Kinshasa, Major Protest Locations, January 2015 - November 2016
Source: BMI

Scenarios For Change

In a country as volatile as the DRC, there is an immeasurable number of potential scenarios that would bring about a real change in the country's political outlook, particularly those that could occur over a 10-year outlook. Our core view maintains that while a change of government is certainly very likely at some point over the next two to three years, structural political change - in which state building takes a radically different turn - is ultimately unlikely.

Federalist Union: Given the country's vast size and the difficulties of any government in Kinshasa controlling all the territory within its borders, a new federal system of governance will seem like an increasingly attractive option over our long-term outlook. While the state is technically already decentralised, with some powers devolved to regional authorities, most control still resides in Kinshasa. In devolving powers to regional centres, such as Lubumbashi and Goma, a federal government based in Kinshasa might better be able to exert its own authority over the entirety of the country. A federal system might also help appease the wide array of social groups across the country, divided along geographic and ethnic lines, who currently show little affinity with central government in a capital city over 1,000 miles away. Furthermore, devolving powers to regional governments would likely offer a boon for investors looking to distance themselves from Kinshasa's bureaucracy. For instance, offering the mineral rich Katanga region greater control over its own investment climate and the revenues accrued from its mining sector could attract new capital into the Congolese economy that had previously been dissuaded by corruption and lack of stability in Kinshasa.

Disintegration: Given the weakness of the central government and the enormous hurdles towards building a unified Congolese polity, there is a real chance that the DRC simply disintegrates into a collection of de facto independent states, similar to the kind seen in Somalia. A federalised system of government might help appease those forces that prevent state building in the DRC under its current form, but it is very much dependent on the central government's approval - perhaps unlikely given the reticence of successive regimes to hand over power peacefully. Without the resources or international support required to be able to hold onto power from Kinshasa, there is a chance various regions simply begin self-administrating or fall under the control of a competing power. Katanga has a long history of independence struggles, while the eastern Kivu provinces have regularly fallen under the control of various rebel groups. In this scenario, we might see a new status quo arise in which the central government in Kinshasa instead opts to consolidate power over those regions it can control closer to the capital, while de facto independent states operate autonomously similar to Somaliland or Puntland.

Democratisation: Although unlikely, should President Kabila's successor commit to democratic reforms - including adhering to constitutional terms limits and free and fair elections - then the central government's efforts at state-building would likely receive a boost on the back of renewed legitimacy. Support from the international community has been a significant boon for the Kabila government but has waned on the back of his disregard for democratic process. Any president looking to resume progress towards democratisation would likely see this support gradually restored, securing budget assistance and continued UN support against insurgencies. With sustained and targeted international support, any central government in Kinshasa would have a far greater chance at successfully progressing with the state-building agenda.