The presidential and parliament elections which took place on the last 28 November in Congo, have been marred with massive fraud and violence. According to the Carter Centre, during the voting day, a 18 years old man was hit in the chest by a bullet when the police fired into a crowd of opposition supporters in the Matete, Kinshasa. There were many incidents sparked by suspicions of rigging, namely in Kananga, the capital of Western Kasai, where 15 polling places were burned because voters suspected ballot boxes had been stuffed with ballots for Kabila. The 149 European Union observers reported irregularities in 79% of the polling stations which they visited.
Tensions continued to rise with the first announcement of results by the Electoral Commission – CENI – whose chairman, Rev Daniel Mulunda Ngoy, is a relative of President Kabila. Indeed, from December 3, CENI began to announce consolidated results – province by province – which could not be checked since there was no mention of the constituencies or the number of registered voters, prompting Congo’s national bishops’ conference (CENCO) to urge CENI to stick to the truth coming from the ballot boxes. Eventually, on December 9, Rev Ngoy announced the re-election of the 40 years old incumbent President Joseph Kabila with 49% of the votes, followed by the opposition veteran 79 years old Etienne Tshisekedi with 32 % and 52 years old Vital Kamerhe with 7.7 %. Voter turnout was 58 %.
But the Carter Centre found te CENI’s results “to lack credibility”. Its observers reported the “loss” of nearly 3,000 polling station results (representing 850,000 voters), and “multiple locations, notably several Katanga province constituencies, reported impossibly high rates of 99 to 100 percent voter turnout with all, or nearly all, votes going to Kabila”. Unsurprisingly, Tshisekedi, a symbol of the resistance to Mobutu’s and Kabila senior’s oppression, rejected immediately the results, calling them “a real provocation” and proclaimed himself “the elected president” of the DRC. Furthermore, he urged his supporters to mobilize and invited the international community to find a solution to the problem to avoid a bloodbath. Kamerhe dismissed the vote as “a mock election” and congratulated Tshisekedi for his victory. On December 12, Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo, archbishop of Kinshasa, in a press conference said the results were not in accordance with truth and justice. Moreover, in an interview with the Belgian TV Channel, Mgr Monsengwo declared that Tshisekedi was the winner.
The announcement sparked a wave of protests across Congo and abroad, especially in Brussels, where over 250 demonstrators were arrested. In Congo, at least 10 people died, including six who were shot dead in Kinshasa on December 10. In Limete, near Tshisekedi’s headquarters, shootings were heard on the same day. Barricades were set up and cars set on fire that night in several parts of the capital. Attacks against a police station and invasion of individual houses by the police, who made use of teargas in the Bandalungwa area, were also reported by the UN sponsored Radio Okapi. In Tshisekedi’s stronghold of Mbuji-Mayi, the capital of Eastern Kasai, shooting was heard and one person died. The repression has been particularly brutal in that region. Some hundred people, including lawyers and students, were arrested in Mbuji-Mayi – where a curfew has been imposed since December 5 – and may face rebellion charges. The city is living in a virtual state of siege, and residences of Thisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDSP) militants have been attacked on December 10, Radio Okapi reports.
On December 13, Tshisekedi’s political adviser Valentin Mubake told Radio Okapi that the UDSP leader was under house arrest at his Limete home, in Kinshasa. Republican Guards disguised as policemen prevent anyone to meet the old leader. Meanwhile, there have been protests in other parts of the country. In Bukavu, the police and the military dispersed a demonstration against the results of the presidential elections. In North Kivu, activists are terrified after the assassination of Willy Wabo, the Secretary of a civil society umbrella organization in Rutshuru on December 9. According to his friends, he was killed because he exposed irregularities perpetrated during the election. Meanwhile, in Katanga, one of Kabila’s strongholds, revenge is being organised against alleged supporters of Tshisekedi. There have been pogroms in the city of Kamina in Northern Katanga, against the Kasaians, forcing 300 of them to seek refuge at the railway station and wait for the first train to leave the province.
Neither side seems ready to give up. One of the problems is that UN is not in a position to mediate since the opposition holds that it has taken sides from the outset in favour of Kabila. Opposition sources point out that the head of the UN Mission in Congo (Monusco), Roger Meece, has been extremely busy, immediately after the vote, to persuade Tshisekedi and the other opposition leaders to accept the results, despite the accusations of rigging. Only one side has weapons but some of Tshisekedi’s supporters and other opposition militants say they are ready to fight. In such conditions, mediation efforts by an impartial entity are badly needed, perhaps to gather consensus around a transition period towards democracy.