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DRC Roundup: Elections, Mining Corruption, Peacekeepers & More

With July 30th elections fast approaching, the blogosphere's attention remains fixed on the Democratic Republic of the Congo's uncertain political future.

Congolese opposition bloggers continue their criticism of the elections and of a political transition process they see as unfair, while Western bloggers and expatriates in the Congo write about foreign media coverage of the DRC and an international peacekeeping force some say is wholly inadequate to the task of maintaining stability for the elections.

Photo: Tout au Bout de L'Autre Bout du Monde

Elections

Congolese opposition bloggers continue to question the integrity of the upcoming elections, and what prospects exist for a united and politically stable Congo if the process of forming the first post-war government is not fair, inclusive and transparent.

Philippe Lomboto Liondjo, writing for Anthony Katombe's blog, Prince du Fleuve Congo, thinks the situation is dire. Citing recent repressions of the opposition by the current government, Liondjo describes, a highly volatile situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo that is (Fr) “on the verge of exploding”:

Une fois encore, les événements de ces dernières semaines nous amènent à jeter un regard critique sur la Transition en cours en République Démocratique du Congo. Et le moins que l’on puisse dire est que les conclusions qui s’imposent suite à cette analyse sont de nature à renforcer l’image d’un désastre non seulement annoncé, mais annonciateur d’une plus grande catastrophe qui risque d’engloutir pour de bon cette pauvre nation qui a pourtant déjà connu bien des malheurs.

Once again, these last weeks’ events lead us to take a critical look at the Transition period underway in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The conclusion, to say the least, reinforces the image not only of looming disaster, but of an even greater catastrophe that risks engulfing this poor nation that has already suffered so many miseries.

En effet, après les dérives et autres erreurs stratégiques dans la conduite de la Transition en elle-même, après les questionnements- au demeurant toujours sans réponses claires- sur l’identité de la « haute hiérarchie » et que certains nomment la « congolité», après les arrestations et détentions arbitraires d’individus dont le seul tort est de poser des questions démocratiques et après…détournements scandaleux de deniers publics et autres méfaits sans noms, après de multiples mais fausses tentatives de coup d’état,… Et après tout cela nous sommes en droit de dire que c’est dans une atmosphère viciée et extrêmement volatile que le pays vit.

In effect, after abuses and strategic errors in the way the Transition itself has been handled, after the questions – and the dissembling, vague responses – on the identity of the “high hierarchy” which some name “Congolité ,” after the arbitrary arrests and detentions of individuals whose only wrong was asking democratic questions and after…scandalous embezzlements of public funds and other nameless wrongdoings, after many false coup attempts…After all this we are right to say that the present atmosphere in this country is extremely corrupt and volatile.

À cause de tous ces « mensonges d’état », le Congo est au bord de l’explosion, à l’instar d’un volcan réveillé par toute une série de tremblements de terre. Ces mensonges qui se répandent comme un venin mortel, comme un virus qui, lentement mais sûrement, gangrène tout le pays.

Because of all these “lies of the state,” the Congo is on the verge of exploding like a volcano awakened by a series of earthquakes. These lies spread like a lethal poison, a virus, a gangrene that slowly but surely overtakes the entire country.

Le Pangolin looks (Fr) more broadly at elections in Africa, including recent and upcoming contests in the Congo, Chad, Gabon and Benin, and suggests why in many cases, elections have failed to bring lasting peace, stable governments or a permanent resolution to outstanding political conflicts.

Car depuis le retour du multipartisme (même de façade) et la pression légitime des peuples à se choisir souverainement ses dirigeants, aisni d'un côté l’Afrique recense très peu d’expériences d’élections qui ne souffriraient d’aucune contestation de la part de l'opposition au pouvoir et de l'autre côté beaucoup d'élections font l’objet des contestations conduisant parfois à des violences ou des intimidations de la part de ceux qui détiennent le pouvoir.

Since the return of mutli-party democracy (or at least its appearance) and the legitimate pressure of the people to independently choose their leaders, Africa has had…very few experiences with elections that haven't been disputed by the opposition…many of these elections disputes have been driven by the violence or intimidation perpertrated by those in power.

Une autre caractéristique de ces élections c’est cette impression que l'issue est connue d’avance du fait même du peu de renouvellement qu’elles devraient normalement opérer. Cette situation dans beaucoup de cas conduisait l’opposition à jeter l’éponge pour ne pas porter sa caution à une honteuse mascarade, c’est le cas du Tchad récemment…

Another characteristic of elections [in Africa] is the impression that the outcome is known in advance such that they lack even the smallest uncertainty they should normaly have. In many cases, this situation drives the opposition to throw in the towel rather than participate in a shameful mascarade, as was recently the case in Chad…

Les tenants des élections comme mode de prise de pouvoir face à des dictatures ou des situations de guerre civile, pensent qu’elles ont la vertu d’éliminer la violence et d’installer la démocratie. On peut toujours évoquer le cas de l’Afrique du Sud et du Libéria, mais ces deux cas restent minoritaires, car on a vu que les dictateurs qui avaient été battus aux élections revenaient au pouvoir par la force comme au Congo ou par des élections (Didier Ratsiraka, à Madagascar, Mathieu Kérékou au Bénin). Et que ces élections ne permettaient pas de façon suffisante de prétendre que la démocratie fonctionnait et que le pays était « pacifié ».

The incumbents who see elections as a way of taking power from dictators or in situations of civil war think that they have the moral authority to eliminate violence and institute democracy. One can always point to the cases of South Africa and Liberia, but these two cases are still the minority. Dictatorships that have been defeated in elections have come back into power by force, as in the Congo, or by elections, (Didier Ratsiraka, in Madagascar, Mathieu Kérékou in Benin). These elections do not in anyway allow us to pretend that democracy works or that the country has “found peace.”

…la fonction assignée aux élections est celle de servir à légitimer un pouvoir obtenu par la force, face à la pression interne et aussi des institutions internationales qui cherchent à se couvrir de l’opinion publique de plus en plus importante dans les débats et choix électoraux se déroulant dans des systèmes réellement compétitifs des pays occidentaux.

…In the face of domestic pressure and pressure from international institutions that seek to wrap themselves in the cloak of public opinion (increasingly important in truly competitive systems, such as those found in Western countries), elections serve to legitimate power that has been taken by force.

Pro-Kabila March

Writing for the Le Blog du Congolais, which has been highly critical of President Kabila, Anthony Katombe describes a pro-Kabila march organized by the People's Party for Reconstruction and Development (PPRD) that took place on May 31st in Kinshasa and contrasts it with the May 24th protests organized by the UPDS, an opposition party:

Et pour cette marche, personne n’a reçu ni gaz lacrymogène dans les yeux, ni matraque dans les côtes. Et même le dispositif de sécurité n’a pas été aussi imposant que celui du 24 mai 2006, alors que l’affluence de ce jour était plus importante et en valait largement la peine. Aucun leader du PPRD n’a été ‘‘sécurisé’’ par le ministre PPRD de l’intérieur et aucun problème d’autorisation ne s’est posé

[At the PPRD March], no one's eyes were sprayed with tear gas, nor hit in the ribs with clubs. Even the security plan was not as imposing as [the one for the UDPS march], even though the crowds on this day were more important and more worth the effort. No PPRD leader was placed under “protection” by the PPRD's minister of the interior, and no permit issues were raised.

Mining Contracts & Corruption

Musengeshi Katata of Forum Realisance writes about the Lutundula Commission which one year ago examined mining contracts with foreign companies made by various rebel groups and the government. The report found that (Fr) “dozens of these contracts were illegal and of questionable value to the development of the country” and recommended that all contracts be annuled.

After the report was sent to the National Assembly, it took more than eight months for it to be distributed. Members of the Commission were also threatened or harassed. Katata blames the delay on (Fr) “pressure exerted by high-level politicians who were cited in the report and by the major political parties that wanted to bury it before the elections, originally scheduled for May.”

…ne soyons pas aveugle, toutes les causes de la guerre civile congolaise, des querelles armées et sanglantes de petits,…c´était justement ces contrats illégaux d´exploitations minières illégitimement contractées au détriment de l´intérêt du peuple congolais et de son développement. Les sociétés étrangères qui s´abaissèrent à ce bas et sournois marché sont aussi celles qui fournirent les armes avec lesquelles leurs marionnettes, pour justifier ou assurer leurs fallacieuses intentions, créèrent le désordre dans lequel il serait plus aisé d´asseoir, pensaient-ils, leurs opulentes traîtrises

…let's not be blind. All of the causes of the Congo's civil war, the armed feuds, the blood spilled by the young…were these illegal contracts that illegitimately exploited mineral resources to the detriment of the interests and the development of the Congolese people. The foreign companies that stooped so low as to engage in this underhanded market are also the ones that provided the arms with which their puppets, in order to justify or maintain their deceitful intentions, sowed disorder so that it would be easier to keep their ill-gotten wealth.

Peacekeepers

In the last DRC roundup, I wrote how Musengeshi Katata in Forum Réalisance thought that Germany's recent decision to send its own soldiers to augment the 17,000 strong, multinational peacekeeping force in the DRC represented “an encroachment of the Congo’s sovereignty” and wondered “if despite its intended purpose – to provide support for the election – it might not end up intimidating people.”

This week, Ali writing for The Salon, argued that the German force was more for show than anything else given that many of the troops would actually be stationed in Germany or Gabon. In a comment, Bill from Jewels in the Jungle, , goes even further to writing that “The entire EU Security Mission for these upcoming elections in the DRC is a shameful farce.”

Coverage of the Congo in Mainstream Western Media

Jewels in the Jungle has been closely watching media coverage of the DRC in major Western media outlets and has noticed a trend which suggests “the DR Congo is “in the house” of mainstream international TV news media in a very big way.” Jewels presents highlights of a CNN interview with DRC President Joseph Kabila in which Kabila said he was “shocked” to learn about the thousands of rape victims in eastern Congo. Time Magazine cover story “Congo: The Hidden Toll of the World's Deadliest War”

Electrical Theft

Kim Gjerstad writes about a boy he saw electrocuted while attempting to wire a nearby house. One reader questioned whether the photograph of the dead boy hanging from electrical wires should have been posted at all, and in response to Gjerstad's explanation that “electric theft [is] all too common in Congo,” another reader had this to say:

The sad part in your story is the word “THEFT” that described the poor boy. I call it “BRAVE”, there's nothing wrong about using courrage to get out of darkness, especially when you don't have a voice in society and the government don't care about the little people.

5 comments

  • It is really great to see this roundup at Global Voices on the important issues facing the people of the DR Congo and those of us from around the world who care about what is happening there.

    It should be noted that while many Congolese citizens remain pessimistic about the follow-on effects of the upcoming national elections, MONUC officials, CIAT officials, UN officials, and the handful of governments that are involved with the elections and development and security issues in the DRC are expressing a markedly upbeat view about the progress achieved over the past 3 years.

    Note that Kim Gjerstad is a 1.97 meter tall lanky Canadian male and not a woman. There is a great photo of him standing next to an indigenous Congolese tribesman about half his height (see Kim’s blog June 5th).

    Thanks so much for the translations of post excerpts from French language blogs to English, it is very much appreciated. Trés bon!

  • Dear Jennifer,
    I am deeply disapointed to read that the text I wrote and published on my blog (Prince du Fleuve)and titled “Mensonges d’Etat” (Lies of State) has been attributed to my very ggod friend Anthony Katombe. Should you kindly correct this.

    Many thanks, Philippe “The Prince” Lomboto Liondjo.

  • Thank you both for your comments.

    Philippe, I apologize for the authorship mistake – I must not have seen the byline on the bottom of the post, so thank you for making me aware of that.

    Black River Eagle, correction also noted and my apologies to Kim Gjerstad. With respect to your comment, I think you’re right – there are marked differences between how the mainstream media and how many bloggers see the upcoming elections, which is why I’m glad Global Voices engages in this kind of translation work. For more on this topic, see an interesting analysis of a recent Le Monde article by Congolese blogger Anthony Katombe (Partial translation is available here under “DR of Congo”).

  • I appreciate that you included the Salon in your round-up. I will try to be more consistent in writing articles on the elctions these upcoming days.

  • Dear Friend,

    We would like to invite you to our special coverage of Election in Democratic Republic of Congo

    Human Rights Watch has been documenting human rights abuses in Democratic Republic of Congo for number of years. Information can be found at http://www.hrw.org/doc?t=africa&c=congo

    We came across your blog while searching online for blogs covering Congo. We are sending this invitation to a small group of bloggers who we thought might want to use our content to highlight human rights issues concerning people in Congo. Please let us know if you would like us to send updates about our work on a regular basis. We would be glad to add your name to our list. We hope that you will excuse us for sending one unsolicited email.

    Thanking you in advance,
    Lisa Okun (afr_ik2@hrw.org)
    Human Rights Watch, Africa Division

    Human Rights Watch is an independent, nongovernmental organization, supported by contributions from private individuals and foundations worldwide. It accepts no government funds, directly or indirectly.

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