With reports that militias are re-forming, there are growing fears that the forthcoming parliamentary and presidential elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo will trigger a new wave of violence.
As campaigning began, 41 local and international human rights and humanitarian organisations expressed their concerns about increasing political tension and the deteriorating security situation – and called upon Congolese and international actors to take urgent measures to prevent electoral violence, provide more protection for civilians and ensure credible, free and fair elections. The organisations added that if the polls on November 28th are not regarded as credible then the risk of electoral disputes and violence is high.
The head of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the DRC voiced deep concern on October 28th over reports that one person was shot dead and three others wounded during a demonstration in the south-central province of Kasai Oriental to mark the beginning of campaigning.
Members of Parti Travailliste were marching in the provincial capital, Mbuji-Mayi, when the shooting happened, according to a press statement from the office of Roger Meece, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in DRC (MONUSCO). The statement added that the credibility of the presidential and legislative elections scheduled for 28 November is at stake.
“There are serious threats to holding the election on November 28th that must be addressed now,” said David Pottie of The Carter Center in a report released in mid-October. The Atlanta-based think-tank founded by former US president Jimmy Carter urged the Congolese government to “take rapid and convincing steps to ensure the transparency and credibility of the voter register.”
The Carter Center based its report on information collected by observers deployed in DR Congo since August.
The number of polling stations planned is far less than in 2003, while reports suggest the electoral roll has been tampered with and is littered with “ghost voters”.
“The DRC is a large and fractured country with a violent past and present; failure to recognize this context, or worse, to exploit it for electoral gain, will undermine the possibility of genuine democratic elections,” the Carter Center went on.
Since March, Human Rights Watch has documented dozens of instances of apparent ethnic hate speech and incitement to violence by political candidates and their supporters. Police have also used unnecessary or excessive force against political demonstrations. The verbal and physical assaults, primarily against opposition candidates and their supporters, have created a climate of fear in some areas. Political candidates and their supporters should not incite violence and should refrain from using hate speech during the upcoming election campaign, HRW said on October 28th.
A spate of bloody incidents highlight the potential for violence and destabilisation over the electoral period. Since early September violent clashes between the police and opposition demonstrators have occurred, with several people killed and numerous demonstrators injured in Kinshasa. In addition to this election-related violence, the country has been ravaged by widespread insecurity for years, with a recent increase of attacks targeting humanitarian workers, including the deadliest incident in Congolese history, in which five aid workers were killed in October in South Kivu. Security forces in the DRC are already struggling with ongoing insecurity and are unable to respond to any further escalation.
“This election in Congo is the ultimate test. Is Congo on course to consolidate its fledging democracy or return to a state of widespread instability, insecurity and violence? Second elections are vital to consolidate democratic peace gains in the country, complete a full electoral cycle and strengthen democratic institutions”, said Thierry Vircoulon, Central Africa Director at the International Crisis Group (ICG).
One of Africa’s leading peacemakers, Henri Ladyi, director of the Centre Résolution de Conflits says he fears years of hard work in demobilizing militia members, especially child soldiers, was being undone. They are being pulled back into the bush to prepare for a fresh conflict. “Many of those who were demobilized were not accepted when they tried to go back into the communities – people were very angry – so they are easily recruited back to be with the bandits, and the militias are building strength. People are very fearful about what will happen in this next month.”
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