Shadary, a hardliner, is being accused along with other thirteen officials of delaying the Congo elections and brutally suppressing anti-government protests
At 2am a fire ripped through an electoral commission building in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Thursday December 13, 10 days before the country’s presidential election that have been foreshadowed by violence. The blaze reportedly destroyed thousands of voting machines and ballot boxes that were to be used in the elections.
The government said the police guarding the warehouse had been arrested and that preparations for the vote, which would mark the country’s first peaceful transfer of power, would go ahead as voting machines from elsewhere in the country would be recalled to be used in Kinshasa. The blaze came after three people were reportedly killed in clashes with police and armed youths on drugs (who were said to be dressed in the country’s ruling party clothing) on the sidelines of an opposition rally in eastern DRC.
The Congo is in the throes of a major campaign in advance of the December 23 election to choose a successor to President Joseph Kabila, who has ruled the Central African Country since 2001. The nation has never known a peaceful transition of power since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960.
CENI, the National Independent Electoral Commission of the country, has been under fire with accusations of working closely with the government in preparation to use the newly introduced voting machines to rig the presidential election in favour of Emmanuel Shadary, Kabila’s hand-picked successor and former interior minister contesting on the platform of the ruling People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD).
The South Korean made electronic voting machines were reportedly bought at a cost of $160m from technology company, Miru systems and were supported by CENI as a means to secure ballot casting. But the opposition believe that the machines are a front to achieve the exact opposite: to fix the vote through hacking. In fact the voting machines have become the symbol of the lack of trust at all levels between the CENI and the opposition, civil society and a large part of the International community.
Observers of the Congo Politics believe that a move to a paper ballot at this late stage would further delay the election and its adoption would carry no greater assurance of security, as was evidenced in the 2011 elections. Then Kabila narrowly won over the late opposition leader, Etienne Tshisekedi, which led to post-election unrest amid accusations of vote manipulation and fraud.
Others worry whether CENI has the capacity to guarantee the machines will work throughout the Congo’s sprawling and disjointed landmass, especially when the government has rejected offers of election funding from abroad, and the U.N. Mission in Congo offer of the use of its helicopters and airplanes to ferry the voting machines to polling stations nationwide.
Kinshasa is drumming hostility and aversion wards most outside influence particularly Western actors, who they believe are after the rich mineral resources of the Congo through an opposition candidate they want to foist on the Congolese without taking into account local traditions and the specific nature of African politics. This, the government believes represent a domineering colonial mindset of a so called civilized world towards the dark continent.
Therefore the Congo government has gone ahead in its resolve to finance the electoral process by reportedly purchasing seven new helicopters, seven planes, among them aircraft made by Boeing and Antonov, 130 trucks and 195 Cross-country vehicles. It has indicated that China and India will assist and that China will supply electoral hardware while India will play a major role in terms of energy, including solar panels. President Kabila has rejected appointment by the European Union, EU, of Special envoys to monitor the presidential election on the grounds that the Union is in support of the opposition.
In fact the country has formally accused the EU of interference in its upcoming presidential election by refusing not only in lifting sanctions against Kabila’s hand-picked candidate but by renewing it according to the wishes of the opposition.
The opposition had asked the EU to send a clear signal that it will not endorse a fraudulent process, and that there will be consequences for any further repression and abuse by the Congolese government.
Kabila, who hopes to return to power in 2023 having got the Congo National Parliament to pass a law granting immunity to former presidents while in office, calls the sanctions against his candidate an “illegal violation of his country’s sovereignty”. Shadary, 57, a hardliner, is being accused along with other thirteen officials of delaying the Congo elections and brutally suppressing anti-government protest between December 2016– 2018 by the E.U. The sanction comprises visas denial and frozen assets.
The president believes that the support of the opposition to the alleged interference of the European Union in the country’s election betray their ignorance of interests of the Congolese people and therefore unfit to govern the Congo. Officials of the government are alarmed that the promotion of opposition figures for presidential office in the Congo could further worsen the security and humanitarian situation in the country’s ongoing security crisis. And it could destabilize the entire central Africa. There are fears that voting stations may become a target in some of the Congo’s more turbulent areas. Some armed groups in the eastern part of the country and in Kasai have mobilized against the Kabila government. And in Kasai this has so far delayed voter registration.
No doubt difficult times lie ahead of the Congo in the weeks ahead. In all 25 candidates, have put themselves forward for the election with a total of six been barred including the former rebel leader, Jean-Pierre Bemba and the controversial Morse Katumbi, who were convicted for corruption and holding dual citizenship respectively. And all have made appeals at the constitutional court.
Indeed no candidate has Congo-wide support with each supported in their associated region and struggles to draw far-reaching consensus. The ruling party’s unity is stronger than a divided opposition which has to deal with all sorts of issues to further weaken its unity.
But the Human Rights Watch observation on the current situation in the Congo showcase the difficult times ahead when he said in a letter to the E.U: “less than one month before the scheduled election, the repression continues, those responsible for past abuses have not been held to account, and the enabling environment for credible elections does not exist.”
Umudin writes from Abuja