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, 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.



Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post, Jason. Like you, I recently came back from Congo (including the Eastern provinces) with the impression that the electorate was up for grab.

As I read complaints about the imperfections/irregularities in the voter registration, I wonder whether those who are complaining are assuming that the alleged irregularities will benefit only Kabila. Such assumptions would be unfounded because nobody knows whether those registering fraudulently (e.g., minors, members of the military, foreigners, etc.) will actually vote and, if they did vote, for whom they would vote. Not every irregulatiry in the electoral process (there always will be some in a large country such as Congo) should be considered so important as to decide the outcome of the vote. One can argue that many of the allegedly irregularities are immaterial to the extent that they will not by themselves decide the outcome of the elections.

Today in the DRC, the voter registration card serves as the de facto national ID card. That enhanced status creates incentives for every able-bodied person living in the DRC to do all they can to secure the card. They may not care about the elections, but they care about the voter registration card. In that context, people should not act surprised that all those who could (including some soldiers) made sure they got the card. After the national passport, this card is the next best thing to have in the DRC. Congolese are a very pragmatic people.

The electoral process will not be perfect in a country where this is only the second time to try to hold consecutive elections. Analysts should not elevate every single irregularity into a deal breaker.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this post. I am based in North Kivu been for a while now in Kinshasa. It's quite interesting too talk to taxi drivers around town and try to understand how does the common citizen see the upcoming presidential elections.

After having chatted with a good number I can tell you that 95% of them are totally convinced that Tshisekedi is a winner!

I had the opportunity to chat with this old gentleman that shared his opinion on the lack of coordination among the opposition and on the fact that the population will be manipulated and Kabila will be reelected.

Very basic information sharing, but enlightening nonetheless!

Looking forward to reading your book.

Anonymous said...

what about the other regions such as Maniema, Bas Congo, Bandundu and the rest? All I hear is about Kinshasa and Sud Kivu, is there any intel about those other regions?

SunTura said...

Jason Stearns said...

@jomul7 - It is very difficult to predict what might happen anywhere in the Congo. A few tidbits, nonetheless: Bas-Congo, which voted largely against Kabila in 2006, may be more favorable to Kamerhe (he has the support of Ne Muanda NSemi, the head of the Bundu dia Mayala group and symbolic head of Bundu dia Kongo) or to Tshsikedi, whose UDPS still retains pretty good representation there.

Bandundu: PALU's Gizenga still retains a pretty strong following (he won over 60 percent of th province in 2006), especially in Pende areas, but he has also lost some support due to his unpopular alliance with Kabila.

Maniema: Kabila has many allies from Maniema including his mother, Kikaya bin Karubi and Alexis Thambwe Mwamba (former head of SOMENKI mine there). Kamerhe, the other potential rival, has had a hard time campaigning here.

Rich said...

Jason -

Sorry this is an old posting I saved since I was unable to post when I wrote it.

Some of the things you have reported in this post and indeed you last comment can be argued plausibly.

Starting with your post and the ICG report, I struggled to understand the wording around some of the figures given in there. However, I must say that I am suspicious about the gap between the size of the registered population of voting age in N Kivu and S Kivu (these two provinces had this population in a fairly similar size 'absolute numbers' during the last census and all the projections have given this size to be almost equal) I wonder where this gap of around 1 Million may come from. When you check with the 2006 entries the gap was already there so I don't think this can be motivated by any kind of Kamerhe Vs Kabila agenda. In any case, it is possible to make an appropriate investigation to find out the source of that gap. This is one of the parts of the country that were most affected by the conflict so it is possible that some mass internal migration may occasioned this discrepancy...

Again as Anon September 7, 2011 8:32 AM said, it is biased to suggest that any unreliable figure in the voter's register is there to favour one candidate and no the others because any one is capable of tweaking the registration process.

The other thing I wanted to say is that having the having a more up to date census is useful to get the feel of the overall population from which the national electorate can be drawn. However, having the latest census in 1984 has nothing wrong since even in countries with advanced statistics, censuses are often conducted every 10 years and sometimes the elections in those countries happen in the 9th intercensal year when the census results may not still reflect the current demographics but various projections can be used to fill the gap. In the same way, according to my hurried estimations, I find figures from the CENI to be in line with the INS's own population projections for 2010

You mentioned somewhere the fact that Ne Mwanda Nsemi’s Kamerhe or tshisekedi’s alliance can impact on Kabila’s results. I don’t think this captures the reality in a convincing way since Ne Mwanda Nsemi and his electorate never voted for Kabila (in 2006) hence he is a member of the opposition and his alliance with anyone will not take something away from Kabila. You talked about the Bundu Dia Kongo, in contrast, Kabila is paving the main road leading from Mbanza ngungu to Nkamba (Jerusalem) the highest spiritual place of Kimbanguists. His wife Olive has visited Nkamba more than twice in the last 12 months… That can be one of Kabila’s significant gain in the Bas-Congo as well as the West electorate since we all know how Kimbangu followers have influenced politics in Congo in general and Bas-Congo in particular.

Kabila can lose votes to Kamerhe in S Kivu but there again I doubt Kamerhe will be able to take more than 55% of Kabila’s 2006 S Kivu electorate.

To me, the most significant thing is the fact that the opposition seems to be increasing the gap between them with Kamerhe and Tshisekedi saying one thing to the press then punching each other seriously in the Congolese online social networks and other skype connections radio talk shows.

With 11 candidates to the presidential, no Bemba, no Gizenga, I think everything is up for grab and Kabila seems in far better position than ever since he has an electorate basis from 2006 that is big enough to win with a 1 round only election. That said, it all depends on how many of his 2006 voters will decide not to vote for him.

A suivre...

Rich said...

Since last weekend, Tshisekedi is back in Brussels, his son said it's for business contacts with potential investors but many are saying his health may be the reason of this visit as he needs to see his doctors on a regular basis... Some of udps sympathisers went to meet him at the airport (Zaventem) to their surprise as well as that of his son Felix, the Belgian security whisked him away before no one knew where he was! We understand this is related to his new status (officially candidate to the presidency of an ex colony). The Belgian will never want something to happen to Tshisekedi whilst he's on their floor. But many of his loyal fans saw in that something to be hopeful with, they saw that as a telling sign that the man has now become big and that there are big plans for him that he may be the Belgian's man in this election etc... Hence his security has been upgraded etc... I saw some footages of him in Belgium and he seems to be in poor health.

I don't know, I may be wrong but my gut feelings are telling me J Kabila will have another 5 years but as we all know, my gut feelings do not apply for an objective assessment of what will happen when the results are released.

This is very interesting, let's just hope no blood continues to be shed for all this...

In other news, Kagame has been visiting France since early this week and there was a group of Congolese, called combatants also known as CON-BATANT who were determined to demonstrate against his visit but they were not invited to the event and a few of them (a dozen) who turned up to the demonstration found almost 5000 disciplined and proud rwandans who came to see their president and the French police & gendarmerie did not have any problem to get the Congolese demonstrators out of site and sight... there have been other massive anti-Kagame demonstrations uniting both Congolese and rwandan opponents to kagame across Paris Congolese demonstrators burned a car and a few tires in one of France’s busy road (in a motorway also called Periferique) near Paris. It is claimed they had banners displaying anti-kagame messages etc…

A Congolese named Rolain Mena managed to sneak into Mushikiwabo's along with other 3 rwandan ministers press conference to french journalists and business potential partners, he was denied to ask a question but insisted by saying "how long will rwanda use the genocide excuse to continue harrasing Congolese?" he was escorted outside through a scuffle with security people...

I have some internet links to footages of these events if any one is interested.

Affaire à suivre…

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