Charlie Walker

Charlie Walker (SOS Femme en Danger – SOSFED): Charlie completed an undergraduate degree in International Relations and French at the University of Leeds. Charlie earned a Masters degree in Post-War Recovery at the University of York, and her research took her to the Eastern Congo where she encountered SOS Femmes en Danger (SOSFED). Charlie has also worked with vulnerable migrants in Spain and Britain, and with the British Red Cross. After her fellowship at SOSFED, Charlie wrote: “Perhaps the most significant cultural understanding that I gleaned from the experience was a deeper knowledge of the position of women in Congolese society, and of the value of women’s rights education to empower women and encourage their husbands, fathers and brothers to support such a process of empowerment."



CONGO HEADS TO THE POLLS: ELECTIONS MARRED BY CHRONIC LOGISTICAL PROBLEMS, VIOLENCE AND WIDESPREAD CLAIMS OF VOTE RIGGING

29 Nov

Yesterday voters in the DRC went to the polls in only the second internationally recognised election in the country’s history. The eve of the elections had been a tense one, with increased rebel activity and humanitarian attacks in the country’s fragile east, chronic logistical problems, and an increasingly hardline stand-off between the two main Presidential candidates. Incumbent Joseph Kabila has been President since the death of his father Laurent Kabila in 2001, and was re-elected in internationally endorsed elections in 2006. His greatest rival, long-term opposition Etienne Tshisekedi, has over his extended political career been a minister in Mobutu’s dictatorial regime, a staunch Mobutu rival, Prime Minister (three times), and since 1982, founder and head of the Union pour la Democratie et le Progres (UDPS). Tshesekedi boycotted the 2006 elections claiming fraud, but has this year re-joined the Presidential race, going so far as to pre-emptively declare himself President in the weeks preceding yesterday’s polls.

Tshesekedi Campaining (Courtesy of Le Matin)

As the day unfolded, a number of violent security incidents were reported across the country. In Lubumbashi, capital of Katanga province, a van containing voting papers and a polling station were set alight, and gunfire was exchanged throughout the town for an hour, reportedly leaving 5 people dead. In Mbuji-Mayi, capital of Western Kasai, the population allegedly attacked several people found with completed voting papers in favour of a certain Presidential candidate, and a church was reportedly set on fire by voters claiming that its Paster was harbouring ballot papers. In Kananga, capital of Lulua district, one female observer suspected of malpractice was attacked by voters, and allegedly up to 12 polling stations were set alight by voters angry at prolonged delays. Similarly, in Kinshasa, clashes were reported between police and voters attempting to act as observers, despite not having official observer status, and one electoral official was allegedly severely beaten after being accused of malpractice. In Equateur province, people reportedly launched stones at CENI (the national electoral commission) agents following the Governor of the province being permitted to place his vote without observation by witnesses or official election observers. In Masisi, North Kivu, reports suggest that military and police officers fired shots to disperse voters at polling stations.

Opposition supporters being dispersed with teargas in Kinshasa (Courtesy of AFP)

In addition to such security incidents, as forewarned by international advisors and the domestic opposition, the elections have also been plagued by chronic logistical problems. Officials struggled to get voting materials for some 30 million people – printed only two weeks ago in South Africa – to the 63,000 polling stations spread throughout a country nearly the size of Western Europe, and where 98% of roads are unpaved. CENI last night announced that they would be organising for polls to take place in areas which had experienced delays in receiving electoral materials. This morning a representative of MONUSCO (the UN mission for the DRC) confirmed that UN officials were still delivering voting materials to areas which had not been reached in time for the opening of the polls yesterday morning. Unable to put an official figure on the number of people who had been able to vote, he noted that it was in “the hundreds of thousands”.

Voters queuing at the Polls (Courtesy of Al Jazeera)

The elections have thus far been marred by widespread allegations of fraud, ballot stuffing, and a dearth of independent observers. In Kinshasa, many voters were reportedly unable to find their names on the electoral lists and following security incidents in the capital, it has been alleged that police officers seized ballot papers from voters. UN funded Radio Okapi reported that international observers were absent in areas of the capital, as well as elsewhere throughout the country. In Masisi there have been allegations of individuals – including police and military officers – being permitted to vote without official electoral cards. In Kananga, the population reportedly seized stashes of completed voting cards in favour of certain candidates from private residences. In Mbandaka there were accounts of CENI officials refusing (contrary to electoral regulations) to show that ballot boxes were empty before voting began, and of full ballot boxes being found in Western Kasai province. In eastern Congo, Cindy McCain, wife of US Senator John McCain and head of a team of independent observers in Goma, noted that they had encountered a possible case of ballot stuffing, as she found a Presidential ballot box in one station already a third full upon her arrival at dawn, before the opening of the centre. There have been reports of insufficient voting papers in areas where materials were delivered, and of intimidation being used to pressure people into voting for certain candidates. In South Kivu, representatives of the Quaker observation mission noted a lack of voter confidentiality, and significant voting problems related to illiteracy amongst the population.

Abandoned Ballot Papers in Kinshasa (Courtesy of Reuters)

Abandoned Ballot Papers in Kinshasa (Courtesy of Reuters)

Despite late delivery of materials, insecurity and fraud allegations throughout the country, in many areas there were few reports of voting-related problems, and in many cases, polls closed and counting of votes began yesterday evening. This has continued throughout today, and local results are steadily beginning to be displayed throughout the country. The date that counts however, is the 6th December, when official national results are due. Many expect that the one round voting system recently pushed through parliament by Kabila will favour his re-election. Should this be the case however, many analysts fear the results of opposition cries of fraud. Today four out of ten opposition candidates have called for the election to be annulled. Depending on the outcome on December 6th, such allegations may well incite the Congolese population – which has grown tired of the incumbent government’s failures – to violent protest.

Stay tuned for more updates as events unfold.

For videos on the elections and fraud see the Guardian and Al Jazeera

Posted By Charlie Walker

Posted Nov 29th, 2011

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