Violence continues as Congo’s presidential poll results are delayed

Congolese victim during election

Logistical problems have delayed the result of the presidential poll in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Incumbent Joseph Kabila looks set to win but violence and fraud allegations have overshadowed the poll.

Election officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo announced a 48-hour delay in publishing results of elections for logistical reasons. 

"We have not received all the official tallies from polling stations, that is the reason," said Congo’s national election spokesman Laurent Ndaye.

Helicopters and ferries had been used to bring in ballot boxes from remote polling stations in an effort to meet the deadline of midnight on Tuesday. Under the constitution, the results were to be declared by then.

The delay is likely to further increase tensions in an election already overshadowed by violence and fraud allegations.

With nearly 70 percent of the ballots counted earlier on Tuesday, incumbent President Joseph Kabila looked to have received a 10-point lead over his main challenger Etienne Tshisekedi. Protests by supporters of Tschisekedi – armed with machetes, stones and petrol bombs – were broken up by police using teargas grenades.

The preliminary results putting Kabila ahead did not come as much of a surprise. The incumbent enjoyed a number of advantages in the election. He had far great financial resources, and changes to the Congolese constitution strengthened his ability to keep his grip on power. In particular, the abolishment of second rounds of voting in the elections meant that opposition candidates could no longer unite to challenge Kabila at the run-off stage.

Joseph KabilaBut the rules changes have alienated opposition politicians the incumbent president may need to push through reforms aimed at improving conditions in Congo, one of the largest and most populous countries in Africa and among the poorest nations in the world.

Tinko Weibezahl, the former director of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in the Congolese capital Kinshasa, says he doesn't think that Kabila and the opposition can work together.

"Naturally, it's difficult to integrate the opposition into parliament, if you change the constitution," Weibezahl told Deutsche Welle. "Especially if the changes served to shore up the president's own power and were enacted by handing out monetary gifts to the majority of parliamentarians."

The result has been violence. Eighteen people in Congo were killed in election-related conflicts, and thousands have already fled the country fearing for their safety ahead of the announcement of the official results. Logistical problems marred the election, as Congo's infrastructure is in extremely poor condition. Opposition parties also complained about fraud, although five African observer groups, including one headed by South African President Jacob Zuma, deemed the election "successful."

Some experts fear the result could be a civil war of the sort that happened off-and-on throughout the first decade of the new millennium and that may have cost over five million people their lives.

Political will and incompetence

Experts see little reason to believe in a peaceful future for the country. If progress is to be made, many say, governance in Congo must be dramatically improved.

Congolese opposition supporter with ballot

"The government, including the family of the president, is corrupt," Weibezahl said. "So much money is siphoned off that there's not enough to finance the organs of state."

A particular source of corruption is the allocation of rights to mine Congo's plentiful natural resources, and Weibezahl said he doubted that there was the "political will" to change that situation.

Congo also lacks a functioning political elite. More than 18,500 candidates competed for 500 spots in the National Assembly in this election. And Theodore Trefon, author of the book "Congo Masquerade," says most of them were anything but professional.

"The majority of the people who ran had no political experience whatsoever," Trefon told Deutsche Welle. "They have no idea how the business works."

Trefon also implied many of the candidates may have been in it for the money. "If you get elected, you get a monthly income of $5,000 to $6,000," Trefon said. "There's a lack of professionalism and, what's worse, a lack of basic competence."

Ramshackle building with campaign flag in CongoBureaucratic hurdles

Congo's gross domestic product, despite a wealth of natural resources and a population of over 70 million, is only around seven billion euros ($9 billion). Officially, agreements between Congo and other nations are subject to parliamentary debate, but in practice commercial deals, for instance, with China, remain secret.

On the other hand, government bureaucrats hinder private investment. It takes an average of 60 days to establish a new company in Congo, compared with only four in neighboring Rwanda.

Trefon sees the need for fundamental reforms.

"The production industries require reinvention," he said. "And the problems that put the brakes on investment have to do with property rights."

Those problems include the complexity of trying to register property with the government, which discourages rich Congolese from putting their assets into companies that produce consumer goods.

"They prefer to invest in service industries…and agricultural concessions, which promise more immediate profits," Trefon said.

Few of Congo's problems were solved during Joseph Kabila's first term in office from 2006-11. Now, the international community will be waiting and watching to see whether his second term, despite its controversial beginning, might yield between results for a country in dire need of reform.

For more information about Congo, read 'Congo Masquerade' By Theodore Trefon



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