Finish Line: Honoring the Accomplishments and Aspirations of our Common Journey, Dr. Robert Zuber

13 Jan

finish ii

I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to what light I have. Abraham Lincoln

One who lives without discipline dies without honor. Icelandic Proverb

To be able to look back upon one’s life in satisfaction is to live twice. Khalil Gibran

There is no beauty in sadness. No honor in suffering. No growth in fear. No relief in hate. It’s just a waste of perfectly good happiness. Katerina Kleme

On Friday, the UN Security Council held its regularly scheduled meeting on the Democratic Republic of the Congo with a briefing from the always-enlightening Special Representative Leila Zerrougui. Part of her task was to introduce the latest sobering and comprehensive report of the Secretary-General on the situation in DR Congo including issues affecting the promotion of regional peace and security – efforts to control the latest Ebola outbreaks, assaults from armed groups on civilians and medical personnel, and the ongoing theft of natural resources – as well as the activities of the UN Stabilization Mission (MONUSCO), to protect as many civilians as possible and ensure a modicum of stability in this vast country.

This Council session was a bit different in that the focus was on recently-concluded and twice-delayed presidential elections in DR Congo, the conclusion and final certification of which is to (hopefully) lead to a peaceful transition of power in the country, the first such transition in DR Congo history.  A bevy of speakers, including from the African Union, the Foreign Ministry of neighboring Zambia (representing the Southern African Development Community) and the DR Congo National Electoral Commission (CENI) lent gravity to the proceedings, reinforcing the importance of this process for the often-compromised political legitimacy of the country as well as its implications for stability both within and even beyond the region.

Also highlighted was the suspension of the vote in Beni territory and Butembo in the North Kivu province due to health and security concerns.  Such suspensions, which promised to be resolved in time for March parliamentary elections, were duly noted by speakers but not fully interrogated, specifically in terms of how such suspensions might have affected the electoral outcome (a provisional win for Felix Tshisekedi).  In a country where trust levels are acknowledged to be low, the absence of Kivu votes is sure to become an issue that will linger past any upcoming inauguration and subsequent calls from the new president for patience and reconciliation.

Moreover, there were charges at this meeting that many votes had not been properly counted prior to certification.   Among the thousands of trained monitors at polling places across DR Congo were those of Conférence Épiscopale Nationale du Congo (CENCO) one of whose officials addressed the Council and who laid out (in respectful tones) concerns over the vote count, concerns exacerbated by the lack of cell phone access for many during the voting process.  Simply put, CENCO’s polling figures are at times significantly at variance with those of CENI, prompting the request that CENI share its complete polling data in full transparency in order to “set minds at rest.”

It is not necessary to gloss over these concerns, nor “fetishize” the benefits of elections on other matters afflicting DR Congo (as some in the international community are prone to do) to recognize the enormity of this electoral achievement, made possible in part by the decision of DR Congo’s long-serving (but still relatively young) president Joseph Kabila to remove his name from consideration for another terms as president.   DR Congo is a huge and unevenly developed country facing a myriad of threats including its own legacy of corrupt, unresponsive and at times abusive governance.  As noted by several Council members – including new member South Africa — and more forcefully by CENI’s president; that these elections were as successful as they appeared to be — with only sporadic violence, robust monitoring of polling places, the successful registration of millions of Congolese, and voting machines (those not destroyed by fire) that appeared to work better than some had predicted – was as much as could have been hoped for, and should be respected and duly honored as such.

This entire discussion inadvertently underscored a deeper concern for me, one that punctuates much of our efforts within and outside this policy space: when is our work within the complex contexts of policy good enough?  And who decides?  Is it possible to walk the line defined by Belgium and other Council members whereby we can laud the courage and persistence that led to the prospect of a peaceful transition of power while at the same time demand that the political will of the Congolese be fully honored and that persons seeking to report on irregularities be both listened to and protected?

To put it another way, can we put our hands on the oft-elusive formula that allows us to both honor accomplishment and demand better, that makes it possible for us to integrate and even appreciate the diverse expectations of policymakers and constituents that drive equally diverse assessments of our successes and failures, assessments that can (and have too often) become wedges distancing official proclamations of progress from the unrealized aspirations of constituents?

CENI’s president was clearly frustrated by much of what he heard at this Council meeting, rightly citing the legal requirements pertaining to his office, the massive logistical challenges of registering voters and votes in an area larger than western Europe, even the emotional challenges associated with citizens putting faith in the ballot box to help solve a myriad of development and security problems in a country with a democratic culture that is literally in its infancy.  On the other hand, if electoral challenges are unaddressed or even ignored, if a fledgling trust in an equally fledgling political culture is once again trammeled in part by too-easy “reassurances” from state authorities, then all of the thorny problems that a new government will be expected to address will become that much more daunting.  And DR Congo already has more than its share of threats to human dignity to which it must respond.

This week, I came across another in a series of recent articles providing data sets that ostensibly demonstrate that, in some significant ways, 2018 was the setting for much in the way of “global improvements.”  While I have rarely met persons whose immediate circumstances “felt better” on the basis of published percentiles and other data sets, it can certainly be valuable to take stock (albeit cautiously) of progress in the aggregate.  And yet human striving has mostly yielded mixed (and often unequal) benefits, including with regard to human motivation (and human gratitude).  We are clearly making some progress on reducing absolute poverty, halting the spread of infectious disease, communications within and across cultures; this and more deserve appreciation and respect.  But we are also losing ground in several key areas including levels of food insecurity and forced displacement, and the health of our oceans and climate.  Moreover, despite the proliferation of “smart phones,” direct access to capacity such as technological innovation and financial instruments seems less equal in this world than has been the case at any point in my lifetime, perhaps in human history.

Data can be critical to keeping progress on track and exposing gaps and limitations in even our best intentions.  But it cannot – indeed must not – become a substitute for the decisions by people in families and communities regarding the point at which good enough is truly “good enough,” that time when promises by governments and policy leaders for greater health care, education and social equity are both kept and in line with aspirations, aspirations that are now continually stoked by the incessant displays of high lifestyles to which those in developing countries, and especially the youth, enjoy at least remote digital admission.

All is not doom and gloom in our times, to be sure, but we still have a long road to travel before we achieve the world envisioned – indeed demanded – by the UN’s sustainable development goals.  Along the way, we have things yet to learn, including the tricky matter of honoring without settling, critiquing without discouraging.  Moreover, we must continually rethink those too-tempting conclusions by government officials and data experts, that what seems “good enough” to them is actually “good enough” for others.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: