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December 07, 2011

Congo Anticipates Election Result Mayhem

by Heather Murdock

In the final hours before the Congolese election results are supposed to be released, security forces, aid workers and local people are on high alert. Supporters of leading opposition figure Etienne Tshisekedi say if incumbent president Joseph Kabila wins - as expected - they plan to take to the streets.  

For some, the 48-hour wait for election results was a relief. Kapaya, a mechanic who never makes more than $12 a day to feed his family of four, says tempers have cooled in the past couple of days, and people have gotten used to the idea that President Joseph Kabila will take another five year term - even if they don’t like it.

Kapaya says the coming days may not bring bloodshed as many fear, but instability of the situation will hurt everyone one way or another.

He says security in Congo is already a shaky thing - and adding a post-election uproar will scare off businesses. Already one of the poorest countries in the world, he says more than 70 percent of the people in Congo are unemployed - others say it’s more like 80 or 90 percent.

But at opposition campaign offices, it is clear that not all tempers have cooled. Issa Roger is a member of the party of Etienne Tshisekedi. He says the vote was rigged and the people were robbed. And while other party members say they will wait for orders from above, Roger says the people will protest if Kabila re-assumes power.

He compares Congo to other countries discontented with leadership, saying like in Egypt and Tunisia, the people will protest, and keep protesting until the president steps down.  They expect government forces to fight back, he says, and they are ready to die in battle.

But not everyone in this eastern town is against the president. Ruling party supporters say the current president may not have delivered on all his promises but things are better than they used to be.

Cyrille Muhongya leads the ruling party’s local campaign in North Kivu. He says after a decade of extreme violence, conflict in the Congolese countryside has simmered since 2008, when Mr. Kabila brokered a power-sharing agreement that- at least partially- has integrated many former rebel groups into the regular army.

He says Mr. Kabila is the man of peace who needs another five years to implement the economic, educational and healthcare developments he promised in 2006 - Congo’s first elections in 40 years.

But on a rocky side street, locals say they are bitter about the promises of 2006 and only want change. This man says he doesn’t want to say his name, because he expects a security breakdown in the coming days. Still, he says, he wants to speak out.

He says he hopes the president will step down. He says for five years he has been waiting for Mr. Kabila to do something, and nothing has happened at all.

And while all are anxious about the days to come, aid workers here in Goma say violence could be focused in the capital, Kinshasa. Human Rights Watch says at least 18 people were killed and 100 were wounded in the pre-election fights. Doctors without Borders (Medicins Sans Frontiers) Head of Missions in North Kivu Christine Sarah Buesser says the medical organization is preparing for medical emergencies nationwide.

"Right now we are very much concerned about Kinshasa, so also there we have a team that is ready to respond to an increase in violence," said Buesser. "And we do think probably the west right now could be potentially more violent than the east but I said before, in Eastern DRC violence is still on-going."

Opposition supporters say they will wait until daylight before protests begin. They say they don’t yet no where, when or how many people - but, they say, their protest will be big.