Monday, November 28, 2011

DRC Election Round Up: Too Soon To Tell

Still better than the alternative  
[Azad Essa/Al Jazeera]
Day One, and the election seems to be falling in a gray zone between too mucked up to count and just good enough to scrape by, with an equal proportion of problems stemming from technical failures as from political manipulation. Headlines convey this ambivalence, with editors divided about whether to emphasize the election's success or its problems:

The New York Times: Millions Vote in Congo Despite Fears of Violence

The Associated Press: Violence, late ballots may mar critical Congo vote

MSNBC: 'Too much improvisation': Voting begins in war-torn Congo

CNN: Congolese vote in landmark election following weekend violence

Guardian:  Congo election marred by killings and attacks on polling stations

BBC: DR Congo votes amid delays and violence

Radio Okapi: RDC: la majorité salue le déroulement des élections, l’opposition condamne

Jeune Afrique: Élections en RDC : bilan d'une journée entre violences, fraudes présumées et retour au calme

Le MondeUn scrutin émaillé de violences dans certaines régions de RDC

On-the-ground observers share the ambivalence, but generally seem to feel the day went better than expected:

Melanie Gouby: "Despite gnl consensus tht elections wouldn't be fair, Congolese came en mass & showed real enthusiasm to cast their vote"

Her Sweet Anger: "sick of repetitive #drc2011 elections headlines #violence #blood #corruption #fear. i know situation not perfect but still be a bit creative"

TexasinAfrica: "All in all, it's going pretty well". (To be precise, she's not technically in Congo, but as good as)

CongoSiasa, however, is less sanguine: "I emphasize that this is a huge country and in other areas voting has been happening peacefully. Nonetheless, this violence and persistent accusations of fraud are very troubling."

So what happened today? So far, there has been only one report of electoral violence resulting in fatalities. Accounts differ on the details. Interior Minister Bikanga Kazadi  told the Associated Press that gunmen attacked polling stations in Lubumbashi, killing one unidentified person. The army was called in to quell the attack, the minister said, and killed four of the assailants. Reuters indicated that Congolese security forces had detained a dozen suspects after masked gunmen using automatic weapons attacked a polling station. It quoted Moise Katumbi, the governor of Katanga "Three people were killed, seven were arrested and five handed themselves over after being surrounded by the army."  A third account indicated that the gunmen had been preliminarily identified as a Mai Mai group seeking Katangan independence and that the incident took place near the Institut Njanja in Lubumbashi.

Several people died in campaign-related violence in Kinshasa over the weekend, but today in the capital most voting seems to have proceeded calmly, albeit not always smoothly. The most notable hiccup came when Etienne Tshisekedi, the primary opposition figure, was temporarily prevented from making his way to the polling station in Limete, the leafy neighborhood in Kinshasa where he has lived for decades. He later made his way without incident. Violence elsewhere has been sporadic but not deadly. In Kananga, in Kasai Orientale, Tshisekedi's stronghold, fifteen poll stations were set on fire, and protesters attacked other stations with rocks. Most of these cases stemmed from frustration when polling stations failed to open on time or turned voters away. Elsewhere in the country, notably in Mbuji Mayi and the Kivus, violence seems to have been a spontaneous reaction to rumors of ballot stuffing or other fraudulent activity.

It is hard to assess how accurate those rumors are,  since there are less than 1,000 election monitors for some 63,000 polling stations. Cindy McCain told AP that she and her electoral observation team came upon a ballot box already a third full when they arrived at the polling station at dawn, but later told Al Jazeera that she was "really hopeful. What we've seen has not been perfect progress but a really good beginning."

And al-Jazeera has footage allegedly demonstrating that many voting cards and ballots had been pre-marked in favor of Kabila.

There have been a lot of technical screw-ups: Polling stations not located where they were supposed to be. Stations not opening on time. People arriving at stations to find they're not on voting rolls. Ballots missing. Ballot boxes and uniforms missing. Rain disrupting transport and clogging traffic. Electricity outages forcing people to vote in the dark. Chaotic monitoring programs, with observers from the various campaigns  crowding out prospective voters. Long lines and waits. Parliamentary candidates numbered incorrectly on ballots. Inadequate provisions to deal with the many illiterate voters. At this writing, 9:30 EST, it is not yet clear whether CENI, the Congo's electoral commission, will call for a second day of voting to make up for the first day's mishaps.

None of this is particularly surprising.  In fact, given the generalized disorder and semi-controlled chaos that is DRC, many observers think the election's gone off about as well as one could have expected.

Up through the weekend, many observers didn't see how the country could resolve the massive logistical hurdles that remained and had called for a brief postponement in the election. In contrast to 2006, when the international community spent $400 million to organize Congo's election, it played only a small role in planning (or paying for) this one.

The election was generally seen as a foregone conclusion within Congo with most predicting that Joseph Kabila would win, one way or another. This may have discouraged participation rates, which appear below the 70 percent attained in 2006. (In the U.S., rates are only 50 percent.)

So what to conclude? On the one hand, there have been no allegations of systemic violence or intimidation. This isn't Nigeria 2007 or Zimbabwe 2008. On the other hand, neither Kenya 2007 nor Cote d'Ivoire 2010 experienced serious violence on election day itself.  It's the period immediately following the announcement of the results that is most worrisome. And on that count, the prognosis remains cloudy.

Best way to follow hour-to-hour events is on Twitter #drc2011 or #drcelections. Laura Seay, in particular, deserves a call-out for being all over the coverage on this election.

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