Where was Canada when Congo’s election turned violent?

There are 32 million registered voters in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is about the size of Western Europe but with a fraction of the infrastructure. Ballots for last week's election travelled to remote regions by canoe, delivery men portaging like nomads to reach the farthest of the polls, which totalled 63,000.

Adding to the logistics crisis was a purported negligence from the international community. Fewer foreign dollars and fewer electoral observers made it to Congo's polls this time around than during its 2006 presidential race. Some claimed the international community had abandoned Congo to its own questionable devices, allowing disorganization to descend into violence.

And so it went. Armed men attacked voter kiosks and hijacked delivery trucks loaded with ballots; their gunfire killed at least five. Some ballots were found marked before polls opened. Other polls failed to open at all, upsetting crowds with tempers heated by long lines and the central African summer. Polling stations were set on fire.

Where was Canada while voting racked up a death toll in Congo, a country that's inherited billions in foreign aid dollars? Six Canadian election observers were deployed to a country with 72 million people. This wasn't enough.

We don't know for certain that sending 60 or 600 Canadians would have saved lives, stopped ballot stuffing or police brutality. But it couldn't have hurt.

"Neutral parties can literally mean the difference between peaceful elections and violent protests," says Glenys Babcock, policy analyst and president of Pragmora, a Toronto-based think-tank.

Babcock is a former consultant to the World Bank who specializes in policy and advocacy measures to develop peace in post-conflict countries. She recently travelled to Congo, where locals told her that neutral observers instilled confidence in the fate of their country's election.

Her group, Pragmora, unsuccessfully petitioned the Canadian government to send more observers.

It's not clear why Canada sent so few.

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

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