While a protest by religious leaders against last year’s botched presidential and legislative elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been quickly suppressed, U.S-based analysts and activists fear for the country’s future.
The Carter Center issued a statement deploring the suppression of a Thursday march in the Democratic Republic of Congo capital Kinshasa.
Priests and nuns were arrested by tear-gas wielding police, while several radio stations were reported shut down.
The march had been planned to reject results from last year’s vote, which protest organizers said in no way reflected reality or justice.
Mvemba Dizolele from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies says unfortunately international powers brushed off major problems in the run-up to the still controversial 2011 vote. These included a rule change making it a one-round contest and faulty voter rolls.
“A lot of these issues were issues that we all had flagged before that come to now bite us. So at this moment, we have a crisis where the election results were proclaimed but you have (Mr.) Kabila claiming to be the winner, you also have (Mr.) Tshisekedi claiming to be the winner,” Dizolele said.
Congo’s electoral commission declared the incumbent President Kabila the winner with nearly 49 percent of the vote to Mr. Tshisekedi’s 32 percent.
But election observers reported gross violations from ballot stuffing and suspiciously high registration in pro-Kabila areas to polling stations being burned down and security forces tying people up and voting in their place in pro-Tshisekedi areas.
In the legislative elections, more than 300 results from a new 500-seat assembly are being contested in court.
Pro-Kabila parties have been credited with winning 341 seats to 42 for Mr. Tshisekedi’s party.
Congo expert Jason Stearns from Yale University says a best case scenario of having a revote is being dismissed.
“If you talk to diplomats, if you talk to people in Kinshasa, they look at you as if you are in la-la land if you start talking like that,” Stearns said.
But Tony Gambino from the U.S.-based advocacy group Eastern Congo Initiative says if the fraudulent election results stand, he sees many possible doomsday scenarios.
“Congo could descend into a deeper humanitarian disaster, become unstable once again affecting all of Central Africa and beyond. Surely, we do not want to see this. That is what is at stake,” Gambino said.
Gambino also points out that the International Monetary Fund and World Bank contribute about half of Congo’s budget.
“Anyone who suggests that the West has no influence, that we cannot do anything, they are just blowing smoke. It is wrong,” Gambino said.
Gambino is calling for what he calls financial consequences from international banks and donors.
He also says upcoming provincial elections should be delayed so these can be better prepared.
The United States is Congo’s largest donor country, having contributed over $900 million over the past year.
This week, a U.S. government statement said it was still closely monitoring the electoral process and that it was deeply concerned about multiple allegations of human rights abuses by Congolese security forces.