Spotlight: ISS insights guide understanding of crucial Congo poll


The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) kept the world informed as citizens of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) voted in a high-stakes December 2018 poll characterised by delays, violence and a president clinging to power.

Diplomats, media and NGOs depended on independent and authoritative insights from ISS senior research fellow Stephanie Wolters. Nearly 20 briefings were provided to the United Nations, African Union, diplomats and aid organisations. In just five weeks Wolters gave 68 interviews to global news organisations, including the BBC, Bloomberg, Reuters, AFP, RFI, the Guardian, Financial Times, Voice of America and Channel Africa. She wrote an editorial for Canada’s Globe and Mail and addressed a Chatham House seminar in London.

Wolters has built an extensive network of sources during 20 years researching and analysing the DRC, including journalists, government officials, opposition politicians and diplomats. She lived in DRC for many years, is a regular visitor, and has travelled throughout the vast country. Information is also gathered from the Congolese diaspora.

‘The ISS is trusted by key contacts,’ Wolters says. ‘This is how we compile expert insights which guide informed decisions about a contested election in a complex environment.’ The ISS enables interested parties to appreciate different perspectives and understand the rapidly-shifting DRC environment.

ISS analysis has impact as it helps guide the actions of people in Addis Ababa, New York and other capitals

Preparations for the DRC poll took place in an atmosphere of distrust for the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI). Questions were raised about voting technology and exclusion of opposition heavyweights Jean-Pierre Bemba and Moise Katumbi. Widespread protests led to civilian deaths and the international community condemned police and army human rights violations. The US and EU imposed sanctions on government and military officials.

The DRC elections were finally held on 30 December after a two-year delay. The vote was relatively peaceful, but concerns quickly emerged about the count. Official results gave Felix Tshisekedi the presidency, despite Catholic Church monitoring which pointed to victory by opposition coalition leader Martin Fayulu.

‘We were uniquely positioned to analyse DRC electoral challenges and implications for the country, the Great Lakes region and the wider continent,’ Wolters said. ‘The ISS could explain why the Catholic Church with its 40 000 election monitors and respected place in the fabric of Congolese society, was a voice to be heeded; and why SADC with it 80 monitors could not speak with the same authority.’

ISS commentary helped global audiences to understand the reality of the DRC under Tshisekedi, who had met with Wolters in Pretoria before the vote. ‘Many senior AU, UN and government officials are called upon to make decisions about DRC without having direct personal experience or knowledge of the country. This is where our analysis really has impact as it helps guide the actions of people in Addis Ababa, New York and other capitals.’

In May, the ISS will publish a Central Africa Report on the response of the AU and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to the DRC crisis, followed by a series of reports on the geopolitics of the Great Lakes region and the role of African countries in the DRC.

For more information contact:

Stephanie Wolters, ISS: +27 72 433 4808,

feature-5icon-printerlogo-chlogo-frPSC REPORT