Free and Fair Elections?
Joseph Kabila, the founder of the PPRD (the People's Party for Reconstruction and Democracy), has overseen an interim administration established by the 2002 peace agreement. The Democratic Republic of the Congo's first post-conflict presidential elections are set to be held on July 30th after months of postponements. A number of opposition bloggers are voicing concerns about the integrity of these elections, citing what they see as the systematic surveillance and detention of certain members of the opposition parties, the subversion of election law, and interference in the election by foreign governments, namely Belgium.
Surveillance and Arrest of Opposition Candidates.
In his blog, Le Blog du Congolais, Anthony Katombe writes that several candidates for president are being surveilled and their homes surrounded by police, a practice described as (Fr) “Stalinist.” Valentin Mubake, president of the national council of the UDPS, has been placed under house arrest with his wife and children, and refused the right to attend mass.
Katombe, writing for the Prince du Fleuve de Congo, reports on the (Fr) “kidnapping” of Kutino Fernando, pastor of the Army of Victory Church and founder of “Save the Congo” by the police. Katombe doubts the veracity of claims made by Kimbembe Mazunga, governor of Kinshasa, that Kutino's sermons incited hatred and violence and that military equipment and weapons were found at Kurtino's church. Katombe notes that Kimbembe (Fr) “specified neither the type of arms [found] nor their quantity.”
Alleged Coup Attempt
32 foreign “mercenaries” working for Omega, a private security agency contracted by Doctor Oscar Kashala, a wealthy, US-based “self-made man” and candidate for president (Salon), were arrested in Kinshasa for allegedly plotting to overthrow Joseph Kabila's government. Those arrested – 12 South Africans, 10 Nigerias and 3 Americans – were said to be armed and recently arrived from Iraq.
Congo Girl reporting on the same story quotes a Roman Catholic priest as saying:
A Roman Catholic priest thinks the charge is laughable in a country that has over 16,000 UN troops, which will, incidentally, be augmented with another 1500 from the European Union. But some think that employment of 16 of these people…by a security company in Matadi and several others as interpreters for a mining company [was a] cover for their real objective
Katombe suggests that the alleged coup attempt, whose mission the government claims was to (Fr) “overthrow the country's political institutions and destablize the electoral process…for the benefit of a presidential candidate,” is being used by the government to justify its surveillance of opposition candidates.
Violations of Elections Law
Philippe Lomboto Liondjo at Prince du Fleuve Congo claims that among many other irregularities, two Congolese (one of them a member of the pro-government PPRD party, another of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC)) who have acquired Belgian citizenship are running for deputy positions. He explains that according to Articles 10 and 102 of the Constitution and Article 102 of the election law, Congolese nationality is 1) exclusive and cannot be held concurrently with any other nationality and 2) a requirement for running for elective office.
All of these actions by the government, characterized by many opposition bloggers as a systematic attempt to undermine the democratic process, leads Le Blog du Congolais to conclude:
La coïncidence, la fréquence et la rapidité avec lesquelles se produisent les actes de violence perpétrés par les forces de l’ordre constituent une grave escalade de la répression et donne aux observateurs, l’impression que le PPRD, faute d’un discours politique cohérent et en l’absence d’un bilan social défendable, à opté pour le maintien d’un climat de terreur maximale qui rappelle les temps du règne de Mobutu de très triste mémoire.
Criticism of Foreign Governments’ Role in the Coming Elections
Louis Michel: The Real Leader of the DRC?
A number of opposition bloggers have strongly criticized what they see as Belgium's interference in the DRC's internal affairs and its support of the ruling government. They are particularly critical of Louis Michel, a Belgian politican who is currently the European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid.
Katombe, who notes Michel is himself a descendent of Leopold II, architect of Belgian colonization of the Congo writes:
Dans la rue, à Kinshasa, lorsqu’il est posé aux congolais la question de savoir qui dirige le pays, univoque, la réponse tombe : ‘‘Louis Michel’’. Comment s’en étonner lorsque l’arrière petit-fils de Léopold II de très triste mémoire se prononce à chaque étape du processus et réussit toujours à faire prévaloir ses thèses?
Le rénouveau congolais posts an open letter from Banyingela Kasonga, a candidate for president of the APE party, and addressed to top officials in the Belgian government that denounces an (Fr) “orchestrated campaign” by certain Belgian political figures, led by Louis Michel, and with the support of the French language press, to support Kabila's candidacy for reelection.
Two thousand (Fr) “armed European missionaries” are being deployed for the presidential election, Musengeshi Katata reports in his blog, Forum Réalisance. This is in addition to the 17,000 foreign soldiers of Chinese, Nepalese, Pakistani and Senegalese origin that are already stationed throughout the DRC. Katata sees this force as an encroachment of the Congo's sovereignty, and wonders if despite intention its intended purpose – to provide support for the election – might not end up intimidating people.
The Congo's Mineral Wealth
In the same post, Katata also wonders what legitimacy the Germans have to come to the Congo to “play the role of defenders of liberty and human rights” when in their own country, racially-motivated crime and neo-nazism is on the rise. Their motive? The maintenance of neocolonial hegemony:
La conclusion est alors toute simple : ils veulent défendre leur mainmise sur les matières premières dont le Congo regorge. Rien de plus. Ils veulent garder le droit de porter des diamants des congolais en les achetant à vil prix pendant que les congolais eux-mêmes mourraient de faim. Ils veulent jouir du cuivre, du cobalt, de l´or, du coltan…et bien d´autres encore. Le sort des congolais leur importait peu, sinon, pourquoi n´acceptaient-ils pas un partenariat équidistant et réciproque ? Pourquoi se contentaient-ils de fermer leurs frontières, de repousser les immigrants désespérés tout en empêchant sournoisement l´économie africaine de se développer ; c´est à dire de donner du travail et des revenus aux leurs?
Also on the topic of minerals, Le Prince du Fleuve Congo reposts and open letter from Robert Crem, former head of Gecamine, a state-owned mining company which is alarmed by the sudden sale of 300 billion dollars in mineral reserves by the state, especially given that the Congo’ s production of minerals has (Fr) “almost fallen to zero.” Given what it will take to rebuild the Congolese economy, Crem calls the government's descision:
la plus grande escroquerie des temps modernes, engendrant un génocide permanent pour les prochaines décennies
What's At Stake
These opposition bloggers all stress that the future of the Congolese people hinges on the upcoming elections. Philippe Lomboto Liondjo at Prince du Fleuve Congo writes:
…ces premières élections sont bien trop importantes pour l'avenir de notre pays et, donc, nous ne pouvons pas accepter qu'elles soient baclées aussi grossièrement, aussi outrageusement imparfaites et au final, totalement dénuées de la moindre parcelle de crédibilité.
Diaspora: Protests Against Louis Michel and the Treatment of Undocumented Congolese in Beligum
UDPS Liege, the blog of the Liege, Belgium branch of the UDPS, a major DRC opposition party, and Le Renouveau Congolais write about demonstrations held last week in Liege to protest Belgian immigration policies and the explusion of Congolese migrants of Belgium in collaboration with the Congolese government, as well as Louis Michel and Belgian support for what one commenter calls the (Fr) “democratic farce” at play in the Congo. A large demostration is also planned in Brussels for June 30th – election day.
And Just For Fun
Kim Gjerstad, a Candadian “Ex-UN Worker now working to save trees and animals” in the Congo, shares some of his basic observations of Congolese culture, including pics and “how to eat” instructions for foufou, a staple dish found throughout Africa that is usually made of cassava, and the best way to greet a stranger on the streets of Kinshasa (completely with an animated photograph): “raise your eyebrows quickly. Keep it Cool.”
Delving into the Congolese Blogosphere
I wrote my first post on the DRC for Global Voices, and I must say some of the most prolific bloggers I’ve ever encountered call the Congo home. Anthony Katombe thinks there are two reasons for this: first, he who