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For Now, Relief in Congo

Prepared by: Stephanie Hanson
Updated: July 31, 2006


Holding an election in a country that hasn’t had one in four decades presents a substantial challenge. But when that country is the Democratic Republic of the Congo, home of the planet’s deadliest war of the past decade (TIME), mind-boggling logistics were compounded by a host of other problems: a ravaged infrastructure, rebel militias in the east, and riots and unrest in the capital, Kinshasa. In the run-up to the election, a boycott by a major opposition party and violence at opposition rallies across the country (Mail & Guardian), had many concerned about security. But Sunday’s elections—examined in this Backgrounder—proceeded smoothly, and world attention is now focused on the election’s outcome and whether or not the Congolese people—specifically opposition leaders and their supporters—will accept its results (WashPost).

The BBC dispatched a team of reporters to blog on the election and they reported around 70% voter turnout in Kinshasa. In one of the biggest reported disruptions, dozens of polling stations in the mining city of Mbuji-Maji reopened on Monday to offer citizens another chance to vote (AP). The ballot for the elections—in which thirty-three presidential candidates and some 9,700 parliamentary candidates are running—was six poster-sized pages long (Reuters). In a country the size of Western Europe with fewer than 300 miles of roads, getting those ballots—by plane, boat, and foot—to 25 million registered voters was a logistical challenge. Returning those ballots to sixty-two compilation centers across the country for tabulation will take several days; results aren’t expected for weeks (BBC).

Given Congo’s volatile security situation and infrastructure problems, it’s no surprise that candidates (and issues) took a backseat in the election. As one of the few candidates with national name recognition, not to mention free access to the state’s coffers, army, and media, most analysts view current president Joseph Kabila as the prohibitive favorite. The Times of London says people increasingly wonder about Kabila’s true stripes: pioneering democrat or a nascent dictator? Yet the same question could be asked of many of the opposition candidates, former rebel warlords (BBC) with strong support in their home provinces. Kabila says he will accept the results of the election even if he loses, but it remains to be seen if all the opposition candidates will do the same.

In Foreign Policy, Paule Bouvier and Pierre Englebert write the election will do very little to change the country’s corruption, security problems, and poverty. The International Crisis Group says elections could trigger further instability, noting “The logic of the ballot has not yet replaced the logic of the gun. It has merely become an appendix to it.”

Regardless of their outcome, the challenges complicating the elections are the same ones that will complicate attempts to stabilize Congo post-election. In the United Nations, a debate is already underway about cutting back the mission to allow peacekeepers to be redeployed to Sudan or Lebanon (Reuters). In a new UNICEF report, Martin Bell writes that continued conflict in the east is taking an enormous toll on Congolese children. This International Crisis Group report says Congo will need continued support from the international community in order to purge the corruption that plagues every sector of the government.

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