Campaign rallies and banners at last in Democratic Republic of Congo SA to ‘fast track’ land restitution

Posters, banners and other campaign materials mostly bear messages of peace, unity and the need to find a lasting solution to the DRC’s problems.

With posters carrying messages such as “This man doesn’t have blood on his hands,” presidential candidate Pierre Pay-Pay wa Syakassighe of the Federalist Christian Democracy is trying to appeal to the conscience of the electorate.

A former governor of the central bank of the DRC and minister of economics and finance under the late President Mobutu Sese Seko, Pay-Pay wa Syakassighe is one of the few presidential candidates who have not led or participated in the civil war.

He is campaigning for “rational” leadership of the DRC and wants the Congolese to give a chance to those with experience to run the affairs of the country.

Incumbent president, Joseph Kabila, is basing his campaign strategy on his role in bringing the current fragile peace to the country.

One of his campaign posters reads “Vote for Joseph Kabila, the man who ended the war”.

In Bukavu, a banner for a parliamentary candidate, Vital Kamerhe, reads “I am the Reunificator”, summing up the general sentiment among most Congolese.

The DRC has experienced civil wars since independence from Belgium in 1960, fuelled by the country’s vast mineral wealth and the struggle for power.

After independence, the country immediately faced an army mutiny and an attempt at secession of its mineral-rich province of Katanga.

The civil wars ended with a power-sharing government headed by Kabila which was established following a peace agreement signed by warring parties in 2002 in South Africa.

The atmosphere in the country has changed with the launch of political campaigns on 30 June. The citizens of DRC are now more optimistic that the elections will go ahead leading to permanent peace and thus putting the diamond-rich country firmly on a path to economic recovery.

“For us, the coming elections mean the end of the rebellions and wars and the reunification of the country,” said Anita Shamamba, a resident of Bukavu, the capital city of the South Kivu province in eastern DRC, at the border with Rwanda.

The usually quiet city of Bukavu has become noisy and vibrant with endless campaigns while candidates’ posters and banners are decorating the city, a common feature throughout the country.

The candidates’ agents are using loudspeakers calling on voters not to spoil their votes but elect leaders who will deliver development to the DRC.

The candidates competing for both presidential and parliamentary seats have until 29 July to convince the 20 million registered voters to vote for them. The elections will involve 33 presidential candidates while about 4,000 others will fight it out for the 500 parliamentary seats.

The country’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) says election materials are ready and in place in all the constituencies.

The electoral body is training people in various sectors to enable them not only to vote but also understand the real meaning of an election in a democracy.

Special teams of the electoral commission are in various regions of the country to train journalists and political actors about their roles during the campaign period and at the actual elections.

Journalists have been warned not to allow political leaders to insult one another during debates on radio or television stations.

“Democracy is a new concept Congolese people have to deal with if they want to improve the political environment,” Tshibambe Musa, an expert representing the electoral body explains.

Musa says the 40 years of the late Mobutu Sese Seko’s dictatorship could be responsible for failure to appreciate democracy among the Congolese people.

“Congolese political leaders do not know how to face a political opponent about political programmes. A lot of them insult others too easily, mistaking a political adversary for an enemy,” he said. ‘

July 2006
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