Thursday, August 03, 2006

DRC: Elections: Update 6

Okay, so you all know that, despite my general optimism, I have had a few reservations about some aspects of this whole process. Partly by reflex born of an observation of the politicians of my country for the past 10 years or so, and partly because I know the size and lack of infrastructure of my country, and the hot-blooded nature of my people. I was positively surprised at the dignity displayed during the actual voting. I was even encouraged by the fact that the Electoral Commission seemed fairly well organized, and had things at the right place at the right time. Then I read this
Reuters AlertNet - Congo vote count chaos risks inflaming tensions:

"Most observers said the vote was fair but some fear a seeming lack of organisation at counting centres will fuel speculation over the polls, whose legitimacy was contested before they even took place.

'These centres are a mess and it's providing people with ammunition for calling fraud,' said one U.N. official, who asked not to be named.

'The election can go as nicely as possible but the crucial part will be the results. How are people going to verify the votes with this situation?'

At one centre in Kinshasa, election workers picked through piles of black plastic bags -- some sealed, others opened -- that contained used, unused and spoiled ballot papers. In one part of the compound electoral workers dozed."
And then, I see it all illustrated in this:
Those bags/enveloppes/boxes on the ground, are full of ballots!!!! Not that I was surprised. This seems... more like it, more realistic, more in tune with the realities of the country. And when I read about the fact that election workers in Kinshasa were rioting for their promised salaries, I almost felt relieved: at least now it was out of the way. I mean, it was bound to happen, considering the fact that the very notion of civic duty has a different understanding, in a country where people have learned not to trust the civic/political institutions that lead them: the smallest delay in payment, and people are up in arms. It's a... "preventive" measure of sorts.

Not to detract from the great efforts the Electoral Commission (CEI) made to achieve such a near-perfect (under the conditions) elections. But the fact of the matter is, that much of the population, and the CEI workers, have never been at the helm of an electoral process that spans a "continent-country" like ours. This is the reason we are now seeing much of this mess (in the picture). There is only so much that can be done to make the process a picture-perfect one. There is no way to avoid flaws in the process. I believe that the CEI did not properly estimate the immensity of the task, and did not do enough to stress the meaning of the "integrity of the vote" to some of its manual labor. And the fact that the very same CEI that claimed that these elections could not be delayed because the International Community paid so much for it, is now being late in paying its "volunteer" workers, cannot be any good for their image.

And this all leads to something I read in the French version of the article I quoted at the beginning: this new apparent mess is only going to fuel the claims of those that claim that there is fraud, regardless of whether the fraud is real or not. Regardless, I just hope that I will never have to see scenes like this again:

No matter what the situation, we should never have to see women beaten by Police officers. Not in a country that claims to put women on a pedestal.

Okay, that's all one thing. The second big thing I wanted to report on, a surprise for me, The New York Times is claiming (in an article written in Nairobi) that preliminary results are largely in favor of Vice-President - and former warlord, currently under investigation for warcrimes - Jean-Pierre Bemba (42%), with incumbent Joseph Kabila coming second (22%). They cite both the League of Voters, and The National Network for the Observation and Monitoring of Elections in Congo (RENOSEC), as the sources of these results. I have not seen these preliminary results anywhere but on "The grey lady" (reprinted in LA Daily News, and San Francisco Chronicle), so I have no particular trust for them (my respect for the NYT not withstanding). Especially when French newspaper Liberation cites Radio Okapi's preliminary results to give Kabila the upper-hand. So no one really knows for sure. However, what seems to be sure, at this point, is that Bemba and Kabila are the big sharks in the pond. As things stand, either one will win in this round, or they will both be in a run-off election in October.

The CEI and the Media authority (whose offices were set on fire by pro-Bemba rioters last Thursday) have called all media, under penalty of sanctions, not to incite violence by publishing unverified results. Very wise move, but misunderstood by some as a way to cover-up a behind-the-scenes falsification scheme, on the part of the CEI. It's that inherent skepticism of authority again.

As for news about Congo, every thing seems to be focused (I am so surprised, right?) on the elections. However, there is a story that The Salon failed to report on last week, that may gain importance this week, about the EUFOR troops, and their constant PR problems. See, last week, French fighter-jets who flew over Kinshasa, and somewhat close to VP Jean-Pierre Bemba's residence, helped to spark the violence that followed, and resulted in 6 people dead, last thursday. The EUFOR seen at worst as a support to President Kabila, or at best as a simple dog and poney show to bolster the EU's image as a concerned and engaged partner. In fact, some people in the Congolese e-mailing lists accused the French fighter-jets of having bombed VP Bemba's backyard military camp, causing all the ruckus. And as if that was not enough, one of EUFOR's UAVs crashed on a house in a popular neighborhood of Kinshasa, destroying the house entirely, and injuring five civilians. And now, there may be a new development: The UAV may have been shot down [fr]. Where does that lead? Who is behind that? No clue. But someone obviously was trying to fuel tensions.

This is all far from being a done deal. Let's wait and see. Congo kino liwa!!

5 comments:

Black River Eagle said...

I was a little surprised to hear that marked ballots were being stored in black plastic bags. You would think that for $400 million bucks somebody would have come up with a more secure system of storing votes i.e. those KMart see-through plastic boxes (with locks) they used for the (severely flawed) presidential elections over in Uganda.

You write that the photo (Photo 1) in your post shows plastic bags full of marked ballots lying about near a Kinshasa polling station. Which reputable news agency or independent photo journalist published this photo and where is the online source?? The related news article and photo gallery by David Lewis at Reuters Alertnet does not include this photo.

Reuters, AP, AFP, and other international news agencies are under a lot of fire this week in the blogosphere for publishing photographs that some claim may have been staged for the cameras. Checkout Nielson's Blogpulse.com Nr. 1 blog post for August 1st at the following links:

Blogpost Top Blogs for Aug 01, 2006
http://www.blogpulse.com/06_08_01/topWeblog.html

(WARNING - Disturbing Images)
EU Referendum post - Milking It?
http://eureferendum.blogspot.com/2006/07/milking-it.html

Not to say that YOU would intentionally publish false information about the elections in the DRC, because I believe you would never stoop so low. Just checking your sources, that's all.

Lorraine said...

If you go to TV5 while the CEI person is being interviewed people are bringing in ballots and DUMPING them on the ground (un petit desordre) Go to http://www.tv5.org/TV5Site/info/accueil.php
and click on 2. Les observateurs félicitent le Congo pour ses élections présidentielles under Edition du 02.08.06

TheMalau said...

Good point, BRE, about the photos. However, all the new agencies, Congolese and Foreign, have been talking about this, and as Lorraine said, check out the TV5 news (or the BBC), and you can actually see it for yourself.

Black River Eagle said...

I went to the TV5 Monde website, I saw it for myself, and I couldn't believe it! Didn't look "staged" to me.

This brings up a very important question. Who is responsible for the security of the ballots? The Electorial Commission of the DRC, the U.N. election team, MONUC, who???

Lorraine said...

Yep, that's the very question I have been asking CEI, DRC President website, MONUC, Radio Okapi, CIAT members, EU, Ross Mountain, IFES, NDI, Carter Center,journalists at Le Phare, Le potentiel, digitalcongo since January of this year: What happens to the used ballots? How do they get to Kin? What kind of security do they use? Are the electoral observers following the ballots? What happens/happened to the unused ballots? Where will the ballots be stored while the results go to the courts? etc etc etc

No, I have yet to receive answers from anyone.

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