Monday, October 30, 2006

Democratic Republic of Congo Election Update: Vote Counting Underway

DR Congo counting landmark vote

Election officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo are counting the votes from one of Africa's most significant elections for many years.

Voting was mostly peaceful but a drunken soldier shot dead two election workers on Monday, sparking riots.

At least one person died in protests over alleged fraud in the north-east.

Congolese hope the election will end years of conflict and abuse of power. President Joseph Kabila faced ex-rebel Jean-Pierre Bemba in a run-off.

Results are not expected to be announced for about a week.

Sunday's run-off concludes DR Congo's first fully democratic polls since independence in 1960 and is supposed to draw a line under a five-year conflict.

'Well organised'

The election officials were killed in the north-eastern town of Fataki in Ituri district, which remains one of the most unstable parts of DR Congo.

The soldier has been arrested, UN officials say.

Following the shootings, local people attacked some 43 polling stations and burnt the ballot papers, reports Reuters news agency.
There were some 50,000 polling stations spread across DR Congo, which is two-thirds the size of Western Europe.

Many Congolese fear that whoever loses the elections will resort to violence, as both men have considerable numbers of armed men and weapons at their disposal.

Both men have said they will accept the results, as long as they are free and fair.

The BBC's Mark Doyle in the capital, Kinshasa, says the short-term period, especially the announcement of the results, is going to be very dangerous.

British election observer and MP Judy Mallaber told the BBC's Network Africa programme that the polls had been "very well organised" in the eastern region of Maniema where she had been.

She said that she had been "very impressed" with the counting process, which was being watched by representatives of all political parties.

She said the count was taking a long time because officials were being so careful to make sure it was transparent.

Turn-out is reported to be lower across the country than in July's first round.

"From now on, leaders will rule for the people, not just possess power forever," Theoneste Mpatse-Mugabo told the AP news agency in the eastern city of Goma.

Voting was extended for several hours in the capital, Kinshasa, and other western areas because of delays following a violent thunderstorm in the morning, which turned streets into rivers.

In the north-eastern town of Bumba, supporters of Mr Bemba on Sunday burnt ballot boxes, after claims of vote-rigging, leading police to open fire, killing at least one person.

Shots were also fired at a polling station in Kinshasa following claims of attempted fraud.

Regional divide

Our correspondent says it is impossible to exaggerate how the destiny of DR Congo could shape the future of Africa.

Nine states border the country and all were affected by the wars caused by the long lack of real government in DR Congo, the power vacuum at the heart of Africa, he says.

1998 - 2002
4m dead
At least 8 armies, many rebel groups
2003: Rebels join unity government
East remains unstable
17,000 UN peacekeepers

Some four million people are thought to have died.

Its rich reserves of minerals such as gold, diamonds and coltan - used in mobile phones - have attracted a series of armed groups, both Congolese and foreign, intent on looting.

UN officials say the polls are the most important on the continent since the 1994 election that ended apartheid in South Africa.

Mr Kabila has strong support in the east of Congo; Mr Bemba is popular in the west.

Many easterners credit Mr Kabila with ending the war and blame the conflict on rebels such as Mr Bemba.

Those in the west say Mr Kabila, who grew up in Tanzania, is not a true Congolese, unlike Mr Bemba.

Mr Kabila won first round polls on 30 July, but fell just short of the 50% needed for outright victory.

He has also gained the support of the candidates who came third and fourth - veteran nationalist Antoine Gizenga and Nzanga Mobutu, son of the country's long-time leader, Mobutu Sese Seko.

Extra UN peacekeeping troops are on standby in the east of the country.

In Kinshasa, the UN is being backed up by a special European Union military force.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2006/10/30 12:22:25 GMT

Police open fire as Congolese vote

David Lewis
Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo
29 October 2006 09:23

Police killed two rioters in poll violence on Sunday as Congo voted in a presidential run-off intended to end decades of war and pillage that have left the country devastated despite its mineral riches.

The governor of the northerly Equateur province, Yves Mobando, told Reuters: "Two people were killed when the police opened fire to disperse the crowds."

He said the police intervened in the town of Bumba, 800km, from Kinshasa when supporters of presidential candidate Jean-Pierre Bemba destroyed a polling station after alleging a ballot box had been stuffed with votes for his opponent, the incumbent President, Joseph Kabila.

He said the official electoral commission had dismissed the allegation.

International election monitors, who did not want to be identified, said turnout seemed lower around the country than at the same time in the first round on July 30.

A thunderstorm and heavy rain turned Kinshasa's streets into rivers and slowed voting. The sprawling capital is a Bemba stronghold, and a low turnout could hurt his chances of overtaking Kabila, who won 45% in the first round.

Isidor Kaombe waited impatiently at a Kinshasa poll station that opened late because of the rain. "We need this vote to put an end to the mess. With God's help we will," he said.

One thousand six hundred kilometres away in eastern DRC, where polls opened an hour earlier because of a time difference, voters queued patiently in the Ituri district, ravaged by war.

Jules Katasko (34) could not hold back a smile as he walked away after pushing his paper into the bright orange ballot box in the town of Bunia:

"For most of my life we had Mobutu Sese Seko, a dictator. He said 'Yes', we all had to do it; he said 'No', we all had to stop it. Now it's us who decide whether it's 'Yes' or 'No'."

About 25-million Congolese are registered to vote. The election, the country's first democratic poll in 40 years, is accompanied by provincial elections. Results are not expected for up to three weeks.

Peace process

The election is the final step in a peace process after five years of the bloodiest conflict since World War II.

More than four million people died in the humanitarian catastrophe caused by the war, which ended in 2003, and 1,200 still perish every day. Thousands of gunmen roam the country.

Another voter in Bunia, 44-year-old Rachael Orocha, told Reuters: "This isn't a happy day for me. "Two of my children died of hunger, militiamen destroyed my home -- I've lost everything because of this war. I'm voting because we are sick of it. Something big has to change."

As she spoke, UN peacekeepers patrolled the streets in armoured personnel carriers while a helicopter watched overhead.

At a polling station in a Kinshasa school, an elderly man, Jean Ntando, was voting with his wife. "I haven't voted since independence, so even if it is raining I had to come," he said, hitching up his trousers as he walked back into the flood.

Many of the country's 60-million people hope the election will end their suffering and enable the country to fulfil its rich potential.

But there are widespread fears it will spark more bloodshed.

Supporters of Kabila and Bemba have clashed several times since the first round, and in August their private armies fought three days of battles in the capital. More than 30 people died.

They have brought in more arms and reinforcements since then. Bemba is believed to have 600 fighters in the chaotic capital, where Kabila is widely detested, and the president has 5 000 members of his personal guard in the city.

Kabila is the son of the assassinated president Laurent Kabila, who overthrew the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, perpetrator of 32 years of kleptocratic rule. - Reuters

DRC holds poll to end decade of war

Tim Cocks
Bunia, Democratic Republic of Congo
29 October 2006 07:07

The Democratic Republic of Congo began voting on Sunday in a presidential election run-off intended to end decades of war, pillage and kleptocracy that have left the huge country devastated and poor despite vast mineral riches.

About 25-million people are registered to vote in the run-off between incumbent Joseph Kabila and former warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba, the top two candidates in the first round held on July 30.

Kabila received 45% of the votes in the first round and is expected to win the poll in the former Belgian colony.

The vote, the first democratic poll in the DRC for 40 years, will be accompanied by provincial elections but results are not expected for three weeks. It is meant to be the final step in a peace process after a 1998-2003 war, the bloodiest conflict since World War II.

More than four million people died in a humanitarian catastrophe unleashed by the war and 1 200 people still die every day mostly from hunger and disease.

Thousands of gunmen still roam the country and tension is high in the capital Kinshasa.

The 60-million Congolese population is desperate for peace and has high hopes the election will end their suffering and enable the country to fulfil its rich potential.

"The elections are going to change everything," said 25-year-old former teacher Gerard Avedo-Kazi, who fled to the Gety refugee camp in the northeast Ituri area after militiamen slit his aunt's throat in a rampage through his remote village.

"We are traumatised by this war. People are yearning to vote because that means the fighting will stop," he said.

Bloodshed fears

There are widespread fears the poll will spark more bloodshed instead of ushering in peace and reconstruction.

Supporters of Kabila and Bemba have clashed several times since the first round and in August their private armies fought three days of battles in the capital in which more than 30 people were killed.

They have brought in more arms and reinforcements since then. Bemba is believed to have 600 fighters in the chaotic capital, where Kabila is widely detested, and the president has 5 000 members of his personal guard in the city.

In a pre-election interview, Kabila warned he would crack down on any provocation during the vote, a thinly veiled warning to Bemba.

Describing the state of the country as precarious, Kabila said: "The situation is grave...there will be a response to any provocation, all measures have been prepared."

Kabila is the son of assassinated President Laurent Kabila, who overthrew former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

The latter's 32-year kleptocratic rule looted the country of many of its rich resources.

Despite high hopes from the poll, many Congolese believe it has left them with only a bad choice between two men too compromised by their past to put the nation on the road to recovery.

Local media have described it as a choice between "cholera and plague".

"I don't expect much from these [two candidates]," said Dr Mbwebwe Kabamba, head of surgery at Kinshasa's general hospital. "There will be a lot of disappointed people," he said. - Reuters 2006


Here are the major events in Congo's history:

- 1960: Congo declares independence from Belgium on June 30;
Joseph Kasavubu becomes president and Patrice Lumumba prime
minister. Within months, Lumumba is assassinated by Congolese

- 1960: Mobutu Sese Seko, then an army colonel using the name
Joseph Mobutu, seizes power in a coup, but returns Kasavubu to
power the following year.

- 1965: After years of political infighting, Mobutu seizes power
in another coup, beginning a 32-year rule.

- 1970: Presidential elections held nationwide; Mobutu is only

- 1997: Rebel leader Laurent Kabila declares himself president
after being propelled to power by Rwandan-backed forces that swept
across Congo. Mobutu flees into exile.

- 1998: Rebel forces backed by Rwanda and Uganda rise up in east
against Kabila. The war draws in half a dozen foreign armies and
divides the north and east into rebel-controlled fiefdoms.

- 2000: U.N. Security Council authorizes 5,500-strong U.N. force
to monitor 1999 cease-fire among five foreign armies and
government, but fighting continues. The U.N. force later grows to
17,000, the largest in the world.

- 2001: Laurent Kabila is killed by his bodyguard and succeeded
by son Joseph.

- 2002: Peace deal signed in South Africa by warring parties
brings broader war to a close, though local militia groups continue
sporadic skirmishes in east. Foreign armies withdraw.

- 2003: Joseph Kabila names transitional government to lead
Congo until elections. Leaders of main former rebel groups sworn in
as vice presidents. Interim parliament inaugurated.

- Dec. 18, 2005: Referendum on constitution that limits
president to two five-year terms passes. The vote is country's
first national ballot since 1970 and the first democratic vote
since independence.

- July 30, 2006: Congo holds presidential elections, its first
democratic vote for a new leader since 1960. Nobody wins majority
necessary to avoid runoff, and forces loyal to President Joseph
Kabila battle those of main challenger and ex-rebel leader
Jean-Pierre Bemba in Kinshasa for three days in August as results
are announced.

- Oct. 29, 2006: Congo scheduled to hold presidential runoff
between Kabila and Bemba.


Facts and figures about Congo:

THE PEOPLE: A population of more than 58 million of whom about
25 million are registered to vote. Of more than 200 ethnic groups,
about 70 percent are Christian, 10 percent Muslim and the rest
adherents of indigenous beliefs. French is the official language,
but dozens of African languages and dialects are widely spoken.

HISTORY: Gained independence from Belgium in 1960 after 75 years of colonial rule. Its first elected prime minister, Patrice
Lumumba, was assassinated, and its first president, Joseph
Kasavubu, was overthrown in 1965 by Mobutu Sese Seko, who then
ruled for 32 years.

Widespread corruption and mismanagement ravaged the nation's infrastructure during Mobutu's reign, which ended in 1997 when rebel leader Laurent Kabila was propelled to power by Rwandan forces after. In 1998, Rwandan-backed rebels rose up again and the country became embroiled in a war that drew in the armies of half a dozen African nations and left rebels ruling rival fiefdoms in the east and northeast. Kabila was assassinated by a bodyguard in 2001, and his son Joseph inherited the presidency.

A 2002 peace deal ended the war, paved the way for the withdrawal of foreign forces, reunited the country and brought rebel leaders into
a transitional government. The transition culminates with the
elections. The first round, July 30, marked the nation's first
democratic vote for a new leader since 1960.

THE VOTE: Incumbent President Joseph Kabila faces Jean-Pierre
Bemba, an ex-rebel leader and current vice president, in Sunday's


Pan-African News Wire said...

Congo Government Welcomes U.S. Sanctions

Associated Press Writer
Wednesday, November 1, 2006

(11-01) 04:51 PST KINSHASA, Congo (AP)--Congo's government on Wednesday welcomed a decision by the United States to impose sanctions on seven warlords and businessmen who are accused of fueling instability in this vast country's lawless east.

Meanwhile, a revote in the northeast town of Fataki was postponed for a day to allow more time to organize it, electoral officials said. Rioters had destroyed ballots from Congo's landmark presidential runoff in the town earlier this week.

President Bush issued the sanctions in an executive order Tuesday, freezing the assets of the seven warlords and businessmen and barring Americans from doing business with them. The seven are accused of violating international laws involving targeting of children or violating a ban on sales of military equipment to Congo.

It was not immediately known what assets the group had in the United States, if any.

Congo government spokesman Henri Mova Sakanyi said he did not expect the sanctions to affect the counting from Congo's tense runoff election, which pitted incumbent Joseph Kabila against Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former warlord who was made vice president in the power-sharing administration.

"It's a good thing for us that the international community is beginning to sanction those who financed the war," Sakanyi told The Associated Press in the capital, Kinshasa. "Without help from outside, the war wouldn't have lasted as long."

Congo is struggling to recover from decades of dictatorship and a 1998-2002 war that divided the country into rival fiefdoms and drew in the armies of half a dozen African nations, many of which were accused of plundering the country's mineral wealth, including diamonds, gold and copper.

Huge tracts of the east remain chaotic despite the presence of more than 17,000 U.N. peacekeepers deployed in Congo to bolster security.

Those targeted by the White House sanctions include Congolese warlord Laurent Nkunda, 49, who operates a private fiefdom in Congo's eastern Masisi territory and claims the loyalty of thousands of army troops. His forces have been accused of torture and rape and he has been named in an international arrest warrant for war crimes.

Among those also named were Rwandan militia leader Ignace Murwanashyaka and Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, an infamous figure who has allegedly trafficked weapons to Central and West Africa since the early 1990s.

Congo's presidential runoff went off peacefully Sunday in most of the country, though one-day revotes were required in two towns after rioting mobs destroyed ballots and polling stations.

The first revote was held in the northern town of Bumba on Tuesday. The second was to be held Wednesday in Fataki, in northeast Ituri province, but local electoral official John Ukunya said it had been delayed until Thursday to allow time to fly in new voting materials and inform voters the ballot would be held again.

Hundreds rioted in Fataki on Monday after an apparently drunken soldier shot and killed two election workers. The ensuing violence destroyed nine voting centers.

Overall results are not expected for days or weeks. The electoral commission has said it will publish provisional results by Nov. 19.

The election is the climax of a four-year transition process aiming to bring democratic rule to Congo for the first time since its independence from Belgium in 1960.


Pan-African News Wire said...

Wednesday November 1, 1:06 AM
DRCongo: Rivals trade barbs as vote counting starts

AFP Photo

Ballot counting in the Democratic Republic of Congo has started in an atmosphere of mutual recriminations as Jean-Pierre Bemba accused his rival in the run-off presidential election, incumbent Joseph Kabila, of large-scale fraud.

At the same time, however, the independent South African Observer Mission concluded that the historic vote -- which will select the country's first democratically elected president in more than four decades -- was "peaceful, credible and transparent."

The observer mission said that it "did not observe any major incidents or irregularities with the voting process."

A spokesman for Bemba nonetheless Tuesday accused the president of attempting to steal the elections.

"We have noted several attempts of massive fraud," said Fancois Muamba, coordinator of Bemba's Union for the Nation, alleging that Kabila's operatives had used fake voter registration cards, rigged ballots, and cash payments for votes.

"We will remain very vigilant to prevent these abnormalities from influencing the outcome," he said.

The spokesman for Kabila's Alliance of the Presidential Majority, Olivier Kamitatu, dismissed the accusations as "inopportune statements" made in a bid to preempt the outcome and "escape the truth of the ballot box."

The country's Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), in the meantime, denounced all proclamations about the results of the vote, which are scheduled to be announced sometime before November 19.

"The IEC is concerned by the false and premature statements on the results," the Commission's president, Apollinaire Malu Malu said. "It denounces even more vigorously the disregard of the good conduct rules which the candidates pledged to uphold."

Gathering and counting the ballots in a country almost the size of western Europe would be a daunting under the best of circumstances, but is made even more complex by poor infrastructure, regional insurgencies and deep-seated corruption, observers say.

More than 25 million citizens were registered to vote.

The announcement of first-round results in August sparked violent clashes -- including heavy artillery fire -- in Kinshasa between the presidential guard and troops loyal to Bemba, leaving 23 dead.

International monitors fearing a similar eruption pressured both candidates into pledging not to resort to violence and calling on their supporters to do the same.

One election monitor who said he had "seen some irregularities but no fraud" in the vote, said the ballot counting process would be critical. "If the gap between the candidates is small, every vote will count," he said.

Seemingly willing to wait for the official tally, both camps have begun to count or estimate vote totals.

"Everyone is very busy compiling their own results. But as soon as they think they have an idea of the outcome, there is a risk that tensions will mount," said one diplomat based in Kinshasa.

Various estimates are already making the rounds, often via mobile phone text messages, announcing victory for one candidate or the other.

"Nobody has any idea of the result. The voter turnout was weaker than in the first round, but differs from region to region,"
said another diplomat. "We don't have any idea about rural area, and only a vague notion for the cities -- it is way too soon to predict."

The voting on Sunday went smoothly, international monitors said, marred only by a few incidents. In the most serious, two voting station workers were killed early Monday morning by a drunken soldier after the polls closed in a town near Bunia, the regional capital of Ituri.

Following another incident, some voters in the northwest province of Equateur were to cast ballots anew on Tuesday in Bumba after a dozen voting stations were ransacked when voters uncovered an alleged attempt to defraud the vote in favor of Kabila. Malu Malu indicated that polling stations there will open Wednesday for a fresh vote.

Kabila, who took office in 2001 and is Africa's youngest head of state at 35, took 44.8 percent of the first round votes.

A wealthy businessman and former rebel who is now a vice-president in the Democratic Republic of Congo's transitional regime, Jean-Pierre Bemba scored 20 percent in the first round.