Wednesday, December 07, 2005

DR Congo: Countdown to the Polls (-11)

Like sand through an hour glass, these... are the passing days on the countdown to the DRC referendum. My co-blogger here on the Salon, Ntumba-exiedsoul, seems to have lost all hope, or at least t have gained some level or cynicism after her recent trip back to Congo. I understand her whole-heartedly. I simply choose to maintain some optimism. In French we do say that hope keeps one alive...

And so what is going on with the preparations? Well on Sunday, as reported in french language newspaper Le potentiel, for the first time in a long time, there was a television debate opposing proponents of the "Yes" vote, and proponents of "No" vote.

This debate was also carried over with a debate on the Dialogue show on Radio Okapi (The UN-run nationwide Radio), where a member from the Presidential party (for the "Yes" vote), and a member of the non-parliamentary opposition FONUS party (for the "No" vote). All this was organised by the oh so vocal Media Authority (HAM), and the no less famous Electoral Commission (CEI), which are trying - fairly well, to be fair - to justify the salaries and the SUVs they have gained from the millions of dollars the International Community poored into the whole transition process. (I do realize that I am writing assuming that people know about the current situation; please ask for clarifications in the comments if needed be).

The debates were extraordinarily civil, quite unusualy. The HAM was really trying to enforce the civility rules at the debate, and that was a welcomed surprise. The question remains whether that was the fruit of true will for change and transformation, or whether it was simply pure theatrics. The debaters could use some practice, as they were not very steady on their arguments: 32 years of dictatorship will do that to a political class. Our "honorable" have lost the habit of sincerely debating on behalf of something. Even in the past 15 years of so called democratization, it has always been against Mobutu, against Tshisekedi, against Kabila, for Kabila... purely personality oriented politics. When real debate was needed, it was done behind closed doors, where the people could not always see them using their positions in public institutions, to quite literally bargain in favour of their own selfish little interests. It is to say that even the little bit of technology that has reached Congo has forced these politicians to at least appear like they are doing the job they have been sent there to do. There may be hope still...

In a related matter, there has been a rumor of a growing row between the Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo (of the MLC former rebel group), and the no. 2 of his party, the young and glamorous Speaker of the National Assembly, Olivier Kamitatu. This rumor was confirmed on Tuesday, when the MLC spokesperson Yves Kisombe published a Founding Members decision to expel him from the party. What is interesting, is that under the transition constitution, he does not need to step down as speaker. The MLC, as a party, is a combination of people from the Mobutu regime, and the ambitious offsprings of members of the local gotha at the time of the said regime. Vice-President Bemba is the son of a millionaire whom he made Senator under his party. Olivier Kamitatu is the son of one of the Founding Fathers, Cleophas Kamitatu, who is also a Senator. Yves Kisombe's father was a powerful man during the dictatorship. It is rather interesting to see the rise of the second generation. They are all extremely well spoken, and well versed in World politics; they are Western educated, yet not Western in their actions, by no means. They are willing to play the local game, to maintain their positions... yet they may be the lesser evil we need. Bleak prospects you say? Well, I am still wondering...

(To Be Continued...)

Referendum D-Day - 11



Black River Eagle said...

Like you Ali I am trying to be positive about any type of valid democratic political process taking place in the D.R.C. after learning just the basics of the modern history of your country. No need to go into details here.

But I'm afraid that people right across the D.R.C. just aren't expecting any great changes in their lives after what they have experienced since the Congo Wars (x2) and rule under the Kabillas and former warlords and crooks. The Congolese people are not buying the political rhetoric and promises that must be in great abundance down there right now. If I am wrong, please correct me.

How many people across the vast D.R. Congo have access to a TV? Forget about ownership, just access? How many have access to electricity?? The TV debates did not reach most of the electorate, period. Only the elite, and visiting foreigners, and people lucky enough to visit some public venue with a TV set were able to view the debates. Were they broadcast internationally so that the Congolese diaspora could view them? Non?

Radio Okapi, that's something else all together. Broadcasting political debates live on Radio Okapi was smart and probably reached a great many people across the country. Any numbers on the viewing and listening audience for the debate broadcasts? Will the electorate be influenced by these debate broadcasts or will they most likely make up their minds based upon newspaper reports, political party affilitations, influence by local civic and religious leaders, family and friends?

There is certainly plenty of information and news online (in Francais) based out of the D.R.C. or operated from abroad, a big increase in the last 12 months. Are there many people within and outside of the D.R.C. reading the daily news on these websites? Internet penetration per household for the D.R.C. and across sub-Sahran Africa remains very poor.

Unfortunately English-language independent news sources reporting regularly about the D.R.C. remains limited and are focused mainly on the humanitarian and security crisis in the country. None of the major English-language media online are going into any great detail about the referendum or the upcoming elections unless I've missed or overlooked something.

Maybe this will improve right before the elections in 2006 and then die down again shortly afterwards, leaving much of the English-speaking world in the dark again about the various aspects of day-to-day life in the D.R. Congo. C'est la vie.

Or maybe a really smart Congolese businessperson will see the same problem I see and turn it into an opportunity.

TheMalau said...

I agree people have lowered their expectations greatly. It is understandable, if you considered the historical trail.

Radio Okapi is simply awesome. I will write about them in a few hours.

In the mean time, I am becoming extremely ambivalent to this constitution. It is a way forward, which why I support it. But it is also extremely flawed, confusing, and somewhat democide. Those charges brought in by the opposition parties are true. I question their motives, though. Oh well. I am still wondering...

Brian said...

Skepticism is certainly warranted, but you have to start somewhere.

Black River Eagle said...

Sorry guys about the delay, I've been away and would you believe it, offline for several days.

Brian is right, you have to start somewhere, but we should remember that it is ALWAYS better to get a good start on the right foot. Ali, you should not be ambivalent about the most important legal and political document in your country's history for the past 40__ no that's wrong, 400 years. Be ENGAGED with that process young man, please. I'm sure that you are involved, just reminding you not to take squat for granted this time around.

Have you seen the news about the latest political heavyweights to weigh-in on the DRC constitutional referendum and the elections? Oui?

That's right! Pope Benedict XVI has sent word from the Vatican to his flock of millions down in the D.R.C. through his "Boyz": the cardinals, bishops and priests of the Roman Catholic Church. The Pope sez:
"Ven in doubt, don't do it. Vote Non."

Here is the link to the BBC News article on the story (Dec. 12th):

I wonder how President Joseph Kabilla will react to this intervention in his country's political affairs by Joseph Ratzinger & Co.?

jim said...

Every one wants us to say: Lets forget the past and lets move on.
I personaly find UN presence in DRC intollerable and unforgivable. The same bloody UN slashed Democracy in Congo 46 years ago when the west were radically against democracy and prromoted the dictatorship. We cannot be free as far as the west is still hugely influencial in Congo. We must be able to choose which block we want and that for sure is not the west. They befriend those who killed us all these 46 years and even condonned anti-democratic senes all the way through. My best personal best example would be North Korea. They are a solution to their own problems. Even in pein or mourning they will not let their true opponent pretend to come for help and that is just amazing. Maron.

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