WhoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll win in DRC?
Tensions are high, and so is the excitement, with more than 25 million voters already having registered for the poll and participated in the many marathon rallies that preceded the DRC’s big day, while some Christian groups and foreign rebel militias make their last ditch attempts to derail the poll.
As preparations for the polls intensified on Thursday last week, three prominent rebel militia groups from the Ituri province, where foreign militias displaced tens of thousands of people in the weeks leading to the elections, laid down arms in exchange for political amnesty and were integrated into the regular army. The rebels promised to allow people to go to polling stations and vote.
Almost half of the country’s 62 million people will cast their votes to elect a president among 33 candidates, among them three sons of former presidents, and 500 members of parliament from over 9000 candidates in what has been described as one of Africa’s biggest and most expensive elections.
Despite the many setbacks that the US$400 million poll has suffered, it holds many high promises for the DRC, Africa, and the international community, and SADC countries, the EU and the UN have made significant contributions from the beginning of the long and arduous peace process to the poll.
At least four rebel militia groups with over 5000 militants voluntarily disarmed in days running up to the poll, inspiring a lot of confidence among Congolese voters and boosting the morale of tens of thousands of people who had been displaced by pre-election violence.
The sudden wave of disarmaments in exchange for integration into the interim government’s army, at a time when many people believe incumbent president Joseph Kabila has an upper hand, have been seen as a confirmation of the rebel groups’ appreciation of the relative calm and stability brought about by Kabila’s rule and a show of their preparedness to accept a transition to civilian rule.
Observers noted that whoever wins in the DRC election, the people of the DRC would be the ultimate winners, as the election would usher in a new era in the DRC characterized by peace and reconstruction. It is not yet known how long the polls will take.
A replay of old political rivalries
The run-up to the DRC poll was full of drama and tragedy, with many people dying in anti-election demonstrations while the historic poll showcased a mammoth ballot with six pages and more than 9700 pictures of the candidates.
The motley crew of candidates for the presidency of the DRC features three sons of former presidents, veteran politicians silenced by Joseph Mobutu’s three decades of iron fisted dictatorship and former notorious rebel leaders.
Among the front runners for the top seat are Joseph Kabila of the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD), Nzanga Mobutu of Union for Democratic Mobutuists (UDEMO) and Kasavubu, who are battling it out with veteran politicians Antoine Gizenga of the Unified Lumumbist Party (PALU), Etienne Tshisekedi, Arthur Zahidi Ngoma of the Convention for the Party of the Nation and former rebel leader Azarious Ruberwa of the Assembly of Congolese for Democracy (RCD).
Incumbent president of the interim government, Joseph Kabila, son of former president Laurent Kabila who was killed by one of his bodyguards in January 2001, is credited with pacifying much of the vast country after a bitter war that drew in seven foreign armies and cost the lives of close to four million people.
Kabila 35, who has run the country since the end of the war in 2003, has an upper hand in the poll and commands a significant degree of respect in the international community. His incumbency has given him experience in running the administration of the vast country, pacifying a number of volatile spots.
His disadvantages, however, are that he is still seen as too young and inexperienced for the country’s top office, and his detractors interpret the support he commands in the international community as a sign of malleability to foreign manipulation.
Former dictator Joseph Mobutu’s son, Nzanga is vying for presidency under the Union for Democratic Mobutuists (UDEMO) in what many have described as an attempt to continue with his family’s political dynasty, which began with his father’s ascension to power in a military coup that ended fighting in the Congo after the overthrow of president Joseph Kasavubu in November 1965.
While he has the capital, Nzanga’s bid for presidency suffers a major drawback from the dark shadow cast by his father’s autocratic regime, overthrown by Kabila’s forces in 1997. He is also widely seen as a radical candidate, capitalizing on ethnicism.
Etienne Tshisekedi, leader of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), is probably one of the most experienced candidates, having served as Prime Minister of the country under Mobutu (then Zaire) on three separate occasions. He served in Mobutu’s government in various positions throughout the late 1960s and 1970s but in 1979 began to protest its descent into dictatorship and corruption.
He had dramatically brief stints as Prime Minister, the first of which lasted only one month from September 29 1991 to November 1, 1991, then for 7 months from August 15, 1992 to March 18, 1993 before he served for a week from April 2, 1997 to April 9, 1997. On all occasions, he was suspended for being too critical of Mobutu’s government.
Kasavubu, son of Joseph Kasavubu, the Congo’s founding president overthrown by General Mobutu in 1965, is also running for the top office. Kasavubu’s father was an architect of regionalist politics, and is blamed for the death of Patrice Lumumba, killed by secessionist Moise Thsombe’s forces. This is likely to cast a dark shadow over his son’s aspirations.
Jean Pierre Bemba.
Former rebel leader and Vice President in the interim government, Jean Pierre Bemba (44) presides over the DRC’s Economic Affairs, and is credited with the country’s steady economic recovery. Despite being the flavour of the month with many loyalists, Bemba is blamed for the continuing strife in the eastern Ituri region, and thus lacks the support of a significant part of the population.
Among the forces drawing back the election effort are the remaining foreign rebel groups from Rwanda, now estimated at more than 2000 armed militias, who fear that a transition in the DRC would lead to their expulsion back to Rwanda where they are likely to face charges for their role in the 1992 genocide.
The UN force in the DRC MUNUC says it has so far disarmed half of the foreign militias in the country. At least 9000 of these forces have already been sent back to their countries and those that belong to the DRC have been integrated into the regular army.
In spite of the flare-up that characterized much of the DRC in the run-up to the poll, the country is expected to manage a steady transition to democratic civilian rule with the support of the international community, which has shown its commitment to seeing this process through. The majority of the Congolese people have shown a willingness to choose their leaders
“We believe that, as a country, we have sunk as low as you can go and so there is nowhere to go but up, and we are on our way! We are picking up the pieces and forging ahead with enthusiasm. Our strategy is to stabilise the country both politically and economically, and to secure its borders. DRC is a major country on the continent – equivalent in size to Western Europe and we are ready to occupy our rightful place in both the African and global context,” DRC ambassador to South Africa, Bene M’Poko told the press the run-up to the polls.
The DRC carries great potential in the continent’s economic sector, with vast investment opportunities in IT, especially Internet services and telecommunications projects, transport, mainly because of the poor state of our road infrastructure and air transport.
The country has many resources that it can share with the rest of SADC such as water, electricity and agricultural yield.