Walter James (SOS Femme en Danger – SOSFED): Walter graduated in 2006 from the University of Minnesota. Following college, he worked on international development in Haiti and Senegal, and studied human rights and international development in Senegal, Costa Rica, and Morocco. Walter first visited Eastern Congo as a 2009 Peace Fellow for The Advocacy Project, where he documented the work of civil society organizations such as SOS Femmes en Danger, Arche d’Alliance, and Tunza Mazingira. The following year, he graduated from the University of Maryland School of Public Policy with a Master’s degree in Public Policy.

Sud Kivu Election Diary: Part I

28 Oct

In less than a month, national elections are scheduled for the Congo.  Yesterday, official campaigning began all across the DRC.  Here in Sud Kivu, we are all holding our breath a little bit.  This will only be the third national multiparty election in the history of the Congo.

So far, many observers see this election as a referendum on incumbent President Joseph Kabila, who took over as interim president when his father was assassinated in 2001 and won Congo’s first real national election in 2006.  Kabila’s political party is the PPRD.

In 2006, Kabila easily carried Sud Kivu Province, as he was considered a “native son” (as opposed to “people-eating” Jean-Pierre Bemba) who reunited the country and ended the Rwandan occupation.  However, since then, Kabila’s reputation in Sud Kivu has suffered for a number of reasons:

1)     Many “autochtone” Congolese (Babembe, Bafulero, Bashi) are angry that Kabila “shook hands with the devil” when he improved relations with Paul Kagame in Rwanda.  During Operations Kimya II and Amani Leo in 2010-2011, the boots of Rwandan soldiers were once again on Congolese soil to assist the largely unmotivated and ineffective FARDC in pursuing the FDLR.  The population of Sud Kivu, who will not easily forget how badly they suffered under brutal Rwandan occupation, are not ready to forgive Kabila for this compromise.  Even after official Rwandan presence has all but disappeared from Sud Kivu, many “autochtone” still feel that the Rwandophone ethnic minorities hold too much power in the regional governments and in the armed forces.  It doesn’t help that many high-ranking PPRD members in Sud Kivu used to belong to the rather unpopular RCD regime of the late 90s/early 2000s.

2)     The lack of development in Sud Kivu (as well as in the rest of the Congo) is still astoundingly awful for a country so rich in mineral resources.  Early in his regime, Kabila promised great developments in the “Cinq Chantiers”, a series of improvements to five aspects of the Congo (schools, roads, etc).  However, in Sud Kivu, unemployment rates are still high, the roads are awful, and the education system is in a dismal state.  Having promised great things, many Congolese people now see Kabila responsible for the failure of development in the Congo.

3)     Security remains very bad in Sud Kivu.  The FDLR has been pushed back further into the jungle in the past few years, but the local populations have suffered under the hands of FARDC troops.  Furthermore, there has been no real resolution to the war and insecurity, despite the fact that many armed groups have been induced to join the FARDC through promises of cash and impunity.  Many people in Sud Kivu dissatisfied by Kabila believe that he should try harder at making a deal with the FDLR, instead of continuing what they believe is a “Rwandan” war.  Thus, many hold Kabila responsible for the lawless, violent, and undisciplined behavior of state-endorsed troops, as well as the lack of resolution to the “fires in the East”.

The discontent with Kabila’s regime explains why groups such as Mai Mai Yakutumba maintain a certain level of popularity in Sud Kivu, particularly among the Babembe elite in Fizi Territory, who resent Rwandophone ethnic minorities and feel disenchanted by their perceived lack of political power at the national/regional level.

Kabila’s growing unpopularity in the East has also fueled a number of myths about his intentions and his origins.  It is easy to find Congolese people in Sud Kivu who will tell you that Kabila is (my goodness) a “Tutsi spy”, a puppet installed and kept in power by the Rwandan government.  There are many circulating stories about Kabila’s mother being a “Rwandan Tutsi”, which, despite their apocryphal nature, may actually be possible, given what we know about the women who orbited around Laurent-Desire Kabila.  Of course, does it really matter where Petit Joseph’s mother came from?  No.  This kind of xenophobic name-calling, unfortunately, is rather counterproductive and does nothing to improve the image of Sud Kivutians as racist Génocidaires 2.0.

I have explained why Kabila is a rather unpopular choice here in Sud Kivu.  However, there is still the possibility that he will carry Sud Kivu in the election, given the dismal state of the political opposition.  In my next blog entry, I will write about those who will be running for president against Major General Joseph Kabila Kabange.


Posted Oct 28th, 2011

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