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Eastern Congolese Gear Up for Election

  • Heather Murdock

People walk under a giant poster showing Democratic Republic of the Congo 's President and candidate for a second term Joseph Kabila, in Kinshasa, November 7, 2011.

People walk under a giant poster showing Democratic Republic of the Congo 's President and candidate for a second term Joseph Kabila, in Kinshasa, November 7, 2011.

The eastern provinces are some of the most volatile parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and have been plagued by war and humanitarian crisis for decades. This week, as they gear up to vote in Congo's second election since the end of a civil war, some voters are jubilant, while others fear - and threaten - that these elections will not be peaceful.

In the final days of campaigning, trucks packed with dancers and bullhorns play music and crisscross the North Kivu provincial capital, Goma. Campaign posters occupy every available space. There are 11 contenders for the DRC's presidential seat and about 1,800 candidates running for parliament.

With no pollsters here, everyone is certain their candidate will win. But no one is certain the elections will come off on time, peacefully or fairly.

In a crowd of like-minded citizens, Deborah Musafari says she supports Vital Kamerhe, one of the top three contenders for president. But she fears that if he wins there will be renewed violence. "We fear the elections won’t be peaceful because some people say if their candidate doesn’t win they will go back to fighting in the bush. We don’t want another rebellion," she said. "We know that Kamerhe has won -- voting is just a formality."

This crowd says the only way current President Joseph Kabila can win is if the elections are rigged. They say if that happens, they plan to take to the streets.

But local ruling party leaders say they are optimistic about Monday’s polls, saying they are preparing for a clean election. Cyrille Muhongya leads President Kabila's campaign in North Kivu. He says the president, the only elected head of state in the DRC in more than 40 years, will surely win.

"It is him who is engaging in the process of national reconstruction because the country was at war for a long time," Muhongya noted. "Our country once had ethnic wars, and many other battles."

But opponents say Kabila has had his chance. They say he promised easterners development, humanitarian aid and peace. But on the dusty streets of Goma, it is clear that there is still desperate need of all three.

Christian Badose is candidate number 100 of about the 1,800 running for parliament. He supports Etienne Tshisekedi, who is likely Mr. Kabila’s most formidable opponent. He says he doubts the electoral commission has the ability to hold credible, transparent elections.

"The people working for the electoral commission are the same as those in 2006 and they didn’t prove they had the capacity to hold neutral elections. This is why we don’t think the elections will be transparent," Badose said.

Hopes and tensions are high as campaigns wind down, and commissioners prepare for Monday’s contest.

And although some observers say the preparations have been chaotic, and the logistics are not in place for a vote, local residents say it is their turn to make their voices heard.

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