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Congo: Elections, democracy and the Diaspora awakening

January 2, 2012

by Friends of the Congo

A Congolese soldier stomps Fabien Mutomb, provincial vice president of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), Tshisekedi’s party, during a peaceful protest in Lubumbashi Dec. 14. – Photo: Getty Images
Congo’s Nov. 28 presidential and legislative elections were fraught with tremendous irregularities and widespread charges of fraud. The National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI in French) announced on Dec. 8 that Joseph Kabila won the elections with 49 percent of the vote and long-time opposition candidate, Etienne Tshisekedi garnered 32 percent.

The Supreme Court validated the results published by CENI and dismissed a challenge to the results by the opposition, led by presidential candidate Vital Kamerhe. The opposition categorically rejected the results as fraudulent. Nonetheless, Joseph Kabila was sworn into office on Tuesday, Dec. 20. Only one head of state, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, attended although 12 other African heads of states were expected to attend. Ambassadors from foreign nations, including the United States, were present for Kabila’s swearing-in.

Rejecting the results, Etienne Tshisekedi announced that he would have his own swearing-in among the people at the 80,000 capacity Martyrs Stadium on Friday, Dec. 23. Being under virtual house arrest, Tshisekedi was confined to his residence by the Kabila regime. The government also prevented the population from entering the stadium with a heavy show of force from the police, armed forces and presidential guard. The regime blocked routes leading to the stadium with heavy tanks and artillery.

Instead of a swearing-in at the stadium in front of a large audience, Etienne Tshisekedi had to perform the ceremony at home in his garden. In addition to domestic pressure, the government is experiencing intense international pressure: The European Union has said it will re-evaluate its cooperation with the DRC and make judgments based on how the political crisis unfolds. Mme Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, said she is following the situation in the Congo with a particular focus on the rule of law and the political climate, especially the pre- and post-electoral periods.

A Tshisekedi supporter is attacked outside his Kinshasa headquarters on Dec. 8, 2011, by a riot cop. – Photo: Jerome Delay, AP
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is at a critical juncture in its tenuous march towards peace and stability. The Kabila regime suffers from a severe crisis of legitimacy, and the future of the democratic project is in the balance. Stability will be fleeting without legitimacy. What is at stake in the Congo is not merely an election but respect for the will of a people and the future of democracy in the heart of Africa.

The Carter Center said the presidential results announced by the CENI “lacked credibility,” while the archbishop of Kinshasa, Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo, said that the results announced by the CENI reflect “neither the truth nor justice.” The European Union chimed in, noting that the process evinced a lack of transparency, with its missing polling stations and lost results totaling an estimated 1.6 million votes.

South Africa noted that the elections were “generally OK,” while the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU) found little wrong with the elections. Nonetheless, the CENI has ceased the counting of the legislative results and invited an international technical team from the United States and England to help with the counting of those results, which are expected to be announced by Jan. 13, a constitutional deadline that will be difficult to meet.

Congolese in the Diaspora have responded with universal outrage and have taken to the streets throughout the globe. Demonstrations have occurred in London, Brussels, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Johannesburg, Tel Aviv, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, New York, Washington and numerous other cities around the world. The central demand of the demonstrations is that the will of the Congolese people be respected. Click here to see videos of Congolese demonstrations!

Due to greater access to information combined with the freedom to express themselves, Congolese in the Diaspora have voiced the frustrations and concerns of their countrymen and women. The Congolese population inside the country has been under a military clamp-down with tanks in the streets, omnipresent security forces, SMS shut down – a major tool of communication for Congolese – and opposition television shuttered. Moreover, the Kabila regime has already demonstrated a willingness to use its armed and security forces to fire on unarmed civilians (see Human Rights Watch Report) and round up and disappear civilians (see Amnesty International and Voix Sans Voix Statement).

The best option to rescue the country from a descent into a deeper crisis is the activation of a national mediation mechanism supported by the international community – Southern African Development Community (SADC), African Union (AU), European Union, United Nations and United States). However, political will on the part of the political class to prioritize the people’s interests over partisan interests is a necessary prerequisite for this option to be successful.

Continue to take action and support Congo’s pursuit of democracy

“Our offices have gotten quite a bit of input from the Congolese Community in the U.S., for which we are grateful.” – U.S. Senator Christopher Coons

1. Contact key world leaders and demand that they refrain from recognizing Joseph Kabila as president of the DRC.

2. Demand that the technical team from the United States and England assess both the legislative and presidential results.

3. Participate in teach-ins to learn about what is at stake in the Congo and the nature of Congo’s democratic movement. (Click here for a comprehensive list of actions!)

On Jan. 17, 2012, the 51st anniversary of the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, Friends of the Congo and its allies will join in solidarity with the Congolese people by organizing a rally, teach-in and Lumumba Commemoration in Washington, D.C., and New York City. We call on our supporters and people of goodwill throughout the globe to join in solidarity with the people of the Congo as they continue the over 125-year pursuit to control and determine their own affairs.

Stay abreast of the latest developments on the elections by visiting our elections corner or follow us on Facebook or Twitter for regular updates.

Remember to support the work of Friends of the Congo!

Tshisekedi’s swearing-in

Congolese women occupy the U.S. embassy in Kinshasa – for protests in London, Paris, Brussels, Washington, Berlin, New York, Cologne and Ottawa, click HERE

 

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