Tuesday, July 25, 2006

DRC: Countdown to elections: D-5

I have been learning the difficult logistics that are involved in getting election observers to a 3rd world country, and decently house them in the country... especially when the counterparts in the country are not reliable. I really admire all the people that are willing to give of their time and commitment to ensure that others have the opportunity to choose their leaders freely and fairly. Really, a tip of the hat.

It is the final sprint in Congo. President Kabila was in the opposition stronghold of Mbuji-Mayi, in opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi's native Eastern Kasai province (Kasai Oriental). The campaign stop had the expected result: decent turnout at best, stones thrown at the convoy, a few injured (and maybe dead) people... same old, same old. As much as I am cautious about these elections, I do not understand why attention to it seems to constantly be amped up only when such clashes occur. Sensationalist media at its best, I guess.

I do hope the readers of The Salon do not mistake my excessive cautiousness, and my "healthy" level of skepticism for a lack of support for my people, and the monumental opportunity these elections could bring forth. I am amazed that it is this close, and they still seem to have everything on track, despite the corollary mess. So for once, we can actually say: absent an unforseable development, elections will happen on Sunday!!!

Now, that said, there are a few roadblocks here. The country is 50%+ Catholic, and the Catholic church seems to be leading towards encouraging abstinence from the vote, on account of the apparent irregularities in the process. They are not alone: 19 out of the 33 presidential candidates still claim to be advocating for a new delay, and a "recalibration" of a process that they have seen as biased in their disfavor. Yet several of them, when interviewed on Radio Okapi, were quick to reply that they did not actually stop campaigning, despite their grievances. In the end, Le Potentiel claims[fr] that there are about 20 viable candidates here. The Salon would say about 10, but who are we to talk, right?

A story that has also been going around the wires is that report by UNICEF, that states that 600 children die everyday in Congo... 600!!!! And here we are talking totally avoidable, human-factor-driven deaths, that should be the stuff of a gruesome past, and not a contemporary matter. This brought back to me - not that it ever left - the urgency, and the unbelievable amount of hope that surrounds the upcoming elections. It is after all a huge gamble: A country that was THE textbook case for kleptocracy, and was ruled by nepotism, personality cult and submission to the will of one man, and a country with a corruption-infested society, that country is basing all its hope on an experience - democracy - that 60%+ of the country has never experienced. I wrote about the issues I saw around that in my short senior thesis, but it boils down to the fact that it is somewhat of a longshot, but one that can be succesfully made, with the right conditions, and the right perspective. The conditions are almost all there. The perspective... let's wait and see.

One more thing. Our friend Ethan Zuckermann, of Global Voices and My Heart's in Accra, has a wonderful piece on the effects of the crisis in the Middle East, on such big and important stories such as news from the Congo. I recommend the piece, because it expressed in clearer terms, a sentiment that I have been feeling for the past 2 weeks. And it is not helped by the fact that my sympathies tend to not be with the Israeli government, at all. But that is another story.

D-5. Wow! It's really happening, isn't it? On a more personal note, I have found out recently that my uncle David Mbwankiem is running for a seat in the national Parliament, and my very own brother Theophile Mamina Kayembe is running as an independant for a seat on the Provincial parliament of Kinshasa. I am really proud of their commitment to the country's affairs, and I wish them both good luck, and I hope they win.

We are still bringing you what we can, in English, so that the story of Congo can be spread further. Keep watching, as from now on, we will have daily updates.


Black River Eagle said...

Yes, it looks as though the first national elections in 46 years WILL be taking place in the Congo. Good luck to your people, good luck to the family candidates running for parliamentary seats, may God bless and protect your country as it makes an important step on the road to a viable, well-governed democratic state in the heart of Africa. The weeks and months following these elections is when the real work of putting the DR Congo back on her feet will begin.

P.S. Saw your comment over at Ethan's place while composing my own. Looks as if we are in-sync after all. Nice writeup on the DRC elections over at the LA Times yesterday. See "July 30 Election is Watershed for Congo" by Michelle Faul (AP). Here is an excerpt from the LA Times article:

Dateline: NDAKU YA PEMBE, Congo
(approx. 60 miles south of Kinshasa)

"We need a really credible head of state, one that will take his duties seriously, that will help provide a good quality of life to alleviate the misery, and that means creating jobs that pay a livable wage, not such a pittance that it's hardly worth waking up in the morning," said Guylain Kasongo, a 25-year-old farmer.

He said his small farm plot makes him only about $100 a year -- half the cost of school fees, books and uniform for his 8-year-old daughter. He also works loading trucks and carrying giant bundles of produce -- "like a pack mule" -- and still doesn't make enough to send his younger girl to school.

Plus he has to help out his father, an army captain. "He only makes $30 a month, but in the past three months he's received only one payment of $20," Kasongo said.

Black River Eagle said...

Is this darn comment tool working or what?

TheMalau said...

Heck yeah!! I had read the LA article. I should have included it somewhere.

You know what? "Ndaku ya pembe" litterally means "White House", haha. Interesting name for a town, don't you think?

Also, I have to add an update, because one og the candidates is rallying Kabila, so there are only 32 candidates running (with 33 on the ballots, of course)

Lorraine said...

Would you claim that presidential elections in the USA were fair, democratic and transparent if the Republican party was excluded from participating?

If you run the population statistics for the DRC there is absolutely positively NO WAY that 24+million people could have legitimately registered to vote (if you want the details let me know and I will send them to you). And then there are all those cases of fraudulent cards that have been appearing

Kabila's party buys up all the gas in Kisangani;

The airline contracts to fly out
Dr. Kashala's campaigning materials are canceled (and NOT by Dr. Kashala);

The Catholic church is advising its people to boycott the elections;

FARDC is STILL not being paid; The UN and the EU are recommending that FARDC be essentially confined to quarters during the elections (weren't there suppose to be 18 TRAINED brigades in place ready to provide security for the elections?);

A top FARDC military commanders (a former RCD military) "dies" at the age of 35 ;

Journalists (both international and national) are being arrested, expelled, murdered, beaten and disappeared;

Demonstrations are occuring on almost a daily basis in the streets of Kinshasa;

People continue to flee for safety somewhere in the Kivus and at the same time MONUC is claiming that the area is at peace;

Wide spread and extensive human rights abuses are being carried out by...the national army FARDC (see MONUC's latest Human rights report);

Mining contracts continue to be "negotiated";...

And by the way, just how many "extra" ballots were printed anyways? (and yes I know that one must always plan for the imprevu...that is why I asked how many extra; of course if the voter registration numbers are faulty then....)

Will elections happen this Sunday? Interesting that so little has been said about the logistics involved this time around (there were a lot of reports about this issue with voter registration and the referendum). Malu Malu continues to claim that there will be.

Actually I do believe that elections will take place on Sunday, Will the elections be fair, democratic and transparent? Will they be uncontested?

TheMalau said...

Dear Lorraine,
I would love to see those statistics, of course.

There is no question (and if you read my previous updates) that there are irregularities in the system. If one party was excluded from some election right after the Civil War in the US, I would not stop the elections, although I would not call them totally free, nor totally fair. We cannot pretend that the background situation in Congo today mirrors that of the US. Maybe by natural cynicism, I expected the elections to be just about the way they are now.

I wonder... anyway, I am waiting for those stats. Peace.

Lorraine said...

Hey Malu,

Many things mystify me about this whole electoral process in the DRC, but the one thing that has been most consistently perplexing is how people simply dismiss the complete exclusion of the oldest political party (which has also been the staunchist advocate for democracy, multipartyis, and rule of law in Zaire/DRC) as an "irregularity".

The email address I have for you isn't working apparently. I tried to send you email earlier today asking you to call your Congressman in the House of Representative and asking him/her to vote for S.2125 Democratic Republic of Congo democracy promotion bill. The subcommittee on Africa of the House Committee on International Relations is trying to get the bill passed by the end of work day tomorrow.

I will send you the statistics once I have your address.


Denis said...

A country that was THE textbook case for kleptocracy [...] Was? There's millions of dollars disappearing from the Central Bank every now and then and some over zealous court decisions.

Denis said...

lorrain: Didn’t the UDPS exclude itself from the elections on the ground that it is rigged from the start?

TheMalau said...

One of my VERY CLOSE family members is a top adviser of Tshisekedi. I therefore have no personal reason to minimize his absence from the process. There is a great deal that we owe to Tshisekedi. I would far prefer him to be in the process, believe you me! By far!! But I am - and this is just a personal view - tired of a constantly stuttering process, and Tshisekedi has contributed enormously to the stutter too. And I feel as though if he really was for change, he would have focused on his party's participation, and less on the fact that his own person needs to lead the country. I have higher standards for him than I do for all the others, and he simply does not live up to them. That's why I am not looking at this like a tragedy, although it is very sad.

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