In addition to the following prayer on the day of what we hope will be a milestone election in Congo’s modern history, two very different commentaries are included in this posting:
First is a commentary by Wendy Bernhard, American Baptist missionary to Congo based in Kimpese not far from the capital Kinshasa. Second is the commentary by Prof. Nzongola-Ntalaja, head of the African Studies Department at University of North Carolina in Charlotte and the leading Congo political scientist in the U.S. Prof. Nzongola-Ntalaja is himself a former Congo politican who was a leader in the political reform movement in Congo in the early 90’s that was quashed by Mobutu and his cohorts. His commentary appeared in the editorial pages of Al Jazeera.
My Prayer for Congo Election 2011
Loving God, may the elections in the Congo held today move that new nation closer to the day when its people share the wealth and enjoy the peace that is their due as Your children. May leaders elected today be led by a vision of a reign of peace and justice in their land. Through the holding of this election ,take away the despair and cynicism ruling in the hearts and minds of the people and replace it with a passion for truth and democratic rule.
Strengthen and guide leaders of church and civil society that they might hold those elected today accountable to the Congolese people. May this election bring closer that day when the Congo’s politicans do not answer first and foremost to corporate and government leaders outside the country. And God, through your grace and by the strength that only comes from you as our Creator, help us who are connected to Congo by historic ties of faith be truly brothers and sisters to those in Congo who long for peace with justice and have the courage to stand with those who have suffered and will suffer from misrule and corruption in their land. We pray in the name of our Lord and brother Jesus, Amen
On Congo Election by Wendy Bernhard, American Baptist missionary to Congo, 11/11/11
Kabila’s first 5-year term is up this month, and the country is now facing its third democratic election with a dozen candidates vying for the top spot. There will be no run-off; the candidate that gets the most votes becomes president,
even if it’s less than 50% of the votes cast. There has already been some violence associated with political campaigns in Kinshasa. Our prayer now is that the elections will take place peacefully throughout the country, and those who do not win will agree to work for the advancement of the country. (If only that could happen in other countries as well!)
Here’s the timetable for the elections, with prayer requested specifically on these dates:
Monday November 28: Presidential and legislative elections throughout the country
Tuesday December 6: First announcement of tentative election results
Saturday December 17: Announcement of final election results
Tuesday December 20: Inauguration of the newly elected president
In addition to the presidential election, there are heated campaigns going on to elect members of the national congress. The congressional district where I live has one seat in congress, with 47 candidates. But that’s nothing compared to one Kinshasa district which has 15 seats in congress, with over 1700 candidates representing over 500 political parties! Campaign posters in the city proclaim, for example:
VOTE FOR OUR CANDIDATE! NUMBER 1367, PAGE 67!
The ballots have been printed in South Africa, and contain a picture of each candidate. Can you imagine going through to page 67 on your ballot to find the picture of the one you want to vote for: #1367! Especially in a country where many people don’t know how to read! This might be called true democracy gone wild!
I plan to remain in Kimpese during the campaign and election season. Schools will be closed for a day or two, as the buildings will become polling stations. Our student pastors may return to their home villages to vote, where they registered. Please pray with us, that the elections will be free and fair and that the results will be accepted by all candidates!
The following is not only commentary on this election; it is an excellent summary of Congo’s modern political history. Highly recommended for anyone with interest in Congo.
Now or Never for Congo by Prof. Nzongola-Ntalaja in Al Jazeera, 11/26/11
The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) has no autonomy, as it works closely with the government of President Joseph Kabila, who is seeking re-election. Pastor Daniel Ngoy Mulunda, the Methodist minister who heads the commission, is a relative of the president and a founding member of the ruling party, the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD). His performance so far has not shown any signs of impartiality.
The electoral commission has refused to allow for an independent audit of the voters’ roll, which is known to include minors, Rwandan citizens and ghost voters, while real voters have in many instances found their names deleted from it. The commission did belatedly release a map of polling stations, but many of these have been found to be non-existent.
In areas favourable to the opposition, polling stations have been reduced in number so as to compel voters to go further away from their homes to a polling place, which is likely to discourage some of them from voting. Laws requiring that managers of state enterprises and other public officials running for the national and provincial assemblies must
resign before being recognised as candidates have not been enforced, thus allowing President Kabila’s allies to use state resources for campaign purposes. This is not only illegal, but an unfair advantage for the president’s camp over the opposition.
In this regard, and given the huge crowds that have greeted opposition presidential candidate Etienne Tshisekedi all over the country, there is no doubt that he would win a free, fair, transparent and non-fraudulent election. Of the ten candidates running against Kabila for the presidency, Tshisekedi is the only one capable of beating him decisively, even in a single-round election, because of his standing as the foremost leader of the Congolese democracy movement since 1980.
As the leader of the oldest opposition party in postcolonial DRC, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), which was established in 1982, Tshisekedi is popularly referred to as Ya Tshitshi [“Big Brother Tshitshi”] and “the people’s candidate”. He is the one candidate who incarnates the deepest aspirations of the Congolese people for freedom and material prosperity, and epitomises their determination to get rid of the current regime, which has kept the Mobutu legacy of corruption and repression alive.
Since coming to power following his father’s assassination in January 2001, Joseph Kabila has little to show for his nearly 11 years of rule. He won the 2006 election partly on the claim of having ended the Second Congo War, which ravaged much of the eastern part of the country between 1998 and 2003.
However, northeastern Congo remains a zone of turbulence, in which a succession of armies and militia groups, both foreign and national, have plundered the land, subjected women and girls to horrific acts of sexual violence, and used forced and child labour to amass wealth through the illegal exploitation of minerals and other resources. According to reports by the United Nations Group of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of the Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the DRC, prominent members of President Kabila’s entourage are among the beneficiaries of this plunder.
The regime has participated in the plunder either actively, as through mining contracts overwhelmingly favourable to
foreign interests, or by acts of omission, for example in doing nothing about the plunder of Congolese resources by Angola, Rwanda and Uganda. Estimates of money lost by the DRC in mineral concessions by self-serving Congolese officials, including the president, are as high as $5.5bn.
In addition to Rwanda and Uganda, which have been plundering the Congo either directly or through proxies since 1996, Angola has occupied land rich in diamonds in the Bandundu province of the DRC and exploits petroleum in Congolese territorial waters. These challenges to national security do not seem to provoke the kind of patriotic response that one would expect from a government whose first priority is to defend the national interest. The president, his cabinet, senior army and police officers as well other high-ranking state officials have done nothing but enrich themselves to the detriment of the mass of the people.
Consequently, the DRC has earned the distinction of being the poorest country on the earth when it is probably the first in terms of its wealth in natural resources. In the 2011 Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the DRC is the last of 187 nations surveyed in terms of its Human Development Index (HDI), a measure of wellbeing based on life expectancy, personal income, health and education. It is therefore beyond comprehension why Joseph Kabila should pretend to be “100 per cent” sure that the Congolese people will give him another five-year term in office.
This is both a manifestation of utter contempt for the electorate and an expression of confidence in the electoral fraud machine being organised and managed by Pastor Ngoy Mulunda. For there is widespread belief among African leaders that it is stupid to lose an election that you organise. Thus, even when so-called independent electoral commissions are established, incumbents will use all the means at their disposal, both legal and illegal, to cling to power.
Now or never
In the DRC, the genuine political opposition and civil society are determined to do all that is necessary to defeat this machine of electoral fraud so that the final results would be consistent with the wishes of the people. This will not be easy, not only for the support that the Kabila regime enjoys from neighboring states such as Angola, Rwanda and Uganda, but also in the face of the hostility of the international community toward the veteran democracy leader Etienne Tshisekedi.
The major powers, in particular, do not like to be faced with a leader like him who enjoys a popular base of support in a strategically important country like the DRC. They prefer leaders with no strong national constituency, who can therefore be counted upon to execute orders from the major world capitals. As ongoing developments in the Arab Spring do clearly show, the Western powers’ supposed support for democracy is a sham, given the hypocrisy and double standards shown in their actions. For if democracy is good for Tunisians, Egyptians and Libyans, it also ought to be good for the peoples of Yemen, Bahrain, Syria and Palestine.
For the Congolese people, this is the third time that our country faces a critical choice concerning its destiny. The first was in 1960, when Patrice Lumumba, the hero of the independence struggle and the first democratically elected prime minister, was wrongfully removed from power and eventually assassinated on orders from the US and Belgian governments. This crime was so profoundly felt by our people that it gave rise to a popular social movement for a “second independence”.
The second time occurred during the African Spring of the early 1990s, as country after country rose up against one-party rule in favour of multiparty democracy. In the DRC, Tshisekedi was democratically elected as prime minister in 1992 by the sovereign national conference with a mandate to bring about radical change in the way in which the country and its resources were managed.
Unfortunately, the international community gave him lukewarm support and did nothing to prevent the restoration of the Mobutu regime after a few months. After losing 20 precious years and after 50 years of seeing their country fall to the bottom because of corrupt leaders, the Congolese people are determined to put in power a person whose vision of the future reflects their own aspirations. For them, it is now or never.
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