Bumping over the potholes in downtown Mbandaka this summer, I shot this picture from the car window and then realized it was the headquarters of Jean-Pierre BEMBA GOMBA’s s party, the MLC (Movemment for the Liberation of Congo). Several political parties have offices in the provincial capital, but this is the largest I saw and reflects the widespread support for BEMBA and his party in his home province of Equateur. In fact most people I talked with about the election of 2006 disputed the announced results and declared that BEMBA was the actual winner.
This means many voters in Congo will have a hard time trusting the process of next November’s presidential election. But the stakes are high especially for those who would challenge President Kabila’s hold on the presidency. Those who have opposed presidential rule in Congo have in the past ended up in prison, in exile or dead. Following his arrest by Belgium in 2008, Jean-Pierre BEMBA’s trial has finally begun under the auspices of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
BEMBA’s trial leads to several questions regarding Congo’s 2011 presidential election: “Will his party be permitted to run another candidate in his absence” and “Will the MONUSCO, the U.N. peacekeeping force,be permitted to remain until after the election?” And finally, “If the U.N. troops remain in the country, will they be able to preserve the peace and minimize fraud during what will surely be a highly contested election?”