Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Document may suggest fraud in the voter register

A report has surfaced in Kinshasa suggesting that hundreds of thousands of voters in the official register  may be fake. While many of these records may just be technical glitches, diplomats who have seen the document and follow the electoral process closely suggest this may be a sign of fraud.

For several weeks now, accusations have been flung back and forth between the election commission and the opposition about the voter register, a database of around 32 million voters that identifies those eligible to vote in the November elections. The stakes are potentially huge, as if the register is rigged, it will be difficult for observers at the polling stations to identify fraud.

The report is a confidential document written in early August by Zetes, a Belgian company contracted by the Congolese government to issue biometric voters cards. They conducted preliminary samples of the voter register to see how many doublons - voters who show up twice in the system - there may be in the database. According to two separate diplomats who had seen the document, Zetes found the following number of doublons:

Bandundu - 278,039, or 13.68% of all voters
Equateur - 201, 543, or 12.69%
Orientale - 198,881, or 5.47%
Kinshasa - 22,466, or 0.87%

These levels are far higher that those announced by the election commission Daniel Mulunda Ngoy, who said that 119,000 double registrations had been identified. 

The Zetes report, which was issued in early August, says that there are different types of doublons. The most damning type, which they suggested based on their sampling was not negligible, are the doublons binaires and vrai doublons, which would constitute fraud. Zetes concluded itself that the presence of these voters in the register is evidence of manipulation. It is, however, not clear how many of these fake voter IDs were issued. 

It is also important to note that removing these doublons would not eliminate other types of fraud, such as the registration of children or foreigners. 

Even if all of these fake voters are technical glitches, at the very least it appears that the voter registration process has resulted in the gerrymandering of electoral districts, as Kinshasa has far fewer doublons than other provinces. This is confirmed by the fact that only 92% of expected voters were registered in Kinshasa, as compared with 110% in Equateur and 109% in Katanga. Because the voter register was not audited before the amendment to the electoral law - that determines how many parliamentary seats there are per district - was passed, this would imply that the population of Kinshasa will  be underrepresented in the national assembly. 

According to the same Zetes document, it would take them until October to audit out all of the doublons. That would have caused for a serious delay in the electoral process, as the electoral amendment had to be passed in early August in order for elections to take place on November 28. 

Regardless of how skewed the parliamentary distribution of seats is, it remains crucial to audit the voter register. This past week, there was conflicting messages coming out of the electoral commission with regards to an audit. First, the election commissioner announced that five members of the political opposition would be allowed to access their database. (According to some observers, none of those put forward by the opposition, however, have the necessary technical expertise to carry out such an audit). Then, just a day later, he said that both sides of the political spectrum - the governing coalition and the opposition - would have to agree on an audit. Kabila's majority prompted said that they didn't think an audit was necessary, thereby preventing the opposition from gaining access to the database. 

When contacted by diplomats and journalists, Zetes and UN electoral officials dismissed the report, saying that the glitches were technical and not a major problem. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A preliminary analysis of the legislative race

The electoral commission has published the list of candidates for the legislative elections, which are scheduled to be held on November 28th along with the presidential election. The legislative election is particularly important in the Congo, as the prime minister is named by the largest coalition in parliament, and then forms a cabinet to deal with the day-to-day business of governing. (That's the theory, at least - in this government, the presidency has wielded far greater power).

There are 19,000 candidates for the 500 seats in the national assembly. This means the legislative battle will be more competitive than in 2006, when there were considerably fewer candidates. In some districts, like Tshangu in Kinshasa, there are a hundred candidates for every seat.

I have done a very superficial analysis of five of the major parties contending elections: MLC, PPRD, UFC, UNC and UDPS. I admit that other parties are also extremely important - MSR and PALU, for example - but I will leave those for another day. If I did not miscount, here is a list of how many candidates each party registered for the 500 seats:

MLC (Bemba):          237
PPRD (Kabila):         545
UDPS (Tshisekedi):  377
UFC (Kengo):           334
UNC (Kamerhe):      450

I should emphasize that these numbers don't mean much - if a party is unpopular, then even by multiplying the number of candidates they won't get more seats. Nonetheless, there are several observations we can make.

First, the PPRD has the largest pool of candidates. This is probably a sign of their deep pockets, but they are also the only party of these five (other than the MLC, which has been weakened by infighting) that contended the last elections and has been present in the field since then, if only by virtue of the fact that the are in power. However, in some areas they have submitted over double the number of candidates as there seats in the district - this could be a sign of poor organization, as the party will be wasting resources by overloading candidates.

Secondly, it is very probable that we will see a change in the lead opposition party. Even if Kabila's coalition wins again, the MLC appears to have been deeply weakened by Bemba's absence and the splintering of the party over the past several years. They were only able to table one candidate for every two seats, an indication of a lack of funds and organization - one of their officials told me that they had even had trouble raising the funds necessary for registering their legislative candidates (I think something like $60,000).

The new opposition parties have been mobilizing very effectively. In particular, the UNC, which was launched less than a year ago, has been able to put forward candidates for over 85 percent of the seats in the national assembly, an impressive feat that also indicates that they have been able to raise significant funds. The UDPS is strong, but lacks candidates in many areas in the East. Again, none of this is an indication of how many seats they will win, and some of suggested that the UNC has expanded too fast, allowing to many opportunists into the party, while the UDPS has been more selective in its candidates.

Here is a breakdown by province:

Prov Orientale
N Kivu
S Kivu

Monday, September 19, 2011

The not-so-prodigal son returns?

Most observers would have never thought it possible: Laurent Nkunda coming back to the Congo? Yes, this is indeed the rumor that has been making the rounds in Goma, Kigali and elsewhere over the past few months. Moreover, this mooted return would not be one in handcuffs to the closest prison, but in style and honor to an official military position.

It seems impossible, given that Nkunda is one of the most divisive figures in the country - seen by many Congolese as symbol of Rwandan aggression or Tutsi chauvinism, upheld by some in his own community as a hero. Could President Kabila really accept this? Some CNDP officials are saying yes. Accentuating these rumors, in past weeks, Nkunda has reportedly been seen traveling more freely inside Rwanda, allegedly even coming to a funeral in Gisenyi.

It has been two and half years since Nkunda was arrested by the Rwandan government and put under house arrest in Kigali pending a trial that has never happened. Now, Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo suggests, "We are talking to the Congolese authorities with regard to his extradition," (they have said this for a while, also maintaining that this extradition is difficult), and I have seen emails suggesting that he could be named as the military commander of Maniema. 

One possible reason for this return could be to reconcile the two factions within the CNDP, in order to solidify the group before the elections and to prevent any alliance with Rwandan opponents like Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa. Or this could just be a rumor to keep people on their toes - after all, the Congolese have maintained they would court martial him if he ever returns.

If it does happen, in handcuffs or not, it is unlikely to take place before the elections. 

Donors and elections in the Congo

With elections approaching in the Congo, it is worthwhile reflecting on the role of the international community in the process. Since the beginning, it has been clear that foreign partners would play a more marginal role than in the 2006 polls. Then, as the country was coming out of a war, donors financed 90 percent of the elections budget - this time, the Congolese government is shouldering 60 percent of the burden. MONUSCO, the guarantor of the peace process, is now dealing with a sovereign, democratically elected government. 

This, however, hasn't stopped many analysts - myself included - from pushing for greater involvement and pressure. Following the rushed constitutional reform that radically altered the electoral process - from a two-round majority-win to a one-round plurality-win poll for the president - there was little protest from diplomats, who suggested that these were internal matters of a sovereignly-elected government. I have some sympathy for this, for as much as the constitutional change was  opportunistic and rammed through parliament in a hurry, on the face of it, the revision passed (more or less) legally. 

Where I am less sympathetic is regarding the voter registration. What little observation has been carried out suggests that there may have been significant flaws in this process - children, foreigners and "ghosts" (fictitious voters) registered, and we know from election officials that there are people who have registered numerous times in different offices (one observer mentioned one man registering eleven times). The problem is, because the political opposition (and to a certain degree, civil society) was not really present to monitor the process, we don't know how widespread this abuse was. Could it compromise the presidential election? What about the legislative elections? Difficult to say. 

At the very least, there should be a mechanical audit to get rid of "doublons," people who have registered more than once. Since registration was biometric, this should be relatively easy to complete in several days in Kinshasa. Getting rid of other abusers - children, foreigners, etc. - would probably have to be done in a decentralized fashion, by publishing the voting list locally and then allowing each community to verify the identities of those registered. This would be difficult and would take time, although the electoral law did require each registration office to publish the lists of those who registered there (they sometimes didn't). 

The election commissioner said he would agree to two delegates from the opposition to have access to the voter register for an audit - the opposition put forward two such experts two weeks ago (Valentin Mubake from the UDPS and Jean-Lucien Busa from the MLC), but now the commissioner is questioning their qualifications. In the meantime, the electoral countdown clock is ticking. (Just after I published this posting, Radio Okapi announced that an agreement had been found for the audit - see here).

Here, the donor community could have weighed in; after all, they are providing a large amount of the funding and logistics for the election. Not only did they not push for this audit, the mission - along with several embassies - called for the swift adoption of the amendment to the electoral law that de facto confirmed the registration figures: it determined how many parliamentarians would be elected per district based on the number of voters there. 

MONUSCO has been reluctant to criticize the preparation of elections. In part, as I have written here before, this fits in with the mission's aim of re-establishing good relations with the Congolese government. To an extent, they are right: Little can be achieved by the mission without cordial relations with their counterparts, and this relationship slipped badly during the latter year of Alan Doss' term. When Roger Meece arrived as the new head of the peacekeeping mission last year, he took it upon himself to re-dynamize that relationship, and has in large part succeeded. 

However, this has meant that the mission has at time shied away from criticism, particularly with regards to the electoral process. MONUSCO officials have been insisting in public and private that they need to be " a neutral and supportive body and to avoid a formal judgmental role," as one official put it. 

This last bit refers to the fact that MONUSCO wants to avoid being an accreditor of the elections, like the UN mission did in the Ivory Coast. I agree with that, as that would have been a step to far and the government would have most likely rejected that option. But has the UN been vocal enough "to encourage open and peaceful conditions," as they are mandated to do? In May this year, the mission wrote in a public report that they had evidence of 200 human rights abuses related to the electoral process. However, they have never made public any of this evidence or condemned any of those responsible. 

Neither MONUSCO or foreign diplomats are to blame for all of the flaws in the electoral process - the political opposition has been consumed by in-fighting, and the primary responsibility for electoral abuse is of course to be placed on the abusers themselves. But one is left wondering whether MONUSCO has confused neutrality for impartiality - the UN should not take sides, but surely it should denounce abuse where it sees it, especially if it is in violation of the principles the organization stands for. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Elections: Can the opposition still unite?

Correction: There are only 11 presidential candidates. Ismael Kitenge did not register.

As most readers will know by now, there are twelve candidates for the presidential elections in the Congo. This is many fewer than in 2006, when 33 Congolese vied for the position, but for many in the opposition, this is still far too many.

As I have argued here before, the presidential vote will, first and foremost, be a referendum on Kabila's popularity. If the president, for example, knows that he can garner 35% of the popular vote, then he needs to focus on making sure the remaining 65% is divided among enough candidates that no single one can beat him. That was the importance of the constitutional revision earlier this year, that changed the presidential poll from a two-round, majority-wins election to a one-round, plurality-wins affair.

This means that the main challenge for the opposition will be to unite behind a single candidate in order to increase their chances of beating Kabila. This endeavor, however, has butted up against the considerable egos of those involved, as well as deep mistrust within the opposition.

The opposition has now split into two major wings - the Fatima wing, led by Tshisekedi. He has been able to muster the support of 80 political parties other than his own UDPS, although none of these parties, to my knowledge, has much of an electoral base. Talks appear to have more or less come to an end between Tshisekedi and the other major opposition candidates. "The negotiations are finished," the veteran opposition leader said when he submitted his candidacy. His spokesperson added: "I am sure that our friends will join us."

Those friends, however, have formed their own wing, an informal coalition dubbed Sultani, and led by Léon Kengo wa Dondo and Vital Kamerhe. In private, members of those parties are not optimistic about uniting behind Tshisekedi, who they claim has been leading with his chin by boldly refusing any negotiations. And even within this coalition, there are troubles - Kengo has been telling his colleagues that Kamerhe may rally behind him in exchange for the prime minister's position. Kamerhe says this is not true, and indeed it is not clear why Kengo, who has been a sly political player but has little mass following, should take the lead.

Other, smaller players, may yet further divide the opposition. Adam Bombole, a rich businessman and former head of the MLC's Kinshasa section, has thrown his name in the hat. According to MLC sources, Bombole spoke with Jean-Pierre Bemba and received his provisional approval to run, but then didn't take the care to consult with other MLC leaders (not in prison) before announcing his candidacy. The result: He has been expelled from the party. Nonetheless, Bombole has relatively deep pockets and is popular in Kinshasa, where he could get votes.

The only other two of the twelve candidates who could get more than one or two percent of the vote are Mbusa Nyamwisi and Oscar Kashala. Mbusa, who decided to run as an independent instead of for his RCD-K-ML party, still has something of a base in North Kivu among his Nande community, although many have jumped ship there, as well. Kashala came in 5th in the 2006 elections, with 3,4% of the total vote. However, the US-based doctor benefited then from Tshisekedi's boycott, allowing him to claim many votes in the Luba community and in Kinshasa.

With this proliferation of candidates, it is no surprise that allegations have emerged that some are fake opposition members, running in order to divide their ranks and allow Kabila to win. Kamerhe and Kengo have been accused of this, and now Bombole and Mbusa have earned this dubious distinction, as well. I even heard a Kengo supporter suggesting that Tshisekedi's advisors have been bought off and have steered him in the wrong direction.

Of course, it is still theoretically possible that (a) the opposition will unite, at least a little; and (b) that even divided, one of them could beat Kabila single-handedly. The president, however, has formidable resources: deep pockets, state media and the security services. Already, opposition members are complaining that they barely had the funds to pay for the registration of all of their legislative candidates, and there are reports that some of the main opposition parties have only been able to field candidates in a fraction of the 169 electoral districts.

The next weeks will be interesting. Two things to watch: Will there be any further consolidation of the presidential field? My guess is that this would happen before the official campaigning begins in October, when candidates start spending much more money. Secondly, who are the different parties' legislative candidates? This last question will be important for any negotiations within the opposition, as it will have a bearing on who is projected to control parliament and thus be able to nominate the prime minister.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

New armed groups appear in South Kivu

(Please read the comments section, as well, for informative corrections and additions by Judith.)

Yesterday, in a speech to the nation, President Joseph Kabila announced, "There is no more fire in the East, just some embers." While it is true that fighting has ebbed this year - largely due to a decrease in operations by the Congolese army - new armed groups have been popping up in South Kivu.

In the run-up to elections, we reported on efforts by the Congolese army to co-opt and repress various remaining armed groups in the eastern Congo - groups that are commonly euphemized as "residuals" by the government. The government struck deals with the FRF (Fizi/Uvira), Mai-Mai Kapopo (Mwenga), Mai-Mai Kifuafua (Kalehe) and has launched an offensive against the Mai-Mai Yakutumba (Fizi). (The army said it would no longer broker deals with groups after last June)

These efforts had been built on relatively shaky grounds - most of the deals involved cash buyouts and promises of positions in the new regiments. At the same time, the Congolese army had to reassure the previously integrated armed groups - especially PARECO and CNDP - and the national army that their power would not be diluted. 

Over the past few weeks, we have seen these efforts crumble. First, some existing deals have fallen apart, while at the same time new groups have emerged. One MONUSCO official in South Kivu spoke of "the mushrooming of new groups" there, in particular in the highlands of Uvira territory. 

One new group called Mai-Mai Kashorogosi belongs to a deserter from the police, Col. Nyerere Bunana, who defected in June and has rallied around 30 soldiers around him. His defection was prompted by allegations from the Congolese army that he was involved in a criminal network. Two other defectors have reportedly also established new groups in the same general area: Col. Bede Rusagara and Lt Col Baleke Sumahili, both of whom deserted from the Congolese army. Neither of them probably has more than several combatants under his command.

The Fuliro community, which lives in the mountains to the west of Uvira, has apparently become a hotbed for such armed group activity. All of the three above groups come from this community. In addition to those, there is the Mai-Mai Aochi, which has been active for several months now in the high plateau around Minembwe. There is also the Mai-Mai Mulumba group, also from the Fuliro community, active in the same area. Finally, a splinter group of the FRF, with its roots in the Banyamulenge community, has also re-emerged under the command of Col. Richard Tawimbi, also in the same broad area. 

What is the reason behind the proliferation of these groups this year? No one really seems to know for sure. In part, this is probably due to conflicts emerging around the integration of armed groups and the regimentation process, which has launched a competition for positions in the new army structure. In particular, the prominence of Hutu and Tutsi in these new structures has angered other communities, and the Fuliro have also been very outspoken in their opposition to the CNDP and PARECO. (In this regard, more on the recent rumors of a mutiny in Bukavu in a later post)

Others have suggested that the new armed groups are being manipulated by politicians, although I have not seen concrete proof of this yet. 

The main problems, however, are still structural: a weak army and a large country. The army is not yet strong and professional enough to deter new groups from emerging, and by buying them off the army is providing incentives for other groups to form. Once rebels join the army, they soon despair at poor pay and living conditions. It is also difficult for commanders who are often illiterate and used to an easy life in their local community to rub shoulders with educated officers who have formal training, and to move far away from home. 

Finally, the area where these groups are located is notoriously mountainous, rich in natural resources, and difficult to control, making it easy for guerrilla fighters to persist. 

These groups do not pose a serious threat to state power, but they do form a symbolic threat at a time when the government is trying to show that they have re-established peace in the East. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Thoughts on ICG's report

The International Crisis Group released a new report on the Congo this week called "The electoral process seen from the East." The report touches on several key points that are worth mentioning here.

First, they cite revealing figures concerning the voter registration process in the East. The registration figures for North Kivu, South Kivu and Province Orientale are roughly similar, with each province meeting its goals almost exactly. This means that the population in each of these provinces grew around 20 percent between 2006 and 2011. Across the Congo, over one million voters registered more than expected by the election commission, a figure that ICG says should raise questions. 

Nord-Kivu3 003 246  
Province Orientale      
3 886 524
Sud-Kivu2 022 960

However, these figures mask the numerous flaws in the registration process - the report provides a  summary of fake voters, children and foreigners registering, as well as cases of voters registering multiple times (one diplomat I recently spoke to said they had seen one case of a voter registering eleven times).  ICG also documents suspicious variations in registration levels within the provinces - why did 161 percent of expected voters register in Goma and 216 percent in Nyiragongo territory, while only 88 percent of those expected registered in Uvira territory?

Unfortunately, all ICG can do is ask questions. The truth is, we don't know how many eligible voters live where, as the last physical census was carried out in 1984. The election commission simply took the 2006 registration figures and extrapolated based on population growth - but not taking into account internal migration and variations in mortality and birth rates within the country.

In addition, as the report suggests, there was very weak monitoring of the registration process. In North Kivu, not a single official party official registered to observe the registration process, in part because the election commission only gave parties two days to register their witnesses (the electoral law requires seven days to registration). In general, political parties are poorly organized, and civil society did the bulk of what little monitoring there was. But as the election commission has not released the official voter register (they are required to do so 30 days before the election) and did not always post voter lists on the respective registration offices (they are required to do so by law), we have no idea how many fake voters there are in the East.

Given this extremely useful summary of election preparations, I find it strange that ICG did not call for an urgent audit of the voter register, as the opposition is now doing.

There are several other minor disagreements I have with the report - it claims that the political class in the eastern Congo thinks the presidential election is a fait accompli and that Kabila will win, given his superior financing, access to media and the security services. This was not my reading of the situation during my recent visit; the predominant mood was rather one of uncertainty, as many people in urban areas opposed Kabila but were worried of rigging. As I have written before, as there has been no rigorous polling, nobody has much to go on. The UNC and UDPS officials I spoke with certainly disagreed with this sentiment, and there have been several defections from Kabila's coalition in the Kivus that would confirm this uncertainty.

Secondly, I am not sure that people will vote for a candidate simply because a senior leader from their community tells them to. ICG suggests that Mwenga (South Kivu), for example, may vote for Kabila because a minister in his government comes from that territory. But Mwenga has also been one of the areas most riven by violence in the past years, with large parts occupied by the FDLR and various Mai-Mai groups. While Chinese engineers have built parts of the National Highway #4 through Mwenga, I am not sure that this will be enough to sway them. This question - to what degree a relatively uneducated population will vote for their leaders - is key, and to mind is still up in the air.


Pre-electoral Violence in Kinshasa

There were violent scenes in Kinshasa on Monday and Tuesday. The chain of events was apparently triggered by Etienne Tshisekedi's official registration as candidate for presidential elections. On the way back from the registration office, his supporters allegedly clashed with members of the PPRD, Kabila's core party, outside of their headquarters around 5pm.

To avenge that attack (although some UDPS members are claiming it was staged to discredit them), which damaged several cars and windows at the PPRD building, several dozen Kabila supporters attacked and set fire to the RLTV television station, which is owned by Tshisekedi supporter Roger Lumbala, around 2 o'clock at night. Around the same time, youth beset the UDPS headquarters in Limete, close to Tshisekedi's residence, breaking glass and lighting fires.
Riot police in Kinshasa as Tshisekedi registered. Source: Radio Okapi

When UDPS followers awoke to find their offices damaged, they began to protest in the street. Police in the neighborhood shot tear gas canisters and, according to some, live ammunition at the protesters, killing a 30-year-old man. Other witnesses said that the person who had used live ammunition was probably a "pomba," a member of a street gang, who were standing behind the police line.

The UDPS has accused Kabila of armed a militia out of such street gangs in Kinshasa. Jacquemain Shabani, the UDPS spokesperson, also accused the government of having instigated the attack through their security services.

Tensions are beginning to mount. Just in the past two weeks, at least five journalists and human rights activists have been threatened anonymously in Kinshasa: Donat Mbaya, Tshivis Tshivuadi, Eugénie Ntumba, Jonas Tshombela, and Charles Mushizi.

It will be interesting to see whether the UDPS can keep mobilizing tens of thousands of people - as it did for Tshisekedi's return last December and his rally in April - as violence mounts. The last several rallies, in particular the protest at the CENI offices, saw only several hundred demonstrators.

Two rallies have been announced in Kinshasa for tomorrow (Thursday) - one by the UDPS and one by PPRD. While both sides have called on their followers to eschew violence, tempers are high and the vitriol is mounting in their public statements