Securing Congo’s Elections: Lessons from the Kinshasa Showdown
Securing Congo’s Elections: Lessons from the Kinshasa Showdown
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
The Boiling Regional Crisis in Eastern Congo
The Boiling Regional Crisis in Eastern Congo
Briefing 42 / Africa

Securing Congo’s Elections: Lessons from the Kinshasa Showdown

Hours before the first-round results of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s presidential elections were to be announced in Kinshasa on 20 August 2006, violence erupted between troops loyal to Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba and those loyal to the incumbent, Joseph Kabila, providing dramatic proof of the fragility of the electoral process.

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I. Overview

Hours before the first-round results of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s presidential elections were to be announced in Kinshasa on 20 August 2006, violence erupted between troops loyal to Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba and those loyal to the incumbent, Joseph Kabila, providing dramatic proof of the fragility of the electoral process. Because both Kabila and Bemba will be tempted to use violence should they lose the second round, and the former in particular is very strong militarily, the Congolese government and the international community must move quickly to make secure the run-off as well as the provincial assembly elections on 29 October. Militias also threaten stability elsewhere in the country, notably in North Kivu and Ituri, but the capital is likely to be the most sensitive location again. A three-pronged strategy is required: improving security in Kinshasa, promoting a more responsible approach to the media and resolving some basic problems in the electoral process.

First, the thousands of troops in Kinshasa must be reined in, particularly the private guards of Kabila and Bemba, who are not part of the army’s regular command structure. Secondly, steps need to be taken to prevent hate speech and defamation in media outlets, which are often de facto allies of the candidates and have helped stoke violence in the capital. Lastly, weaknesses in the electoral process must be urgently corrected to make sure the run-off is fair. In the first round, lists of voters and polling stations were altered on the eve of elections, lessening the transparency of the process. Election monitors did not have the resources to deploy to remote areas, leaving thousands of polling stations without observers. Ballot collection was poorly planned, particularly in Kinshasa where any recount was nearly impossible.

The policy priorities are to:

  • secure Kinshasa by obtaining Bemba and Kabila’s agreement to limit their personal guards, allow EUFOR (European Union Force) and MONUC (United Nations Organisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) observers access to their military installations and confine all other Congolese troops in the country to barracks during the second round; as well as by deploying more EUFOR troops to the capital from the reserve in Gabon, with clear authority to use force to prevent violence, and extending the EUFOR troop deployment to the end of the electoral cycle in January 2007;
     
  • promote a climate of constructive criticism by strengthening the High Media Authority (HAM), having the ministry of justice attach judicial police to it so it can act quickly to suspend media guilty of hate speech and ensuring that state television and radio cover the political parties and candidates equally; and
     
  • fix the electoral process by addressing the first-round weaknesses through timely publication of voter and polling centre lists, coordinating election monitor deployment and carefully planning collection and protection of ballots.

More detailed recommendations for the implementation of these priorities by the UN, EU and local officials are set out in Section V of this Briefing.

Nairobi/Brussels, 2 October 2006

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