This week, as parliamentary and presidential candidates prepare for the DRC’s November elections, fears have been expressed that Africa’s third biggest country, with a population of 70 million, may not be ready in time.
For some, the concerns are purely logistical. On the issue of the Congolese security structures, the International Crisis Group Central Africa Programme Director, Thierry Vircoulon, warned that the police may be undertrained for “crowd management”. He added that “in terms of organisation we are not sure that the electoral authorities will be ready on the 28th November”.
As figures such as Etienne Tshisekedi, Vital Kamerhe and Jean-Pierre Bemba prepare to challenge the current president, Joseph Kabila, the International Crisis Group has cautioned that the Congolese elections could “easily become as violent” as those held in the Ivory Coast last spring. Kabila’s recent moves in Parliament to increase his authority, including steps to ensure that there will only be one round in the upcoming presidential struggle, has led to allegations of unfairness and could fuel dissatisfaction with results.
Given the good position of the incumbent, rival parties may have to unite if they wish to have a serious chance of defeating him and maintaining power in the long-term. Although analyst Banza Mukalay has argued that “egocentricity” could damage such a united front, Vital Kamerhe of the UNC party is willing to consider political co-operation, believing that “there is no political or social force, no individual, who can win the 2011 elections alone”.
Whether alternative parties will be allowed to compete on an equal footing is another issue. There have been reports this week that Kizito Mushizi, a prominent UNC representative who leads Bukavu province and who intends to stand for a parliamentary seat this November, has received death threats. Despite such allegations, the UN’s peacekeeping force in the country, MONUSCO, has declared that the electoral process is an internal affair, Colonel Maktar Job stating that the troops do not intend to begin a process of intervention. Perhaps fearful, perhaps looking for political points, Vital Kamerhe asks: “How are we, the political actors, going to be protected? How is this process going to be secured?”