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26th Nov 2022

EU blames Congo electoral chaos on poor planning

  • Kabila - accused of gross mismanagement and cronyism (Photo: ENOUGH Project)

The head of the EU's electoral monitoring mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo has blamed the widespread scenes of chaos that gripped the African state this week on poor organisation.

"The lack of communication affected organization on election day," said centre-right MEP Mariya Nedelcheva in a preliminary statement on Thursday (1 December). "Logistical difficulties prevented, in particular, the distribution of relevant material to centers and polling stations."

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Scheduled to take place Monday, voting in presidential and legislative elections – only the country’s second since independence - was extended by two additional days as citizens struggled to cast their votes.

Nedelcheva, who headed a team of 147 EU monitors, congratulated Congolese citizens for their "civic spirit" and patience in the face of extremely difficult circumstances, with thousands being turned away due to administrative errors.

In addition, at least eight deaths have been reported so far, with voters at several polling stations complaining of intimidation. Others arrived to find their stations burnt to the ground.

The EU's top diplomat Catherine Ashton appealed for calm on Wednesday, amid fears of a protracted standoff similar to that witnessed in the Ivory Coast earlier this year.

"It is difficult to imagine a situation in which one of the [presidential] hopefuls gracefully concedes; it is easy to imagine how violent escalation could take place," wrote Congo expert Jason Stearns in his blog this week.

Already four presidential candidates have asked for the elections to be annulled.

Despite the negative reports, Marta Martinelli, an analyst with the New-York-based NGO, the Open Society Foundations painted a more nuanced picture from one of the counting stations in the Bas Congo region which touches the Atlantic coast.

"Things have been managed remarcably well, peacefully and transparently," she told this website from the ground. "There have been only three problematic cases [in Bas Congo] that have included some violence and attempts to prevent people from voting."

The lead up to voting was characterised by deep divisions between opposing sides.

Incumbent President Joseph Kabila, who took over from his assassinated father in 2001 and won the country's first democratic elections five years later, has been accused of gross mismanagement and cronyism.

On the 2011 UN Human Development Index the DRC slipped to the world’s least developed country.

But main opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, a hot favourite in the capital Kinshasa where roughly one seventh of the country's 70 million citizens live, has also irked Western donors with his combative language, regularly calling militants onto the streets.

Results are scheduled for 6 December when Kabila's mandate comes to an end.

Minerals

Richly endowed with diamonds, coltan and other precious minerals, the DRC has had a deeply troubled history since the Belgians pulled out in 1960.

A 1998-2003 war, which still rumbles on in the east to this day, is estimated to have claimed over five million lives, largely through famine and disease.

Armed groups in the area continue to traffic in the region's lucrative 'conflict minerals' - as do former rebels now integrated into the Congolese army.

Pressure groups welcomed the adoption of a UN Security Council's Resolution on Wednesday, calling for action to tackle criminal networks within the Congolese national army who are involved in the illicit minerals trade.

Former rebels in the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), an ethnic Tutsi group linked to Rwanda, are among those now holding top positions in the Congolese army.

"The military have left some mine sites in recent months, but CNDP-controlled mineral smuggling networks continue to operate with complete impunity," said Annie Dunnebacke of Global Witness following the passing of the UN resolution.

Congo fatigue: EU funding in the heart of Africa

The Democratic Republic of Congo was last year the largest recipient of EU support among ACP states. But critics say this approach has failed, drawing a question mark over the EU's next step.

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Belgium is in the midst of a nationwide reassessment of its colonial past. Under pressure from a younger, more activist, generation and a growing African diaspora, the former colonial power has taken some steps over the past year.

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