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Democracy

What future in Congo?

by Yahouza Sadissou

In brief

A confusing multitude of candidates and massive election fraud made the presidential elections chaotic

A confusing multitude of candidates and massive election fraud made the presidential elections chaotic

With an area of 2,345,000 square kilometres, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is Africa’s largest country, but it is also one of the poorest. In December, parliamentary and presidential elections tore open the wounds of years of civil war.

With an area of 2,345,000 square kilometres, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is Africa’s largest country, but it is also one of the poorest. In December, parliamentary and presidential elections tore open the wounds of years of civil war.

On 9 December, the Independent National Election Commission (INEC) finally presented the preliminary results of the presidential election. The victory of Joseph Kabila, the incumbent president, hardly came as a surprise. He was said to have received 49 % of the votes, compared with 32.3 % for his opponent Etienne Tshisekedi. In advance, however, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), an opposition party, had accused the INEC of massive election fraud. The UDPS says that 55 % of the 64,000 polling stations across the country only exist on paper. Pastor Daniel Ngoy Mulunda, director of the electoral commission, denies such charges.

Fear of new chaos

Referring to claims of fraud, Tshisekedi declared he had won the presidential election, causing fear the country might drop back into chaos. Thousands of citizens fled the foreseeable violence in Kinshasa by crossing the river to nearby Brazzaville. Human Rights Watch says that the Republican Guard killed at least 18 civilians. Hundreds of people were severely injured the night before the elections. The tense situation obviously had an impact on the election results.

National and international monitors say the elections were chaotic, partly because of the confusing multitude of candidates. They also speak of logistical and technical problems. The international community, which financed the elections in 2006 almost entirely, was more cautious in its comments. This time, INEC’s astronomic budget of more than a billion dollars was funded by the national government.

In December, monitors confirmed major irregularities. According to the Carter Centre, a lot of the votes cast are dubious. This non-governmental organisation, which is run by former US President Jimmy Carter, sent 70 members to observe the elections. They say that 2,000 envelopes containing around 350,000 votes were lost in the capital city of Kinshasa, where Tshisekedi was expected to do well. At least 1,000 election envelopes disappeared in other areas where the opposition is strong. In Malemba Nkulu (southern Congo), the Carter Centre found blatantly improbable outcomes. At 493 polling stations there, 100 % of votes allegedly went to Kabila, and voter turnout was supposedly 99.46 %. All observers agree that rules were broken, but they shy from not recognising formally the results the INEC announced. However, Laurent Monsengwo, the Catholic archbishop of Kinshasa, said that the official results of the presidential elections are neither “the truth” nor “in line with the legal order”.

International court wants to review elections

Tshisekedi has refused to take the matter to the country’s Supreme Court, which is close to the government. By rejecting this option, he may have left himself no other option than violence. The international community has repeatedly called on Congo’s politicians to exercise moderation, enter into negotiations and use the law to fight fraud. Luis Moreno Ocampo, the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, has promised to review the elections. He warned all parties that violence is not a ticket to power, but rather a ticket to The Hague (please note comment on the ICC in this edition).

President Kabila has told the press that the result is valid in spite of some shortcomings. As D+C/E+Z went to press before Christmas, the Supreme Court was expected to confirm the outcome and swear in Kabila once more. Tshisekedi, however, was insisting he would contest the results, even “out of court”.

Yahouza Sadissou