The following article is by Jacques Bahati from the July-Sept edition of Around Africa, AFJN’s newsletter. Direct comments and questions to email@example.com
Preparations for the Democratic Republic of Congo’s General Elections scheduled for November 28th, 2011 are underway. Already, members of the opposition complain of numerous irregularities throughout the electoral process. The lack of political space for the opposition has led to the killing and imprisonment of opposition leaders and supporters. This is a clear sign that the elections’ outcome might be contested if these issues are not resolved. The opposition has consistently claimed that voter lists contain not only duplicate names but also people ineligible to vote, namely minors and foreigners. On August 19th, 2011 Radio Okapi reported that a minor found with a voter’s card was arrested in Katanga province, but electoral commission officials dismissed the case saying it was irrelevant at this point because voter enrollment is over.
Similarly, on May 5th, 2011, the Haut Lomami chapter of the major opposition party, Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), denounced massive enrollment of minors in Kamina and on June 17, 2011 Jacques Djoli, vice president of the electoral commission, acknowledged that minors were registered in several enrollment center. The report specifically mentioned center number 12010 in Manono.
To ensure transparency, the opposition has asked for unconditional access to voter lists from the National Bureau for Electoral Operations and the National Election Data Processing Center. They also ask for access to the 2006 and 2009 voter lists, a map of all 73,000 polling centers, their addresses and identification codes. These are the first steps toward ensuring free and fair elections.
The issue of enrolling foreigners to vote was brought up in 2006 and did not get resolved; it is likely to remain unresolved this time around. Civil society groups such as Association Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l’Homme/ African Association of Defenders of Human Rights (Asadho) recently called for the rejection of the candidacy of anyone with dual citizenship on the grounds that it is unconstitutional. There are many Congolese officials with dual citizenship who are also candidates in the election, contrary to the constitution, and they are surely registered to vote. Chapter 2, article 10 of the Congolese constitution states that “Congolese nationality is one and exclusive. It cannot be held concurrently with any other.” However, the electoral commission said that it will process the applications of those with legal proof of their citizenship.
The issue of foreign voter registration mainly targets the Congolese Rwandophone communities, specifically some in the Tutsi community who hold Rwandan citizenship earned after their successful involvement in the regime change in Rwanda in 1994. Also there are claims of new waves of immigration from Rwanda to Congo as part of the Rwandan strategic and economic policy in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In addition, there are Rwandan citizens of Hutu ethnic background who have blended into the Congolese population since the refugee wave into DRC in 1994. To resolve this case, it will take a functioning government committed to the rule of law and a political will to enact comprehensive immigration and citizenship laws.
The international community waits with anticipation for the elections’ results. The United States Ambassador to the DRC, Ambassador James F. Entwistle, addressed ways the Congolese can build capacity and break away from depending on the international community during a briefing organized by the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington DC on August 9, 2011. He argued that the international community should not give more money to finance DRC’s elections. Rather, they should let the Congolese work with what they have and build their own capacity for future elections. He equally opposes the call by the opposition to have the international community certify the elections’ results. Instead he suggests that Congolese political elite should agree on the modalities for the electoral commission to certify the results. Finally, he hopes that the loser will gracefully concede and hope to win in the next elections. This last point is important to maintain the country’s stability gained so far after more than a decade of war. One of DRC’s problems has been the lack of independence of institutions. There are reports of President Joseph Kabila’s attempt to influence the work of the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI). This is unfortunate, but not surprising. Such a move is a set back and a disservice to DRC’s democratic process and progress in general. The ongoing focus of ensuring the elections are not rigged has taken away the opposition’s platform to put forth their set of solutions for DRC’s pressing problems: insecurity, sovereignty, embezzlement of public funds, injustice, unemployment, and bad governance, to name a few.
Sadly, elections do not mean change to the Congolese people. They see government officials as lucky and corrupt, people who use their offices to prosper and feed their families off the backs of the governed. AFJN’s recent interviews with Congolese Diaspora reveal a deep sense of resentment and mistrust toward any person working in government. At a meeting in Washington DC in 2007, a Congolese woman widowed by the war, elicited cheers when she described Congolese leaders as “a bunch of bandits and thieves.” While this may seem a generalization, the Congolese audience pointed out that the crimes of leaders are not limited to corruption, but include killing, rape, money laundering and much more. Even worse, the victims know who they are, but have nowhere to turn for justice. This situation has become a culture because it is present in schools, hospitals, and legal offices, to name a few.
No matter who wins the elections, if the winner is not willing to make the needed changes to bring the DRC to order, it is all a waste of time and money. Thus, the Congolese people should reflect and act on these words from the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen from the Constitution of 1793: “When the government violates the rights of the people, insurrection is for the people and for each portion of the people the most sacred of rights and the most indispensable of duties.” The choice is either to wait for another time or follow in the footsteps of the most recent and successful examples of people’s power in Tunisia and Egypt.