John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Initial Reports on Congo Elections Discouraging

by John Campbell
November 29, 2011

A pile of presidential and legislative ballot papers sit unattended on the ground of a compound outside a polling station in Democratic Republic of Congo's capital Kinshasa November 29, 2011. (Finbarr O'Reilly/Courtesy Reuters)

Voting in Congo’s national elections started yesterday and will likely last several more days. Because of the many offices to be filled, including the presidency, The New York Times describes the ballot as “thick as a newspaper.” Not surprising, as the BBC reports, there are eleven presidential candidates, more than nineteen thousand candidates vying for the five hundred Assembly seats and other offices. The Belgian ambassador noted that, “Globally, the impression is rather positive, voting bureaus are open. Of course the rain has made it a bit difficult at a certain stage this morning. But slowly the procedures are going well.” But, already there are anecdotal reports of every type of election fraud and logistical failure, from no ballots at polling stations to ballot box theft to the burning of polling places. Most reports thus far are from urban areas, though the media reports that the worst violence has taken place outside the capital of Kinshasa in Katanga, Kasai-Occidental, and Kananga.

In a country as huge as Congo, and with a weak infrastructure and poor communications, the quality of the polling will vary from one place to another. As only two percent of the roads are paved, CENI (the electoral commission) is using sixty-one helicopters and twenty planes to deliver the ballots. Some planes ran out of fuel and failed to deliver the ballots, while some porters were stuck in the mud caused by Monday’s rains. Squarely put by London’s The Guardian: “some thirty-five million ballot papers printed in South Africa and 186,000 ballot boxes made in China have to be distributed to 63,000 polling stations in a country two thirds the size of western Europe.” It will be days – if not weeks – before the Congolese and the international community reach a conclusion as to the credibility of the proceedings. But, the Belgian ambassador’s comments notwithstanding, on balance initial reports are not encouraging.

Of the ten opposition candidates President Joseph Kabila faces, Etienne Tshisekedi is the best known. The number of candidates splitting the opposition vote makes a Kabila plurality likely. Kabila had the constitution amended to eliminate a second round if no candidate received a majority of the votes. If Kabila does win a plurality, the issue will be the extent to which the Congolese themselves accept the outcome. In an address to his supporters, Tshisekedi has already declared himself president, and his supporters threaten to take to the streets should he lose.

Congo’s 2006 elections were judged successful. Then, the UN and the international community played a prominent role and took charge of many of the logistical arrangements. This time, if not entirely absent, the role of the international community has been much reduced. Mathieu Bile, the director of the Electoral Division of MONUSCO (the UN mission in Congo) warned that “It is not in our mandate to evaluate the work of the CENI and say whether it is good or bad… If people have suspicions, it is at that moment that we need to explain that we only offer additional assistance to the CENI’s own strategic plan.” The opposition parties are already accusing the CENI of massive fraud and lack of transparency by the opposition parties. If the elections result in political chaos, the international community as well as the Congolese people will likely pay a steep price, given Congo’s key position in central Africa.

Post a Comment 6 Comments

  • Posted by Ken

    Great observations. It is sad really that even over $500 million invested in the elections were not enough to make them credible enough to satisfy even minimal definitions of free and fair elections. This is yet another reminder of the Huntingtonian maxim that state development must necessarily precede political development, at least in the post 1945 world.

    A few corrections: total number of polling stations is 63,000, not 63 and the last elections in the DRC were actually in July of 2006 and not in 2007.


  • Posted by congohope

    Those elections are very encouraging in fact. Says the Guardian
    Steven Lauwerier, Unicef’s deputy representative in Congo, said: “We’re holding our breath like everyone. But despite the violence, Congolese all want to vote: there is a strong democratic feeling, which is fantastic. There is a will to build this country, which I think is a beautiful moment to see.”
    And despite fraud, the result that emerges is that Etienne Tshisekedi has won the election. He has the authority to establish the rule of law in the Congo which will bring stability back in the country and in the region.

  • Posted by Jeansy Kazadi

    I totally disagree with your statement “The number of candidates splitting the opposition vote makes a Kabila plurality likely.”

    Apart from Tshisekedi, the other main challengers broke away from Kabila’s coalition called “Mouvance Presidentielle” (MP). They respectively worked with Kabila as Speaker of the parliament, Senate chairman and Vice-prime minister.

    Mathematically, Kabila will be sharing his votes with these 3 main challengers who are not considered as part of the real opposition by the population. They are seen as mere opportunistic politicians. Besides, Kabila has lost his advantage in the east of the country where Kamerhe who helped him to win 2006 elections is very popular.

    However, Jean-Pierre Bemba who is still detained in The Hague and who came up as the runner in 2006 elections with 46% of votes has vowed his allegiance to Tshisekedi. I shall remind you that in 2006 Tshisekedi called for his supporters to boycott the elections and they never registered. This time, they massively registered to turn things around. The other interesting point is that Tshisekedi toured the east of DRC during his campaign and he received a warm welcome from disillusioned voters of 2006 to whom Kabila promised peace to no avail.

    It is logically impossible for Kabila to win these elections in a fair and free manner. No wonder he is now resorting to using force to kill unarmed civilians. I understand that the West has all the economic reasons to keep Kabila in power. The incompetence of his regime has been hugely beneficial to western corporations with mining contracts which represent a legalised plunder. But a bit of professional ethics would have been appreciated to your partisan and patronising analysis. Kind regards

  • Posted by cwarren

    Dear Ken:

    Thank you for your comment. We have changed those figures.

    -The CFR Africa program

  • Posted by Daniel Mamba

    Despite massive frauds, the people of Congo DR have spoken and chosen Mr. Etienne Tshisekedi as their President. We all need to accept this reality and work together to protect each other’s interests.

    All the first figures confirm Tshisekedi with 2/3.majority votes ahead of Kabila and kamhere. RFI and other media have started to recognise the fact. The Carter Foundation as well as prominent observers such as Mrs McCain.

  • Posted by Erick

    I agree with your post and there is also a different reality as of today. Kabila is declared winner by LA CENI.
    I think, it is very irresponsible for many of us to assume that Tshisekedi is the winner without having proof to back that assumption.
    1. La CENI has provided us with the tolal votes and where those votes originated from.
    2. Now! The Congolese political opposition should present their results and the centers where those results originated from.
    3. A team of experts can compare the two results and seal this saga.

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