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Congo (Kinshasa): Election Background Analysis

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Nov 29, 2011 (111129)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"Widespread discontent with the current regime and the longing for radical change do explain the great popularity of Etienne Tshisekedi, leader of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), DRC's oldest opposition party, established in 1982. ... [His] message has been warmly received because it reflects the deepest aspirations of the majority of Congolese. Faced with this formidable challenge, the Kabila regime is doing its best to win the election through violence and intimidation." - Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja

This AfricaFocus Bulletin has background analyses by Congolese scholars Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja and Mvemba Dizolele, as well as a press release and excerpts from a pre-election UN report on campaign violence, predominantly by officials and supporters of the existing government.

For another longer commentary by Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, see / direct URL:

For an additional commentary by Mvemba Dizolele, see / direct URL:, as well as his blog

Jason Stearns, on his blog Congo Siasa (, has a very detailed province-by-province analysis, which he admits is "very rough," of the prospects for the presidential vote, which he says will be very close. (direct URL: Stearns also has an extensive set of links to other election sources (

Additional links to other local sources are in this posting by Tom Devriendt

Other sites for updated news and analysis include


Radio Okapi

Le Carnet de Colette Braeckmann

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on the Democratic Repuglic of the Congo, see

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Congo's violent election countdown reflects rejection of regime

Attacks on opponents of President Joseph Kabila have not dented support for his main rival, Etienne Tshisekedi

Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja

November 22, 2011 / direct URL:

[Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja is professor of African Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and author, among other works, of The Congo: From Leopold to Kabila: A People's History (]

In less than a week, on 28 November, millions of Congolese are set to go to the polls to elect the country's president for the next five years. Of the dozen candidates in the running, only two have the ability to wage a credible campaign all over the country: Joseph Kabila, for the obvious reason that he is the incumbent with all the resources of the state at his disposal, and Etienne Tshisekedi, because of his standing as the foremost leader of the Congolese democracy movement since 1980.

Were the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) a land accustomed to free and fair elections, media pundits would have already designated the probable winner. But given the burden of history, in which a succession of self-proclaimed leaders have run the country for more than 100 years, there is no assurance the electoral results will necessarily reflect the will of the people. From King Leopold's Congo Free State, through Mobutu Sese Seko's Zaire to the DRC of Laurent and Joseph Kabila, this land has often been called a "geological scandal" because of its extraordinary natural wealth. However, the real scandal of Congo is that the wealth of its natural resources has never been used to benefit the mass of the people. Instead, it has gone to enrich the country's rulers and their business and political partners at home and abroad. In the 2011 Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the DRC is ranked bottom of 187 nations surveyed in terms of the Human Development Index, a measure of wellbeing on the basis of life expectancy, personal income, health and education.

In addition to this disastrous record on economic and social development, the DRC is a "failed state" with respect to safety and security, particularly in eastern areas, where a succession of armies and militia groups, both foreign and national, have plundered the country, subjected women and girls to horrific sexual violence, and used forced and child labour to amass wealth through the illegal exploitation of mineral and other resources. Joseph Kabila, who was elected in 2006, but has been in power since January 2001, faces a Herculean task in both explaining his inability to govern effectively and convincing the electorate to give him another five-year term.

Widespread discontent with the current regime and the longing for radical change do explain the great popularity of Etienne Tshisekedi, leader of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), DRC's oldest opposition party, established in 1982. At 79, Tshisekedi is displaying unusual physical endurance as he travels around the country to campaign for economic reconstruction, the establishment of the rule of law and the moralisation of politics through responsible leadership and the fight against corruption. This message has been warmly received because it reflects the deepest aspirations of the majority of Congolese.

Faced with this formidable challenge, the Kabila regime is doing its best to win the election through violence and intimidation. Opposition candidates have been harassed to reduce their freedom of movement and their ability to campaign freely. Their posters have been destroyed and removed from public places, not only by the youth wing of Kabila's party, the People's Party for Reconstruction and Development (PPRD), but by the national police. Even Tshisekedi himself was grounded for more than two weeks in South Africa, after the planes he had chartered for his campaign were denied permission to land in DRC by the civil aviation authority.

Unfortunately, confrontations between PPRD and UDPS supporters have led to deaths and serious injuries, as the UDPS has resolved to resist officially sanctioned violence and illegal acts, rather than turning the other cheek in the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. It should be pointed out that since the sovereign national conference in 1992, Congolese citizens have had a right - and an obligation - to resist unconstitutional rule and illegal acts by state authorities.

Criticism of UDPS policy in foreign media is widely perceived in Congo as another instance of double standards by the international community, which has remained largely silent in the face of gross human rights violations by the Kabila regime, including the assassination of human rights activist Floribert Chebeya in 2010, and of journalists such as Bapuwa Muamba in 2006. Jean-Bosco Ntanganda, for whom an arrest warrant has been issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC), is a senior officer in Kabila's army, while Gabriel Kyungu wa Kumwanza, architect of the ethnic cleansing against Kasaians in Katanga in 1992-94 and current master of hate speech, is a Kabila ally who serves as president of the Katanga provincial assembly. The international community seems more concerned with statements by Tshisekedi affirming the constitutional right of Congolese citizens to self-defence than with going after real criminals.

Whatever the results that are eventually announced by the electoral commission following the elections, the current campaign is already a victory for the forces of change. It has demonstrated the overwhelming rejection of the current regime, which is a continuation of what Laurent Kabila himself once described as "a conglomerate of opportunists and adventurers". The president, his entourage, the cabinet and other senior state officials have done nothing but enrich themselves to the detriment of ordinary Congolese men, women and children. Their defeat, if it takes place, will open a new and glorious chapter for a democratic and prosperous Congo for which Patrice Lumumba died 50 years ago.

DRC: Etienne Tshisekedi Decoded

"There is a Congolese logic that is not Cartesian." Mobutu Sese Seko

Mvemba Dizolele

November 12, 2011

[Mvemba Phezo Dizolele is a writer, foreign policy analyst and independent journalist. Dizolele is the Peter J. Duignan Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Stanford University Hoover Institution. He is the author of a forthcoming biography: Mobutu: the Rise and Fall of the Leopard King (Random House UK).]

Beside Patrice Lumumba, no Congolese leader has been as vilified by the international community as UDPS' Etienne Tshisekedi. Western policymakers and reporters often deem him irrational, intransigent, moody and uncooperative. Like Lumumba before him, Tshisekedi is also Congo's most misunderstood politician.
This became clear last week when, speaking from South Africa via teleconference to a group of women members of his party in Kinshasa, Tshisekedi derided President Joseph Kabila and declared himself head of state. He also called on his partisans to break jails and free his followers who had been arrested over the past several weeks, if the government did not release them within 48 hours. The talk, which was originally intended for his supporters only, was later broadcast by Radio Lisanga TV, a station sympathetic to UDPS.

The comments set off a chain reaction. The government immediately cut off Lisanga's signal. The minister of information took to the airwaves, called Tshisekedi irresponsible and compared his statements to high treason. Most importantly, the international community strongly condemned the declarations, with the European Union, France, Belgium, the United States and the United Nations issuing strong statements against election-related violence, and urged all parties to behave appropriately.

But what does it mean to behave appropriately in this case? Viewed from a western perspective, Tshisekedi's comments seem indeed irresponsible. But the man and his behavior must be analyzed within DRC's electoral context for their real value.
For the past several weeks, opposition parties, with UDPS in the lead, have complained about massive frauds and lack of transparency in the electoral process. They allege that the CENI (Electoral Commission) enrolled minors, police officers and servicemen, all of whom are not allowed to vote. In total, they allege that nearly 2 million people were enrolled illegally in areas favorable to President Kabila.

Only an independent audit of the registry could determine whether or not these allegations are founded. But the CENI has continuously rejected UDPS' call for a transparent, independent audit of voter lists. The opposition further challenges the gerrymandering of districts based on the current enrollment of 32 million voters as Kinshasa, a city of nearly 10 million people, lost 7 parliamentary seats while Katanga and Equateur provinces have increased their representations. The explanations provided by the CENI, while possible, have not been convincing, since the registry remains off limit to opposition parties.

Further poisoning the climate, there is no adequate forum for a dialogue between the CENI and the opposition, effectively denying the two sides a constructive platform to communicate. As a result, UDPS partisans have staged weekly street protests in Kinshasa to demand that the integrity of the electoral process be re-instated. These protests have invariably been repressed by the police and members of the opposition are regularly intimidated by security services. A few UDPS partisans have been killed and 35 of them have been arrested.

The diplomatic corps in Kinshasa, and the international community at-large, has been quick to praise the CENI for enrolling 32 million voters, a feat worth noting in light of enormous logistical challenges, as well as financial and time constraints. But voter enrollment is only the first step of an electoral process, not the end. These same international actors, however, have remained silent over allegations of massive fraud and irregularities in the electoral process. They have all but ignored the violence and abuses that have been inflicted on opposition supporters by state agents.

Since the campaign started on October 28, the RTNC (state radio and television network) has yet to grant the opposition equal access to its programs. Violent clashes between partisans of the presidential majority and opposition supporters have become too common. In Kinshasa, for instance, the presidential majority has freely mounted billboards and posters of President Kabila. The opposition, however, has not been afforded the same right. Recently, UDPS partisans were beaten when they placed Tshisekedi's posters at Rond-Pont Victoire, a prominent and popular city square. The posters were reportedly destroyed by plainclothed police officers.

Apparently, these and other similar incidents of violence perpetrated by security forces and groups affiliated with the presidential majority did not warrant a strong condemnation by the international community. This silence seems to have emboldened the security services to carry out this intimidation campaign.

Incidentally, the United Nations in Congo refused to release its report on election-related violence, which came out this week, until matters got out of control and its own staffers threatened to leak the report to the media.

It took Tshisekedi's bold statements made in a foreign country for the international community to react so strongly against election-related violence. Western diplomats have ignored the opposition grievances, insisting that the electoral process was going well, even as Congolese and foreign analysts said otherwise.

If the process were good and transparent as these diplomats have argued, why would Tshisekedi's declaring himself head of state in a foreign country matter? It should be laughable, since DRC president would be chosen through transparent and credible polls, not via video conference. If justice were served in the case of jailed UDPS partisans, why would Tshisekedi's ultimatum to the Congolese police to release them within 48 hours upset the government and the international community?

To-date, the African Union has expressed little interest in DRC's problems. But as soon as Tshisekedi made his comments, AU chairman Jean Ping rushed to Kinshasa to try and appease the different parties in what appears to be an escalation in electoral psychological warfare.

The international media has all but ignored Tshisekedi throughout this process, until he issued this ultimatum. Even Yahoo News now has an article on Tshisekedi.

This is not the international community's finest hour in Congo. Whether or not diplomats like Tshisekedi, he is an icon to the Congolese. No Congolese leader has done and sacrificed more for the emergence of democracy in DRC than this man, whom they affectionately call Ya Tshitshi. His bad relationship with the international community over the last decade has further radicalized him. But for a segment of the population, he is the man who best articulates their aspirations and dreams.

Tshisekedi has built a loyal and committed base over 30 years. His followers revere him and see him as a messiah, and would not hesitate to do as he says. As such, he may just be the most powerful man in this race. He has no money, no state machinery, no militia, and few friends in the diplomatic community. But he has nothing to lose, but the Congolese people and a legacy to protect.

Congo will not have peaceful elections if the international community continues to act irresponsibly and ignore the grievances of the opposition. Tshisekedi may not be DRC's most charming politician, but he is one of the few who speak to the people's frustrations. As hard and uncomfortable as it may be for Western diplomats and the Congolese government, now is the time to constructively engage Tshisekedi and the other opposition parties.

UN report sounds alarm over pre-election rights abuses in DR Congo

Full report available at:

9 November 2011 - A new United Nations report details numerous human rights violations during the pre-electoral period in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and warns that such incidents could threaten the democratic process and result in post-electoral violence.

The presidential and parliamentary polls are slated for 28 November - only the second time since its independence in 1960 that DRC will be holding democratic elections.

The joint report issued today by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN peacekeeping mission in DRC (MONUSCO), documents 188 violations apparently linked to the electoral process that occurred between 1 November 2010 and 30 September this year.

"I am sure the Congolese people share my hope for peaceful, free and fair elections and a smooth exercise of their fundamental right to vote," said High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.

"The kind of intimidation, threats, incitement, arbitrary arrests and violence that we have documented is unacceptable and has a chilling effect on voters," she said.

"The Government and leaders of political parties must make it clear that there is to be zero tolerance against any such actions which seriously limit the exercise of the right to vote."

The violations most frequently infringed individuals' freedom of expression, the right to physical integrity and the right to liberty and security of the person, as well as the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, according to a news release on the report. There have also been instances of violence and disturbance of public order committed by supporters of political parties.

While the report is not an exhaustive account of human rights violations and acts of violence perpetrated, violations documented include incidents such as death threats against human rights defenders for holding a press conference in which they denounced reforms, and the beating or arrests of civilians for merely wearing the T-shirts of opposition parties.

Among other violations were repeated summons to the National Intelligence Agency, the reported beating of a civilian for asking an "unpatriotic" question and the arrest and illtreatment of four individuals for discussing politics in a barbershop.

Most of the violations committed directly involved elements of the Congolese National Police, or of the National Intelligence Services.

The situation in the country's east is of particular concern, the report notes, adding that political parties have reportedly been targeted and their members detained, ill-treated and threatened.

The report stresses that freedom of expression is essential during an electoral period, as people can only effectively exercise their right to vote if they can make informed decisions.

"Taking into account the violent events following the 2006 poll, the 2011 elections will constitute an important challenge for human rights, security and the consolidation of democracy in the country," it adds.

The report urges the Congolese Government to intensify cooperation with civil society, to issue public messages calling for state agents - particularly members of the security forces - to promote and respect human rights, and to fight impunity of state agents who are perpetrators of human rights violations.

It also urges political parties to issue public statements promoting peaceful participation in the electoral process and calling on supporters, particularly the youth, to refrain from violence and to respect national laws and the public order.

The international community is called on to step up its support to the Government, civil society and other stakeholders in their efforts to train security forces and judicial officers, and to promote free and fair elections and monitoring of such elections.

Yesterday the Security Council reiterated its call for credible and peaceful elections in DRC, stressing that the Government bore the primary responsibility for ensuring free and fair polls.

It also reiterated its concern over reports of electionrelated violence and urged all parties to campaign peacefully, in a press statement following a briefing from the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for DRC and head of MONUSCO, Roger Meece.

Excerpts from Report: Summary

Elections for the Presidency and the National Assembly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are due to take place on 28 November 2011and those for the Provincial Assemblies in 2012. This report documents violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as acts of violence perpetrated between November 2010 and September 2011 in the context of the electoral process.

The United Nations Security Council, in its Resolution 1991 of 28 June 2011, urges the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo as well as all relevant parties to "ensure an environment conducive to a free, fair, credible, inclusive, transparent, peaceful, and timely electoral process, which includes freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, equitable access to media including State media, safety for all candidates journalists, human rights defenders and actors from the civil society including women". In the same resolution, the Security Council further "decides that MONUSCO shall support the organization and conduct of elections [inter alia] by monitoring, reporting, and following-up on human rights violations in the context of the elections."

During the period under review, the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) noted an increase in political activities as well as a concerning number of human rights violations and acts of violence targeting political party members, journalists and human rights defenders. In spite of constitutional guarantees, those seeking to express their opinions and their fundamental freedoms of assembly and association were often subjected to abuse by State agents and saw their right to physical integrity violated. Between 1 November 2010 and 30 September 2011, the UNJHRO documented 188 cases of human rights violations, varying in severity, apparently linked with the electoral process. The situation in the East of the country is of particular concern, as political parties have reportedly been targeted and many of their members have been deprived of their liberty or subjected to ill-treatment and threats. At the same time, some political parties have not imposed sufficient restraint upon their followers, which has contributed to violent acts and the disturbance of public order during political demonstrations.

This report acknowledges progress made in some areas of consolidation of democracy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and improvement, especially in recent months, in the behavior of some police units tasked with maintaining order during political demonstrations. Nevertheless, most of the violations noted in the report targeted members or supporters of opposition parties, in particular the Union pour la démocratie et le progrès social (UDPS) and the Union pour la nation congolaise (UNC). Journalists were also harassed or arrested on numerous occasions, most frequently by State intelligence and security actors, apparently for carrying out their functions.

The report also notes worrying trends of manipulation of the State's police, intelligence and justice sectors by political actors. The report expresses serious concern regarding the current situation and concludes that the continued repression of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the pre-electoral period may increase the likelihood of individuals and political parties resorting to violent means, endanger the democratic process and lead to post-electoral violence.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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