Sunday, October 29, 2006

Dispatches from the Congo

Friends of the Congo delegation to observe the elections says things are very calm in Kinshasa. Although there was a lot of rain in the morning which slowed the opening of the polls things are moving briskly and voters are now steadily streaming to the polls.

In spite of the sporadic violence leading up to today's polls, voting is expected to be relatively peaceful. The crucial period will be between the end of voting and when the results are announced on November 19, 2006.

Our delegation has reported that the voting went well in Kinshasa. It did not appear that there was as large a turnout as occurred in the first round. The counting of the votes has begun.

We will provide more in depth reports as they come in from different parts of the country. Some observers are reporting that Congolese soldiers were preventing voters from going to the polls in the Ituri district (northeast of the Congo) unless they paid the soldiers in order to get access to the polls.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Climate Stinks

"The climate stinks," a Western diplomat told Reuters in Kinshasa. "We are trying to bring democracy to a country through people who are not democrats." Source:MONUC

The above statement is one of the most prescient comments made by a Westerner concerning the entire election process. We have stated a number of times that the international community was backing Kabila and was prepared to crown him president until the Congolese opposition made that option untenable. The opposition did so by doing two things, one they made it clear that if Kabila passed in the first round the country would automatically become ungovernable; second they asked their supporters at the last hour before the July 30th elections to throw their support behind Bemba as a means of preventing Kabila from winning in the first round. Ironically, the Kabila Bemba run-off reflects an option backed primarily by Belgium and the United States during the Inter-Congolese Dialogue in South Africa in 2002. It was only after both the political opposition and the Rally for Congolese democracy rejected the Kabila-Bemba formula that the international community backed down.

So here we are days before the elections and to no one's surprise an air of violence pervades the country. The entire process has been structurally flawed mainly because it sidelined the democratic forces in the country and promoted the violent elements, responsible for the killing and suffering of the Congolese people.

The so-called debate that was to take place between Kabila and Bemba has been cancelled. Modeste Mutinga, president of the High Media Authority, the country's media watchdog announced today that the debate scheduled for October 26, would no longer take place. The coming days are of increasing concern. More than ever, the Congolese people need strong but peace-loving leadership to step up on their behalf and represent their interests even if it is outside of the fatally flawed electoral process.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Bizarre Campaign With Less Than A Week to Go

According to one of the Friends of the Congo's observers on the ground in the Congo, one would hardly know that an election campaign is underway. Our observer has noted that in Kinshasa there is an eerie calm, there is not the usual fanfare and activity that goes along with a campaign, especially one for the presidency.

Our observation is reinforced by several facts. Neither Kabila nor Bemba has left Kinshasa to campaign in the other provinces. They have either sent their wives or surrogates to campaign in the rest of the country. Many reasons have been offered for the candidates' reluctance to travel throughout the country to campaign, ranging from a shortage of funds to fear of being attacked in areas that do not support them. However, probably the most plausible reason is that both are focused on reinforcing their presence in Kinshasa. It is said about the Congo that he who holds Kinshasa, holds the Congo. Kinshasa is not merely the nation's capital but it is the cultural hub and strategic fulcrum on which the Congo balances. Almost all reports coming from the Congo indicate that both Kabila and Bemba are reinforcing their military strength in Kinshasa. In fact, it can be plausibly argued that they have prepared more for conflict than they have for the elections.

One continues to hope for a peaceful outcome to these fundamentally and tragically flawed elections but the indicators are not promising. Partisans of both Kabila and Bemba have been physically attacked while campaigning in different parts of the country. Arms continue to flow into Kinshasa and Kabila has recently made changes in his cabinet to bring in military men in key posts in his government. As for Bemba, he is under United Nations protection, about 10 armored U.N. vehicles now guard his residence.

Should the two camps launch an all out war, there is little that the United Nations and European troops can do, even though they have beefed up their presence in Kinshasa. Both the British and US governments are like canaries flying out of the mine. They have asked their citizens to leave the Congo in advance of the October 29 elections.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Second Round Has Begun: Will it Usher in More War or a Path to Democratic Rule?

The second round of the presidential elections began on Saturday October 15 and will culminate in a nationwide vote on Sunday, October 29, 2006. Although, it appears that progress is being made and elections are being held, there is an eerie air of uncertainty surrounding the second round of voting. The international community led by the Committee to Accompany the Transition (CIAT in French) repeatedly calls for the acceptance of the final results, it appears that Bemba and Kabila are preparing more for war than an election campaign.

By almost all accounts, arms continue to flow into Kinshasa, the nation’s capital. Kabila has made changes in his cabinet which are tantamount to the further militarization of his government. Neither Bemba nor Kabila has integrated their security forces into the national army. Kabila is estimated to have approximately 15,000 presidential guards and Bemba approximately 5,000 security forces.

The campaign is already off to a rocky start. Supporters of both candidates clashed at Mbandaka, capital of the province of Equateur and television stations have been attacked in both Kinshasa and Katanga province.

There is tremendous cause for concern. Our sources have indicated that neither Kabila nor Bemba is prepared to concede to the other in spite of the results.

Monday, October 09, 2006

John Le Carre Says Congo Was Merely a Backdrop to Mission Song

John Le Carre in his latest novel says that he did not intend to write about the Congo. He noted that Congo was merely a backdrop to the central story. He goes on to state "But the novel isn't really set in the Congo at all - or so I had almost persuaded myself by the time I began my journey. It's a romantic satire, for Heaven's sake, written with both feet firmly off the ground! It's about Tony Blair's England, and good old-fashioned colonial exploitation, and political hypocrisy and shameless public lies, and other scores I had to settle. It's about the quest for identity in our multi-ethnic society, and New Labour's assault on our civil liberties, and a bunch of other similarly lofty themes!

The Congo is just backcloth, an abstraction, a symbol of perpetual colonial exploitation, slaughter, famine and disorder. To meet it face to face would only violate the delicate illusion - or so I had tried to believe."

Read the entire story of Le Carre's trip to the Congo!