Wednesday, December 14, 2005

DR Congo: Countdown to the Polls (-4)

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Three days. In three days, the referendum on the Congolese draft constitution will really take place. It is really going to happen. This triple reaffirmation is needed to help me – and I am sure many other people – to be convinced that there will finally be a democratic vote in the vast and resourceful land of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. With any luck, the country of Lumumba will finally deserve its “Democratic” denomination.

And one can tell that people are rattled, scared, excited, anxious, indifferent, and all the above at the same time for some. First, some of the politicians who have not yet understood that – perfect or not – this referendum is irreversible (and must take place at that very date), are calling for a delay. Some politicians - mainly from the non-parliamentary opposition, including Etienne Tshisekedi’s UDPS, are still rooting (and they have every right to) for a “No” vote to the constitution. The majority of the parliamentary opposition and the “ruling” party are calling for a “Yes” vote, backed by the International Community. The lines are being drawn. Everybody is trying to be as ready as they can be for the polls. Three days…

Mr. Referendum?

And where is the people in all this? The Electoral Commission, as well as the UN Mission in Congo (MONUC), have undertaken a sensitization campaign, that has had a greater effect on the population than ever before: that’s normal, it’s the first time it’s even attempted since 1960!!! But a story on Radio Okapi yesterday also brought us down to reality: in Isiro, Oriental Province, the majority of the people who came to a sensitization meeting yesterday, thought that “Referendum” was a candidate – that’s right a flesh and bones human being – to vote upon. The reality of the matter, is that with the improving, but yet very limited political will among the powers that be in Kinshasa, the means were not adequately provided to these sensitization campaigns. And so much of the people will face the polls without full knowledge of what they are voting on… the price to pay for 40 years of dictatorship, and reckless disregard for education, and communication in the DRC.

In the mean time, a group of the Congolese diaspora in France called Federation of Overseas Congolese (FCE), has tried to provide an analysis of the actual document, and has tried to give its strengths and weaknesses. These good people have declared that they are against the constitution, because it is a haphazardly constructed, and in their opinion, dangerous in its present form, to the future of the DRC. But for the first time, they are the only group to have called for a “No” vote, but also outlined a strategy in case the “Yes” vote won. They have established that their analyses would be submitted as reform recommendations to the future elected parliament, should the “Yes” vote win. Among the weaknesses, they outline – and rightly so – the utter confusion between the powers of the President and the Prime Minister, which caused us our democracy in the first place, in 1960, and which have been repeated in this new draft constitution. Among the strengths, they have outlined the newly expanded bill of rights, the submission of the republican armed forces to civilian rule, and the principle of gender equality.

To Cesar what is to Cesar…

In a surprising move, the Council of Congolese Catholic Laymen has decided to come out in support of the “No” vote. They point out all the contradictions we outlined in this article, and urge the Congolese to vote “No”. The Congo has the largest Catholic population in Africa (~55% of Congo’s 55.000.000 people)… this is an important statement. However, the actual head of the Roman Catholic church in Congo – and a very popular political figure, for his past role on the political field, against Mobutu, as leader of the National Sovereign Conference, Mgr Laurent Monsengwo, Archbishop of Kisangani, called the Congolese people to a responsible vote, saying that the church could not substitute itself to the politicians; to Cesar what is to Cesar. He called on people to perform their civic duty, and vote their conscience. A much more balanced and responsible position, for someone and an institution that know the weight it has in people’s hearts and minds. The other branch of Christianity, Protestantism, is calling for a “Yes” vote. The head of the Church of Christ in Congo (which is the paramount council of all protestant denominations in Congo, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Quaker, Mennonite, etc), Mgr Marini Bodho – also President of the Senate, that very senate that drafted the Constitution - could hardly say otherwise. And the Islamic Council is asking people to vote their conscience.

On the political front

President Joseph Kabila is out campaigni… sorry “visiting”, in the former rebel province of Maniema, in the city of Kindu. It is the first visit of Kabila in this rebel stronghold, and the young head of state has not shied from making gigantic promises like the arrival of uninterrupted running water and electricity in the near future – this in a country where this is not the case even in the capital city, Kinshasa, where the French word “delestage” (rolling blackouts and rolling dry outs) is a staple of daily life. He is also there promoting the “Yes” vote. In Kinshasa, the lines of the future legislative and Presidential elections are being drawn. Vice-President Azarias Ruberwa has organized a Congress of his party, the former rebel Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD), to appoint him candidate to the Presidency. On the same day, another politician announced his candidacy: Nzanga… MOBUTU. Yes, Mobutu’s businessman, highly versatile (and recently returned from exile) of a son is running for President. Finally, a Mobutu era political heavyweight, Pay-Pay wa Syakasighe, from the same province a President Kabila, is also running for President, making the elections a bit murkier than it already was.

My take

Things are moving, and things are shaking, and things are stagnating, all at the same time. And, as usual, I am inclined to continue wondering. But there comes a time when one must take stand. In an ideal situation, the confusing and sometimes internally contradictory nature of the draft constitution would make many, myself included, gladly call for a “No” vote, or a revision prior to the consensus. But the situation is not ideal, is it? At this point, an imperfect constitution, as a start, is better than no start at all. The Congolese peoples (and that “s” is intentional) must remove any excuse their politicians refer to, to perpetuate their scheming games in a large scale. The only way to attempt to do that presently, is to vote “Yes” to the constitution, and vote “Yes” massively. It is the only viable way forward at this point. That is therefore this humble blogger’s recommendation. VOTE “YES”.

The foreign predators that are trying to benefit from the loopholes of this new constitution... we will deal with them appropriately, when we actually have a country to defend.

Referendun D-Day – 4…


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