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

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Siasa hiatus

I will be absent from this space for a few days. It's a shame - so much to discuss: Kabila's inauguration, attended by the full diplomatic corps of Kinshasa, along with Robert Mugabe. Hillary Clinton's strong statement on the elections, slamming the Supreme Court's cursory treatment of Kamerhe's dispute. Tshisekedi's increasingly radical statements - arrest Kabila! - juxtaposed with his reluctance to call his supporters out onto the streets. The ongoing controversies over irregularities in the legislative polls, as first results are released (no trends yet, although Moba had some weird results, now posted on the CENI website).

Anyway, happy holidays to all.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Statement on Congolese elections

Below is a statement released by a group of concerned individuals and organizations this morning, ahead of President Kabila's inauguration.

December 20, 2011
We, the undersigned organizations and individuals, are deeply troubled by the lack of critical engagement that the international community has shown throughout the electoral process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Carter Center, the European Union, the Catholic Church and other national election observation organizations found that the elections held on November 28, 2011 were deeply flawed and marred by widespread irregularities. In order to prevent further violence and provide legitimacy to the government, we call on the United States and other members of the international community to take these immediate steps:
1) State clearly that they do not perceive the election results as legitimate and call on President Kabila to delay his inauguration ceremony until steps are taken to address these serious allegations. If the inauguration proceeds as scheduled, the United States and other international missions should consider non-attendance or at a minimum send a lower ranking diplomatic officer instead of the Ambassador.
2) Immediately ask for the deployment of an independent international mediation commission formed under international and regional auspices. The Commission will have a mandate to review the technical aspects of the electoral process and facilitate a solution to the crisis.
3) Call on the appropriate authorities to immediately halt the counting of the parliamentary election ballots until clear guarantees are put in place to ensure the credibility of the tallying process.
4) Make clear statements that the U.S. and other members of the international community are determined to ensure accountability for perpetrators of electoral and post-electoral violence in the appropriate international or national fora. Call on Congolese state security forces, in particular the Republican Guard, to cease immediately all abuses against civilians.
The following organizations and individuals support this statement:
Eastern Congo Initiative
Humanity United
International Crisis Group
Open Society Foundations
Anthony W. Gambino,
Fellow, Eastern Congo Initiative
Mvemba Phezo Dizolele,
Visiting Fellow, Hoover Institution
Jason Stearns

Friday, December 16, 2011

The US response to the elections

On Thursday, the US Senate held a hearing on elections in the Congo. It is worthwhile reading the statement submitted by Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Jonnie Carson. After stating that the elections "were deficient in many ways," he says:
We continue to advocate that all Congolese political leaders and their supporters act responsibly, renounce violence, and resolve any disagreements through peaceful constructive dialogue and existing legal remedies.  We believe that a rapid technical review of the electoral process by the Congolese authorities may shed light on the cause of the irregularities, suggest ways in which governance could be structured to give better effect to the will of the Congolese people, and provide guidance for future elections (my italics).
At the moment I write this, the Supreme Court has apparently rejected Kamerhe's lawsuit and will no doubt confirm Kabila as president, so the "existing legal remedies" have been exhausted. As far as I can tell, this statement means the United States is not calling for anything but a technical review to "provide guidance for future elections,"  not to provide redress for this vote.

One of the reasons seems to be the following logical fallacy: There were serious irregularities, but we don't know if these would have changed the outcome of the elections - so we shouldn't be so alarmed? I admit, I am paraphrasing, but that logic has been expressed by the Congolese government, as well as perhaps even by Carson:
It is important to note that we do not know—and it might not be possible to determine with any certainty whether the final order of candidates would have been different from the provisional results had the management of the process been better.
It's not clear to me how this matters. If there were massive irregularities, and we don't know who won - isn't that a good reason to push for steps to address the flaws in the current elections, not just to make policy five years down the road? Instead, the Congolese government has interpreted this as meaning, "we don't call into question who won the elections," which neither the Carter Center or EU missions said. Instead, these missions concluded: We don't know who won these elections. And we should.

The testimonies by Carson, as well as those of Tony Gambino (ECI), Mark Schneider (ICG), Mvemba Dizolele (Hoover Institution) and Jonnie Carson can be found here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Will Kamerhe's lawsuit succed?

Shortly after Vital Kamerhe submitted a lawsuit to the Supreme Court yesterday, doubts were raised in public and private about the case. (You can read it here). In the complaint, Kamerhe asked for the cancellation of the polls and a new vote.

Of course, the main doubt about Kamerhe's success resides in the perceived bias of the Supreme Court - just a month before elections, the president named 18 new judges to add the eight previous members, ostensibly to help with their heavy work burden. However, many opposition and civil society members think that these newcomers are politically biased.

Other doubts have also been raised regarding Kamerhe's complaint.

Le Potentiel, hardly a newspaper favorable to the government, suggested that Kamerhe may not have fulfilled the legal requirements. The electoral law requires complaints to be filed either in the name of an organization or as an individual. Kamerhe submits his claim in the name of his UNC party (although I'm not sure he annexed his nomination as president of the party), which leaves him unable to raise points concerning Tshisekedi and the opposition as a whole. I am not too concerned by this procedural nuance, as the UNC is not arguing the fine points of the elections - he wants the whole thing to be cancelled, so it doesn't really matter whether he does this in the name of the opposition or the UNC.

I am more concerned by the substance. I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that a lawsuit should submit as much proof as possible to substantiate its claims. In this document, the UNC makes the following points:
  • The voter list should be published and posted in polling stations thirty days before the vote. It was not;
  • The list of polling stations itself should be published 30 days before the vote. It was not;
  • In many polling stations, opposition witnesses were not allowed to sign the proces verbaux (minutes) and were prevented from accompanying the ballots from polling station to compilation center;
  • UNC witnesses were not given access to the National Treatment Center were comprehensive results were compiled;
  • Pre-marked ballots favoring Kabila were found before elections began, and in many polling stations there were not enough ballots for the voters;
  • Kabila used state assets for his campaign, including airplanes and public vehicles, and putting posters on public buildings;
  • Finally, he cites around a dozen polling stations with suspicious results.
All of these complaints may well be true; they mirror what the Carter Center and the EU have said. But there was no proof (PVs, pre-marked ballots, police reports, affidavits) that accompanied this claim, at least to my knowledge.

One problem was that Kamerhe had little time to produce the lawsuit - the law only provides for two working days after the declaration of preliminary results. The Supreme Court then only has 7 days to judge the matter.

One positive note is that the Supreme Court has decided to hear the case in a public hearing, not behind closed doors as was initially feared.

Random thoughts and facts

In no particular order:

1. Kamerhe officially challenged the election results at the Supreme Court in the name of the opposition. I don't know what exactly his case is, or what it means that he submitted it for the entire opposition (Tshisekedi's son Felix was with him when he submitted the claim). The Supreme Court has until Saturday to pass a verdict. They have the mandate to confirm the election outcome, or to invalidate all or part of the results. I'm not sure whether they can also say they need more time - given the number of irregularities, I don't know how they could possibly pass judgement in four days. As has frequently been reported, 18 new judges were named to the Supreme Court just weeks before the elections, giving rise to accusations of bias toward the presidency.

2. As has been widely reported, the Catholic Cardinal Monsengwo has panned the elections, saying the results are "not conform to the truth or to justice." In a radio interview, he also seems to be saying that he think Tshisekedi has won the elections. Shortly afterwards, however, the head of the protestant Church of Christ in the Congo, Marini Bodho, shot back: "These elections do conform to the truth and justice." A battle of the men of the cloth; the elections might have an impact on state-church relations for some time. (Ngoy Mulunda was reported as reacting: I had expected nothing less from the Cardinal). Meanwhile, Amnesty International was forced to publicly dismiss a press statement released in its name endorsing the election results.

3. However, Ngoy Mulunda has now hit back, saying that the Carter Center did not have a comprehensive view of the results, as they were only present in 14,79% of voting stations. 

4. There has been some talk about the vote par dérogation (h/t to Mwana Kin). This is the list of people who are allowed to vote outside of the districts where they registered. It is usually for state employees who have to travel for work, including the families of security personnel and election officials. This year it was incredibly high: over 3,5 million out of 18,9 million voters, almost 20% of voters. In 2006, the number of votes by derogation was denounced by observers, and it was only 6,6%. The reason this list is dangerous is that it eliminates one of the safeguards against fraud, namely checking the name of the voter against the list of voters provided to the polling station in advance. If, for example, someone had been able to obtain a fake voter card, as well as an official "ordre de mission" saying he had to travel during this period, she would be able to vote anywhere she wanted to.

In this case, my guess is that the flawed voter registers led to such huge listes des dérogations. Because of confusion in the run-up to the vote, many voters were not able to find the polling stations where they were supposed to vote. So the election commission decreed that voters could vote anywhere in the district where they had registered. But since election officials could not find their names on the voter registers, they were placed on the liste des dérogations, instead of the liste des omis as they should have been. In fact, I have not seen a liste des omis, leading me to wonder if they just merged the two.

4. A few other strange results that have popped up in recent days. How come the turnout rate for the remote province of Walikale, where voters had to walk long distances to get to polling stations, was 92%, while that of the rest of the province was 63%? In the same province, Kivu Confidential highlights the almost perfect scores that Kabila got in areas controlled by CNDP troops, averaging 96%. Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, why did the territory of Kwamouth in Bandundu have a turnout of a measly 26%, in contrast to the 56% average for the province? None of these facts are proof of anything, just peculiarities worth looking into.

5. Missing results: In addition to the roughly 2,000 missing polling stations in Kinshasa, there are 156 mission stations in Kiri (Bandundu) and 122 in Mbuji-Mayi. The Carter Center said there may be over 1,000 polling station outside of Kinshasa that have not been counted. The number of voters per polling station varies, with most seeing between 300 and 500 voters.

Monday, December 12, 2011

As criticism of election proliferates, time runs out for opposition

Joseph Kabila was proclaimed winner of the presidential elections on Friday, obtaining 49% of the votes. Etienne Tshisekedi was a distant second, with 32%.

As expected, many Congolese have rejected the results, setting tyres on fire in Kinshasa and launching isolated protests around the country. Tshisekedi has now announced a large opposition demonstration in Kinshasa and other cities for Tuesday, while the opposition UNC party will hold a protest today in Bukavu, focusing on both the election results and the killing of two students over the weekend.

It is not only some Congolese who find the results hard to believe - foreign observers have also expressed skepticism. The Atlanta-based Carter Center published a brief report on Saturday, saying the results "lack credibility." The European Union will be publishing a report today or tomorrow, reportedly with very similar conclusions.

What are the main problems with the vote?

Perhaps the most obvious flaw is the loss of ballots of between 3,000 and 4,000 polling stations around the country, including 2,000 from Kinshasa and all the results from the territory of Kiri in Bandundu. In the case of the lost Kinshasa votes, some foreign observers believe that these are the same polling stations that Ngoy Mulunda had wanted to invalidate earlier in the week, but was forced to set aside after protests from observers.

Then there are the suspicious turnout figures. In several districts, turnout was almost 100%, rates the Carter Center finds "impossibly high." This was the case in several territories of northern Katanga, Joseph Kabila's home turf (or, to be more precise, that of his father). The problem was not just the high turnout, but the fact that it coincided with almost 100% support for Kabila. In the territory of Malemba Nkulu, for example, turnout was 99,46%, with not a single one of the 266,866 votes going to anyone but the incumbent. In Kabongo territory, Kabila also received a perfect score (turnout was 91%), while in Manono, where Kabila received 99,98% of the vote, turnout was 100,14%.

While Tshisekedi received very high scores in the Kasais, as well, turnout there was much lower, around 50-60%. The national turnout was 58 percent.

Some observers have told me that one way of detecting suspicious turnout figures is to calculate how many voters cast their ballots in a polling station on election day, then multiplying by the number of minutes it takes them on average to cast a vote, taking into account that several people can vote at the same time. If the total is over 20 hours, it is likely that there was something wrong with polling in that station.

Another figure that raised eyebrows were registration numbers. In some rural parts of northern Katanga, the growth in registered voters since 2006 is more than double the national growth rates. In Manono, for example, the number of voters grew by 52% in five years, while in four other Katangan territories growth was over 38% in the same period. The national increase in voters between the two elections was 26%.

Finally, the process was flawed. Ballots were seen transported by private means - in several cases even by candidates - and in some cases ballot bags were opened and altered in violation of official procedures. The Carter Center suggested that in 15% of the compilation centers, security personnel could have influenced compilation; they also pointed out that some election official obstructed access for observers, including in the National Results Center in Kinshasa. In one flagrant case in the capital, the compilation center was closed and when it re-opened a large number of ballots had gone missing.

I should emphasize that none of the observers I have spoken with has weighed in on what he or she thinks the real results were. Tshisekedi would have to win 1,5 million votes and Kabila lose the same number for the final results to change.

What next? The opposition has until tomorrow to contest the results officially, or the Supreme Court may just confirm Kabila as the winner (at the moment of writing, I don't think the UDPS had done so). The opposition has little faith in the court, as in the run-up to elections a large number of new judges were appointed,  many of whom reportedly favorable to Kabila. If a suit is filed by tomorrow, the Supreme Court only has until Saturday to consider it before it has to announce a winner. That amount of time is clearly insufficient given the complexity of the results.

Time is hence of the essence. Several solutions have been bandied about in diplomatic circles, some of which involve the creation of an independent commission to audit the results and propose a solution. Who should be a member of the commission and to whom should it report? Not clear - the United Nations is very unlikely to take on this kind of role, given the politics in the Security Council. The southern African body SADC, which sent the largest observation mission, is seen by the opposition as pro-Kabila, and South African President Zuma has approved of the official tallies. Others have suggested that a mediator or special envoy should be appointed. However, Kofi Annan has reportedly already turned down an offer - other names that have come up are John Kufuor and Alpha Oumar Konare.

What could a possible solution look like to electoral disputes? Here, again, different solutions are being mulled over. The official line, taken by many diplomats, is that legal avenues should be pursued - i.e. the Supreme Court. However, as mentioned, the opposition does not find this credible. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon added that mediation efforts should also be considered, notably by the National Mediation Commission. But many members of this commission, named shortly before the elections, are also considered to be close to the presidency.

Some suggest that there only needs to be a re-tally of the results put together at the 169 compilation centers (CLCR). That, however, would not be able to come to grips with the kind of fraud listed above. Others have suggested a re-vote in selected areas with reported irregularities, a solution that would not address problems of the voter register, but could address many of the other irregularities. Another solution that I have heard of would be to hold another presidential vote, just between Kabila and Tshisekedi - this run-off ballot, however, would contravene the electoral law, which states that the presidential ballot is a one-round, plurality-wins vote.

The longer it takes to decide on a way forward, the more likely it is that the Supreme Court will declare Joseph Kabila winner and Tshisekedi's supporters will take their frustrations to the streets.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

As election results approach, a long road lies ahead

Kinshasa was in a weird mood this evening, as parts of town celebrated, thinking Tshisekedi had won the polls. Elsewhere, people sulked, thinking that Kabila had been declared victor. But as this went to cyber-press, the electoral commission had just pushed back the final announcement to Friday. According to one source close to the election commission, the vice-president from the political opposition was blocking the announcement, refusing to sign off on the final figures until the commissioner had agreed to publish disaggregated results by polling station at the same time. According to the election commissioner, they needed "to cross-check results received from across the country."

But it would be good at this time to remember that this announcement is not the end of the process. Even if Kabila is declared victor, as is expected, the opposition will contest the results, both in the streets and in courts. If this scenario plays out, two factors will be key: how many people Tshisekedi can mobilize in the streets, and how clear it is that the elections were rigged.

For the former, there is no doubt that Kinshasa would seethe with anger if Kabila was declared victor. But thousands - perhaps tens of thousands - of soldiers and policemen are deployed in the streets, and the game would almost certainly be to disperse any crowd that was trying to gather, with rubber bullets, tear gas and even live ammunition. It is not clear how long the opposition could hold out and how many casualties the regime would be able to inflict before one side backed down.

As for the proof of rigging: this is a crucial point, and one I think has not been muddled. We know that there have been widespread irregularities and rigging, probably amounting to hundreds or even thousands of incidents. Some minor, others large. What has not yet been put in the public domain is the exact scale of this fraud. Kabila now leads by over 2 million votes; one would imagine that that kind of lead should be relatively easy to detect. But it will take time to bring this evidence to bear.

The best indicator we have of massive fraud will the the proces verbaux, the minutes from each individual polling station. Witnesses from political parties receive a signed copy of these minutes after the ballots are counted in front of them. So if political parties have enough of these PVs, and they don't match up with those provided by the government, they will be able to prove fraud. Observers like the Catholic church, or the Carter Center, can write down the results but don't have signed copies.

But apparently none of the political parties had complete coverage of the country (I don't know the exact coverage), nor did the Catholic church and NGOs. So they will be able to prove fraud in certain areas, but perhaps not for the whole country - or, at least, it is not clear. In some areas like Katanga, where some have accused the government of stuffing ballots and registering children, there was poor coverage, and in other areas witnesses were chased out of polling stations.

In addition, it is always possible that fictitious polling stations will send in results, where there could be no observers or witnesses because they don't exist. Observers and witnesses would have to go through the final list of polling stations and their results to see which ones did not exist in a particular town or area; after all, when the initial list of stations was released, many observers complained that there were numerous stations that didn't exist or were at the wrong address.

All of this will take time. It may be, of course, that there is no doubt, that the gap between the two candidates is too large, or that there are so much proven fraud that the election must be thrown out.

But it is also possible that we never get an exact real count of the vote, and - if the election is close - that doubts will remain about the possible winner. This would be the worst scenario, as it would leave is in legal and political limbo. But some actors seem to be preparing for exactly this. There is talk of mediators at the UN - Kofi Annan was reportedly asked to come to help "mediate," but he said he would not be able to make it (because he was too busy or didn't want to be involved in such a messy process?). Others suggest that the South Africans have been positioning themselves for this kind of "mediation". The reason for the inverted commas is that, as of now, there is nothing to mediate, we still believe that we will find out who won the polls.

But what if we don't? I know this is anathema to many Congolese, who firmly believe that their candidate won. I also have my guesses and inclinations (it's better not to air them here), but proof may be harder to come by that we think and hope.

In any case, there will also be a race against time. The electoral calendar says the Supreme Court will confirm the final results on December 17, which only leaves eight days for the defeated party to sue in court.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Preliminary analysis of results

Yesterday we got the fifth installment of election results. The election commissioner says we are now at 89,29% of total votes. While they did not want to declare a winner until Friday (they have postponed the results), it is virtually impossible for Tshisekedi still to win. That is, if these results are correct.

By my back-of-the-envelope calculus, Kabila now has 8,353,573 votes and Tshisekedi 5,927,528, with only around two million votes left to count.

So what does a preliminary analysis of the votes that have been counted say?

Here are the current figures by province, with turnout and Joseph Kabila's percentages for both rounds of 2006 elections.

Kabila 2006 1st round
Kabila 2006 2nd
P Orientale
North Kivu
South Kivu

 There are a few comments to make, all with the proviso that these are preliminary results.

Kabila scores surprisingly high in Bandundu - he did receive the endorsement of Antoine Gizenga, who helped him get a good result in the province in 2006. But even then, he only got 40% of the votes there - he has increased his score to 63% of votes now. While there are tensions between the Luba (Tshisekedi's community) and other groups in the province, this result is still striking.

Kabila also scores surprisingly well in areas with large Luba communities - the Kasais, Kinshasa and Lubumbashi. In the Kasais, it is striking that the turnout remained low, barely higher than 2006, when many boycotted the vote. Considering how immensely popular Tshisekedi is in part of these provinces, this is strange (but is surely linked to the violence on election day). It is also strange that Tshisekedi would get almost the same results as Bemba in Katanga - there is a very large Luba community there, and tensions between southerners and northerners (Kabila's community). As for Kinshasa, few people in this opposition stronghold thought Kabila would be able to hold onto 30% of the vote there.

People in South Kivu have also been scratching their heads about Kabila's score there - he has fallen out of favor with many in the province, and Kamerhe was considered to be a favorite by many. However, there is probably an urban bias against Kabila, and most of the people I have spoken to are in urban areas. Equateur is also a bit puzzling, as it is difficult to see how the president gained in popularity in this opposition bastion, even if he is still at a low 10%.

If the figures are accurate (despite all of the many allegations of fraud and rigging), then Kabila will have won the elections by gaining support in the West of the country, even as he suffered a steep decline in support in the East. It will also show that his tactic of dividing the opposition worked - a coalition of Tshisekedi, Kamerhe and Kengo would have beaten Kabila, if they had been able to carry over their votes to a common opposition candidate.

Again, this is all still speculation, since there final results have not been announced, and these figures are still steeped in controversy as thick as Masisi mud.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Other views on elections

I am traveling today, but check out the following pieces on elections, by Tony Gambino/Michael O'Hanlon and Emily Paddon/Guillaume Lacaille. I apologize for the lack of Congolese editorials - more of those soon.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Op-Ed: Stability vs. transparency

The following is an opinion piece I published in the Guardian today. More tomorrow on the tense situation in Kinshasa and the imminent announcement of election results.

Tens of millions of Congolese went to the polls last Monday. It was an emotional day: women with infants strapped to their back waited for hours in the sun, while elsewhere old men hobbled through knee-deep water to cast their ballots. And yet, as the country heads towards a post-election crisis, western diplomats seem ready to see the voters' verdict sacrificed for a misguided notion of stability.

These elections, the second since the end of a bloody civil war, have been mired in controversy for the past year. In January, President Joseph Kabila's party orchestrated a change in the constitution, getting rid of a runoff round of polls for the presidency. This effectively pitted opposition candidates against each other, improving Kabila's chances. The election law was also changed, allowing the ruling coalition to appoint the head of the election commission. Nonetheless, the incumbent has faced stiff competition, especially from firebrand opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, who has been able to attract crowds of over 100,000 people. There has been no reliable polling, but preliminary results from voting stations suggest that the race is tight, meaning even minor rigging could be a game-changer.

Then, election day came with a crescendo of controversy. While most of the country voted peacefully, there were hundreds of incidents small and large. In the central Kasai provinces, dozens of polling stations had to close or were burned down by mobs following allegations of fraud. In the east, soldiers in Masisi territory forced voters in dozens of villages to vote for their candidate, in one case tying up voters and taking their ID cards to vote for them. In the western city of Mbandaka, the provincial governor chased opposition witnesses out of his polling station and then spent almost an hour inside before leaving.

Election results are now being compiled, with official tallies showing Kabila leading by a hefty margin. But these figures are again hotly contested, not least because the election commission has not disaggregated the results by polling station, so they can be crosschecked with those of independent observers. Opposition parties, which had officials in most polling stations countrywide, say they have proof the tallies are false. This is the basic bind the country is in: with the credibility of the election commission tarnished, neither of the main contenders will accept defeat. Tshisekedi had declared himself the winner, while Kabila's campaign has said it can't lose.

The sad truth is that it is no longer a question of whether there will be a crisis tomorrow, when official results are supposed to be announced; the question is how bad it will be. Kinshasa is simmering with rumours and anger, while police and presidential guards have been deployed in force throughout town. If Kabila is announced the winner, there will be urban unrest. If Tshisekedi perseveres, army officers in various parts of the country have threatened violence.

In the face of this predicament, the reaction of senior diplomats has been half-hearted. In a closed-door meeting of the UN security council on Friday, some European countries voiced concern at the irregularities, but the body was too divided to take a strong stance. Only one ambassador took part in the meeting; others were too busy working on Syria and Egypt. According to sources present at the meeting, the council thinks it will be difficult to know how much fraud took place and whether it affected the outcome. The priority is to prevent the UN from becoming an arbiter and to ensure stability. The fact that ambassadors find Tshisekedi an unsavoury leader does not help matters.

Their analysis and priorities are ill-founded. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has suffered from violence for the past 15 years, often due to unaccountable leadership. Looking the other way as polls are rigged will hardly make the country more stable. It is also not true that we may never get to the bottom of electoral fraud. There are around 40,000 Congolese observers from churches and civil society monitoring the polls, alongside several hundred foreigners. The election commission must urgently publish poll results in a disaggregated form, so observers can verify them. Polls should then be held again in the many places where they were cancelled, and allegations of fraud jointly investigated with international observers.

We are entering a critical period in Congolese history. Foreign countries, which provide over $3bn in aid a year to Congo, have a heavy responsibility to allow the Congolese decide their own fate. They should not shirk it.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Criticism of how the votes are being compiled

Further to my post yesterday, foreign diplomats have asked election commissioner Ngoy Mulunda why he is invalidating entire polling stations in Kinshasa but not in other provinces. Apparently, the commission has now said he would not invalidate votes in Kinshasa - observers are waiting to see if the disqualified bundles of votes will be entered into the system now.

In general, the main complaint has been the lack of transparency in vote compilation. The election commission is releasing bulk results by entire electoral districts, which makes it impossible for observers and political parties to check individual polling station results with the official tally. Observer missions (including the Catholic church and civil society) feel that they had representative in a majority of polling stations and will be able to check for large incidents of fraud.

Publishing results by polling station will also help (although not completely solve) address allegations of fake voting stations. When the list of voting stations was published before elections, allegations came forward that some of the stations on the list did not exist, which raised the possibility that the poll would rigged in stations where by definition there could be no independent witnesses. But here, too, disaggregated results could pinpoint stations where there were no opposition witnesses or observers. If results there were questionable, they could then be scrutinized further.

Foreign ambassadors have raised this matter with Ngoy Mulunda, who has cited logistical problems - including the fact that their website was hacked - as a reason for not publishing disaggregated results. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

As Kinshasa heads toward a crisis, donors prevaricate

The election commission has published their first and second days of preliminary results, and has said they will be announced the results of their compilation every day. The results elicited a lot of controversy, especially because they compilation is taking place unevenly across the country. According to the results, which comprise 33% of polling stations, Kabila has around 51%, Tshisekedi 34% and Kamerhe 5%. But there is a huge difference in the number of stations counted between the different provinces - in Kinshasa, only 3,33% have been counted, while in Bas-Congo the figure is 67,85%.

While many have complained that the figures could hardly be correct - some can't understand that Kabila is far ahead of Kamerhe in South Kivu, others protest that he can't have 90% of the vote in Katanga - other allegations of impropriety have come forward.

The election commissioner Mulunda Ngoy has decreed that all packages that are not in order should be invalidated, which has led the election commission to invalidate results 130 polling stations in the Kinshasa I circonscription (Lukunga) alone, around 5% of all votes there, and 30 stations in Kinshasa II. The opposition (and some diplomats) claim that Mulunda does not have the legal authority to do this, and argues that the government is invalidating votes in opposition strongholds.

Other reports have come in suggesting that the chain of custody of votes has been broken in many places, with in some cases election candidates transporting votes from polling stations to compilation centers.

In the meantime, the Security Council has met in a closed session on the Congolese elections. According to people familiar with details of the meeting, the Council is deeply divided, with some western powers expressing concern (Germany and France, in particular), and Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa backing the Congolese government's version.  However, even the western powers say they don't know whether fraud was widespread enough to qualify for terms like "systematic" or "large-scale." In general, the Council wants to keep UN involvement limited, trying to avoid the role of arbiter, while at the same time they are worried about violence next week.

In general, the priority of Council members does not seem to be to push for accurate results, in part because they think they will never be able to get them, and also because even accurate results would, in their eyes, not bring peace. In any case, the Council is too divided to take any ambitious stance.

In general, it is almost impossible to imagine a scenario in which definitive results are announced and all sides accept them. It is almost certain that there will be some degree of violence - although it is unclear how much and how it will play out - during the coming week. But, in the words of one UN official I spoke with in Kinshasa, "the donors seem to be almost entirely oblivious of this." The French ambassador was the only permanent representative who attended the Council's meeting, all other officials were lower-ranking. The attention of the big embassies seems to be focused on Syria and Egypt.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

How the cookie crumbles

Results are trickling in slowly, while speculations are flying around in all possible directions. Tshisekedi's people claim that they will win 55% of the vote, while the president's people are sure of victory. It is difficult to imagine a situation in which one of the hopefuls gracefully concedes; it is easy to imagine how violent escalation could take place.

I have posted some results below, all of which stem from Congolese civil society observers.

First, however, some developments. The compilation is proceeding very slowly, with only a few percent of votes in each province officially compiled. People who visit the four national compilation centers in Kinshasa report somewhat chaotic scenes, with some ballot envelopes torn and strewn about. Election commission president Ngoy Mulunda told reporters that election officials will invalidate any package that do not meet the requirements - which raised questions of what will happen with torn envelopes. In addition, he had previously been reported as saying that elections will not be repeated in areas where voters burned down polling stations, raising further question of voter disenfranchisement. The election commission is not making results known as it goes, and the media authority has banned any announcement of preliminary results in the press.

UDPS officials have been sending text messages around the country reporting the arrival of airplanes full of ballots after election day. Diplomats confirm that three airplanes arrived at Njili airport in Kinshasa - one on November 29, two on the morning of November 30 - from South Africa. While some sources suggest that the first plane had 20 tons of election material on it, I have not been able to confirm the freight of the second two planes. It would, of course, be strange for the government to be importing ballots to the country when voting had ended in the vast majority of areas.

In the meantime, all major observation missions have put out preliminary statements on the process. All congratulated the Congolese on elections and the election commission on rising to the huge logistical challenge. None of them passed judgment on the elections in general - that will have to wait for their final report - and only the Congolese Renosec monitors from civil society confirmed that there had been fraud, "but not enough to call into question the process." The Carter Center suggested that in 16% of cases irregularities led to a negative evaluation of voting, while the European Union provided an exhaustive list of flaws but did not suggest that this had compromised the overall process. We will have to wait for 5 days (and perhaps longer?) for a final conclusion.

Nonetheless, some preliminary results, to be taken with care (also, these are all urban areas):

Kananga town (53,000 votes counted):

Tshisekedi 95,7%
Kabila 3,5%

Uvira (38,000)

Kabila 65%
Kamerhe 30%
Tshisekedi 5%

Butembo town (63,000)

Mbusa Nyamwisi 37%
Kamerhe: 26%
Kabila: 22%

Beni town (54,000)

Mbusa Nyamwisi 33%
Kabila 24%
Kamerhe 21%

Bukavu (103,000)

Kamerhe 66%
Kabila 34%

Kisangani (unknown number of votes counted)

Kamerhe 2%-10%
Tshisekedi 2%-20%
Kabila 20%-80%

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The day(s) after: Reflection on elections

Elections have passed throughout most of the Congo - voters are now suspended in a weird limbo of several weeks as they wait for election results to be announced. Sitting in bars and living rooms, people in Bukavu send and receive dozens of text messages a day regarding the results seen outside voting offices and compilation centers - "Vital is ahead in 8 out of 32 centers in Goma!" "Tshisekedi takes a surprising lead in Beni territory!"

I won't delve into too much speculation about the result yet. It is too early to do so; results just began trickling into the central compilation centers in Kinshasa yesterday. It looks like Tshisekedi did well, and that the race will be close, but beyond scattered results here and there, there is more speculation than anything else.

So how did the voting go? The election was Janus-faced. On one hand, it was peaceful in most of the country, with what appeared to be relatively high turnout. I would wager than in 70-80% of polling stations, the elections went fairly well, even in many parts of Kinshasa. People I spoke with in Bukavu - and echoed by what my colleagues heard elsewhere in the country - were enthusiastic and highly motivated. I saw women queuing for hours in the sun with their infants, old men who had hobbled on their canes for miles to come to voting stations. Moving stuff.

The other face of the elections was ugly. There were hundreds of cases of election irregularities, many of which could have probably been avoided through more meticulous preparation. The most frequent irregularities, which have been covered extensively in the press, are the following:
  • Many voters could not find their names on the polling stations, due to flaws in the electoral lists and misunderstandings about where they should vote. Although the election commission announced repeatedly that people could vote anywhere in their electoral district with a valid ID card, many voters were sent home or sent from station to station. This probably disenfranchised tens of thousands of voters (out of 30 million);
  • There were many dozens accusations of ballot-stuffing across the country. Some of these incidents can be explained by misunderstandings as ballots ran out and new ballots had to be dispatched, leading some to think these ballots were for stuffing. In other cases, however, there seems to be little doubt that there was rigging, as marked ballots were found before polling began, in many cases outside of the chain of custody of the polling commission. In other cases, stuffing happened in front of witnesses. The arrival of 10 tons of ballots from South Africa in Lubumbashi and Kinshasa, which were then unloaded by military police, one day after elections had closed in most of the country did not help matter. It is unclear how many votes these kinds of irregularities might concern;
  • Frustrated voters attacked polling stations in many parts of the country, burning down dozens of stations in Kasai Occidental alone (reported 143 were either forced to close or burned down there). The frustrations stemmed from accusations of ballot-stuffing, long delays and incomplete lists. Some estimates suggest than hundreds of thousands of people were not able to vote, but it is very difficult to pin numbers to these allegations for now;
  • In some areas, security forces interfered in the electoral process. In Kinshasa, the army took over security for polling stations from the police in some areas, while in Masisi (North Kivu) ex-CNDP soldiers reportedly forced thousands of voters to vote for their candidates. There were also reports of witnesses of political parties being chased out of polling stations by soldiers or police;
Given these irregularities, the question is: what next? Four presidential candidates - Kamerhe, Kengo, Mbusa and Bombole - are asking for elections to be canceled, but both the main opposition candidate Etienne Tshisekedi and the incumbent Joseph Kabila have said they will respect the results. Some foreign observations missions made statements today, outlining the above irregularities but not making any broader judgments.

The reason that Tshisekedi and Kabila are going ahead with the process is clear: They both think they can win. Obviously, there will only be one president. So one will lose. What will his reaction be? Neither side appears ready to step down without a fight. Key questions for the coming days will be: Did political parties and civil society observers have enough people on the ground to carry out an independent tallying of votes? Will the compilation process - which is already fairly chaotic - be transparent? If Tshisekedi loses, how many people can he mobilize in the streets for how long? If Kabila loses, will he admit defeat or simulate a crisis to prevent a handover of power? In case of a crisis, what position will the army and police take?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Elections update: 10pm (Bukavu)

Voting has wrapped up in many places in the eastern Congo, but continues in some areas and in many places in the West.

Some more information, with the caveat that I have not been able to verify all incidents, so they should be taken a grain of salt.
  • Kinshasa, which has been mostly calm today, saw some problems this evening as Tshisekedi prepared to vote. He was tailed by a crowd of supporters as the police blocked his path several times in Limete as he tried to get to a polling station. According to AFP photographers, police blocked him access to a station later. Apparently he finally voted and returned home;
  • Also in Kinshasa, UDPS supporters clashed with police in Bandal (at the school Joyeux Lutins) after they claimed they weren't able to vote;
  • Across the country, thousands of people couldn't find their names on the voters' lists - the election commission said they could vote anywhere in the electoral district where they registered, but many don't seem to know this and are protesting. This is the situation, for example, in Matete and Kingabwa in Kinshasa;
  • More allegations have surfaced of pre-marked ballots in favor of a presidential candidate, including in Songololo (Bas-Congo) and Idiofa (Bandundu);
  • In North Kivu, an angry crowd destroyed a voting station at Kasindi-Lubiliha, accusing Gen Kakolele (former rebel commander, now close to Kabila) of fraud. Five people have allegedly been arrested;
  • In Mwenga (South Kivu) six polling stations were not able to open on the Itombwe plateau due to Banyamulenge soldiers' interference;
  • The president of the voting station in Kalima (Maniema) was arrested due to fraud, as he was discovered with ballots in his private possession on the evening before the vote;
  • Around 100 voting stations were not able to open in Kasai Occidential, including some 43 that were burned down;
  • In South Kivu, fighting broke out between different ethnic communities in Kalehe as Hutu Kabila supporters clashes with Kamerhe supporters from Shi and Havu communities (not clear when this took place), leaving at least seven people injured;
I just heard that the election commission has now extended voting for one more day.

Elections update: Violence in Lubumbashi and Kananga; irregularities elsewhere

Voting has begun peacefully in much of the country, with high turnout in many areas (including Bukavu, where I am).

However, several serious incidents have been reported. While my sources are reliable (mostly foreign observation missions, journalists and the United Nations), things are developing rapidly and I have not been able to cross-check all of the information below.
  • In Lubumbashi, serious violence has erupted in various areas of town. Opposition supporters denounced the delays in opening polling stations in the Bel-Air neighborhoods where many UDPS supporters live. Road blocks were set up and protests broke out. Some time afterwards, UN reports came in regarding the blowing up of two trucks full of ballot papers that had allegedly already been filled out before voting began. Around the same time, two trucks full of sensitive election materials were set on fire in the Kenya neighborhood of town. All the while, numerous abuses have been reported by election observers in polling stations (no further information available). Armed civilians wearing red bandanas have opened fire on civilians at polling stations at Sapin Cemetary in the Ruashi neighborhood, while armed gunmen stormed another polling station in Bel Air and set it on fire. The MONUSCO staff has been forced to retreat into their compound; there are even reports of mortar fire in town;
  • Election materials arrived late in much of Kinshasa. According to one international source, in Kinshasa IV (where around a quarter of the population lives) the presidential ballot papers had not arrived by noon. Heavy rain has disrupted or slowed down some of the electoral operations in town. Still the situation seems to be relatively calm, with no reports of violence in the capital;
  • In several places around the country there have been reports of ballot papers being found already filled out before the elections began. This was the case in Goma (Himbi or Ndosho neighborhood), where the head of a voting center was attacked (one report has him being arrested) by voters after they found him with a stack of filled out ballots; a similar case occured in Kananga, where a woman is in critical condition - some reports suggest that she was trying to expose the fraudsters when she was attacked, others say she herself was the culprit. In Lubumbashi, Kananga and Mbuji-Mayi there have been similar reports;
  • In Kananga (Kasai Occidental), there have also been numerous violent incidents. Very few voting stations reportedly opened on time, due to the lack of polling materials. Some stations told voters to come back at noon, while in others observers alleged that ballot boxes already had ballots in them before voting began. Several voting stations - including those in religious institutions - have been attacked by "mobs," in some cases these seem to be angry voters throwing stones. Several injuries have been reported and some polling stations are now closed;
  • Irregularities are been reported in too many areas to list here - they include ballot boxes found filled before voting began in Penga Yengo (Kasai-Occidental); voting officials refusing to show witnesses that boxes are empty before voting began (as required by law) in Mbandaka (Equateur); opposition witnesses refused entry in Kananga and Bakwa Kenge (Kasai-Occidental); in Ndesha and Bena Leka (Kasai-Occidental) polling stations burned down;
  • In Luiza (Kasai-Occidental), opposition supporters loyal to Delly Sesanga's Envol party have attacked (not clear how serious) the guest house where election officials were staying, accusing them of fraud;
  • In Masisi (North Kivu), there have been accusations of CNDP soldiers stealing voters card and then voting for them, of soldiers telling people to vote for CNDP candidates, and of blocking the entrance fo non-CNDP witnesses into voting centers;
  • Fears of violence have prompted the European Union to withdraw observers from Mbuji Mayi and MONUSCO from pulling people from Mwene Ditu (Kasai Oriental)
Again, I emphasize that this is a huge country and in other areas voting has been happenin.g peacefully. Nonetheless, this violence and persistent accusations of fraud are very troubling.