July 23, 2006
One Week ’til DR Congo’s First Elections
IRIN News has a background report on DR Congo’s elections coming up next Sunday. It is the first free election in the country since Patrice Lumumba was elected prime minister in 1960. After his murder the following year in 1961, Mobutu consolidated power quickly and installed a one-party system in the country. Mobutu was a key figure in the coup that overthrew Lumumba, who had appointed him previously as the chief of staff of the Congo army.
I’ve excerpted a couple of paragraphs of the IRIN News to provide some historical content and also a thumbnail of the present situation:
- The legacy of Mobutu’s 32-year Western-backed rule extends beyond endemic corruption; to offset potential political opposition his rule was absolute, with the 1974 constitution granting him authority over the executive, legislature and judiciary branches of government. Furthermore, he maintained a system of patronage while maintaining the loyalty of the police and army, all of which required money. By 1990, the country was US $14 billion in debt. With the end of the cold war, Mobutu was no longer of any use to the US in its fight against Soviet influence in Africa, and his lines of credit were cut off.
- The present incumbent, Joseph Kabila, 35, who took over from his father, Laurent-Desire Kabila, who was assassinated in January 2001, is the favourite to win the presidential vote, which is being contested by 33 candidates. Another 9,000 politicians are vying for 500 parliamentary seats. However, security remains a problem, despite the presence of the largest UN peacekeeping mission in the world, comprising 17,000 troops, which will be backed up by 2,000 EU forces over the election period. In addition, 5,000 national and 500 international observers will oversee the polls.
Ethan Zuckerman has a great post on My Heart’s in Accra on how the Western media attention on the Middle East eclipses what’s been happening in Africa for the past ten years:
“In total, it’s likely that, over the past decade, at least forty times as many people have died directly or indirectly from violent conflict in central Africa as have died in the Middle East.”
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch issued a press release on Thursday stating that human rights abuses have continued in Katanga as the election date grows nearer. Human rights activists have collected testimonies, photographs and video to document the abuses committed by government soldiers and local defense forces during three years of violence in central Katanga. Hundreds have been killed and more than 150,000 have fled their homes from the zone of military operations that local residents refer to as the triangle of death.
“The electoral period will be lengthy and characterized by uncertainty before a new government takes power. During this time, justice cannot wait. Authorities must start holding abusers accountable if they want to discourage others from using similarly abusive tactics now and in the future. If President Kabila and other government ministers currently standing for elections are serious about a commitment to justice, they should not appoint suspected war criminals to high military ranks and they must bring to justice their own soldiers accused of such crimes. A national army staffed by war criminals is unlikely to provide any security to its citizens whether during elections or after,” said Alison Des Forges, senior Africa adviser at Human Rights Watch.