The Congo election scheduled for Monday November 28 is going to be a big part of our trip, so here is a primer for you.

The CIA installed dictator Mobutu Sese Seko was deposed in 1997 after decades of pillaging the country.  The related war and strife racked the entire country.  It has been described as the African equivalent to World War II as all neighbouring countries at some point attacked in pursuit of their own interests.  An estimated 4+ million people died, in large measure due to resulting famine and malnourishment.  The 1994 Rwandan genocide perpetrators slipped into eastern Congo as the victorious Rwandan minority Tutsi’s pushed the majority militant Hutu’s into Congo via Bukavu and Goma.  In 2001, Joseph Kabila succeeded his despotic father, Laurent Desire Kabila, although localized fighting continued for a few more years.  The Hutu’s kept the turmoil going while the ineffective UN peacekeepers, by far the world’s largest peacekeeping mission with zero Canadian involvement,  mainly just watched.

Much of the violence was prolonged by the mineral wealth of Congo.  Invading countries feverishly stripped out what mineral wealth they could.

Neighbours Invading Congo

Foreign control of DRC in 2003

In the vacuum after the withdrawal of foreign armies, rebel militia sought to control mines for extortion purposes, using rape as a weapon to control the local population.  Child soldiers were commonly trapped through threats and the provision of drugs.  While Blood Diamonds was filmed in Sierra Leone (west Africa), it could have been set in Congo.

Congo Mineral Wealth

The first election in 2006 saw Joseph Kabila elected in a run off election against Jean Pierre Bemba.  Turn out was an amazing 70%.  Violence erupted in the west, the support base of Bemba, with the announcement of Kabila’s victory but then cooled off.   Although Kabila is the son of the former Congo dictator Laurent Desire Kabila, Joseph is western trained, western friendly and for the most part has attempted to act democratically.   Continuing violence in the east has been caused in large measure by Rwandan Tutsis who crossed into Congo in efforts to seek revenge on Hutus, plus unrelated troubles caused by the Lord’s Resistance Army and Mai Mai militants.  These forces have now been largely, but not completely, neutralized.  Obama has recently ordered 100 U.S. marines into the area to hunt and destroy the LRA as the UN has proven its ineffectiveness to contain them.

Current Elections
Joseph Kabila is honouring the need for elections and has repeatedly said that he will peacefully step down if re-elected.  He changed the rules to have one election for president with the candidate securing the most votes winning.  In 2006, there were two election days, with a run off votes between the top two candidates.  The change to one election is clearly in his favour as there is no obvious strong alternate candidate.

There are also legislative elections that are receiving virtually no attention.  Congo has a bicameral Parliament with 112 Senator seats and 500 National Assembly seats.  With most of the legislative seats awarded through an open list proportional representation system which results in party insiders gaining seats in Parliament but having reduced local accountability to voters.  This is likely a contributor to the sense in eastern Congo that government is no way to be seen, except by a machine gun here and there.  You can correctly infer my views on our first past the post political system.

You can imagine the logistical nightmares of campaigning and voting in a country without roads.   The opportunity for fraudulent voting is immense.  There continues to be concerns about ballots being distributed into the interior by November 28.  The plan is to have everything counted, scrutinized and reported by December 6 which is Kabila’s last day to legally serve as President.  I remain skeptical that they can pull it off on this schedule, but it appears that all systems are go.

It’s not an impressive opposition, but running and losing in a place like Congo can be life threatening, so it should not be a surprise.  As you review this list, you can see why people expect Kabila to be re-elected.

Jean Pierre Bemba remains arrested and under trial by the International Criminal Court in the Hague for two crimes against humanity (mass murder and rape) and three counts of war crime.

Etienne Tshisekedi has been the foremost opposition leader for years, but recently has said some stupid things.  In a radio broadcast, he proclaimed himself president because “he represented the majority” and ordered his followers to stage jailbreaks to free detained colleagues.   This has been met with universal condemnation, so it is hard to see how he can get elected, but his call for violence is worrisome to many.

Vital Kamerhe served under Mobutu and is accused of being a Mobutu supporter in his youth. He later joined the opposition and then served under President Joseph Kabila before setting up his own party last year.   He is from Bukavu with ties to Goma, so his supporters would likely be the main reason for any clashes with Kabila supporters in the east.  With his support from the same geographic area as Kabila and no run off election he is unlikely to gain more support than Kabila.

Kengo wa Dondo is the current president of the senate. He served as prime minister under Mobutu, resigning shortly before the Mobutu government fell.

Francois Joseph Mobutu Nzanga is the son of Mobutu and thus has no hope.

Current Turmoil
Tshisekedi has called for violence on Monday November 14, so we’ll see what happens.  There have been many situations of various supporters clashing with each other in the streets, including Goma.  Overall, however, it is less chaotic than 2006.  There have been rumours of airlines being grounded from November 27 to 29 though, which would mess up our travel plans.

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