Congolese President Joseph Kabila waves at a 2016 celebration of DRC independence in Kindu, Congo. (AP Photo/John Bompengo, File)

There is no denying that inclusive politics is the way to go, and it remains on the march from Latin America to the Middle East to Africa. But look to all the great democracies around the world and you will notice a similar trend: They have taken decades if not centuries to build and maintain. Conversely, when elections are forced on a country by outsiders in a naive attempt at democracy-building, we get the horrors of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

Indeed, where there are no electoral institutions or history, fractious elections can actually undermine the growth and legitimacy of democracy. So why have some in the international community dismissed these facts when considering the case of the Democratic Republic of Congo? Despite our hopes, we were simply not ready for national elections next month. The November date has been delayed to April 2018.

Democracy is much more than just a vote. Even Bashar al-Assad managed to hold presidential elections during the Syrian Civil War. If the Congolese people want democracy, then we owe them a real chance of one where their voices will actually be heard. However, the DRC has not had a national census since 1984, leaving millions of ballots ascribed to the deceased open for fraud. While the last presidential elections took place in 2011, youth under the age of 23 have not been registered to vote. Thus, any elections held without updated voter lists would not be representative of the Congolese people, especially our growing youth population.

 Years of fighting have drained our national resources. The history of our country has been mired in conflict since its independence in 1960. And it does not help our case that we are bordered by nine countries, some of which have exploited violence within the DRC for their own gain. Thus, we need to take careful, measured steps toward national elections to assure that our fledgling institutions will be strong enough to support them.
 Premature elections threaten to plunge our country back into chaos, or far worse—civil war where brother is pitted against brother. So the question remains: What can the Congolese people do? For starters, I will say that we are not ones to surrender our hopes and dreams. President Joseph Kabila has made great strides toward reasserting government control and, as a result, we have found peace in most of the country. President Kabila is helping to write a new chapter in our nation’s history, one where our problems are solved through nonviolent political expression. He has pardoned or released many political prisoners, reopened opposition media outlets, and operationalized the National Commission for Human Rights.

From an outsider’s perspective, it might look like the opportune time for elections. But I am a witness to our country’s fragile stability. Extremism waits in the wings and Kabila is the only man to keep it at bay. Because where you find political vacuums of power, you will most certainly find those ready to exploit the weak.

Our initial steps toward national elections occurred in April of this year, when the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) of the DRC organized gubernatorial elections by electors in 21 new provinces. The next phase is to organize local elections below the level of governor. These elections are a necessary foundation to create a sustainable democracy that will lead to a peaceful transition of power. But despite the progress, CENI still needs an additional number of months to adequately prepare for the local elections. This postponement of elections is not indefinite. Rather, it is a small sacrifice in the face of looming chaos.

Our next steps, which have proven to be more difficult, include a political dialogue with opposition parties. There are more than 400 political parties in the DRC, representing all of the tribes that make up our national mosaic. However, key opposition figures have refused to take part in the recent talks, which are especially important for setting key deadlines, despite our requests and the requests of international leaders. Their unwillingness to come to the table undermines our sense of national solidarity as we build a strong foundation for inclusive politics.

The international community should give democracy in Africa a fighting chance. The DRC could serve as a model for striking a balance between development and democracy. Development without democracy is simply benevolent dictatorship. But democracy without development is doomed. Our youth deserve a better future. However, the stampede toward elections could end up short circuiting the legitimacy of democracy in the DRC.