DRC vot­ing drive of­fers hope for peace

Lesotho Times - - Africa -

KANANGA — Af­ter more than a year of blood­shed, faint hopes of peace are start­ing to stir in the heart of the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo.

In the vast re­gion of Ka­sai, the au­thor­i­ties are now start­ing to reg­is­ter vot­ers — an out­wardly ba­nal op­er­a­tion that is none­the­less key to se­cur­ing the coun­try’s sta­bil­ity.

“It’s telling proof that peace has re­turned to the greater Ka­sai area,” Bernard Kam­bala Kamilolo, the act­ing gover­nor of Ka­sai Cen­tral prov­ince, said as the reg­is­tra­tion process got un­der­way.

Mired in poverty and with a rep­u­ta­tion for cor­rup­tion, DRC — a coun­try nearly twice the area of Bri­tain, France and Ger­many com­bined — has a long his­tory of vi­o­lence, es­pe­cially in its volatile east.

The di­a­mond-rich Ka­sai re­gion was deemed a rel­a­tive haven un­til Au­gust 2016, when a tribal chief­tain known as the Kamwina Ns­apu, who had re­belled against Pres­i­dent Joseph Ka­bila’s regime in Kin­shasa and its lo­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tives, was killed.

Ac­cord­ing to UN fig­ures, clashes be­tween lo­cal groups and govern­ment troops have lead to more than 3 000 deaths, and around 1.4 mil­lion peo­ple have fled their homes.

The al­leged cat­a­logue of vi­o­lence in­cludes ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings, rapes, tor­ture and the use of child sol­diers, along with the torch­ing of vil­lages and the sys­tem­atic de­struc­tion of schools, pub­lic build­ings and clin­ics.

The big hope is that voter reg­is­tra­tion in the Ka­sai will open the door for a so­lu­tion to DRC’S dan­ger­ous po­lit­i­cal stand­off.

The coun­try was plunged into cri­sis last year af­ter Ka­bila — in of­fice since he suc­ceeded his mur­dered fa­ther in 2001 — failed to stand down at the end of what was sup­posed to be his fi­nal term, ac­cord­ing to the coun­try’s con­sti­tu­tion.

On New Year’s Eve a deal was cut by the regime and the op­po­si­tion to hold elec­tions by the end of 2017.

But no elec­toral cal­en­dar has been pub­lished so far, and there seems no sign of an end to the im­passe as Ka­bila hangs on.

Among the great­est ob­sta­cles to hold­ing the bal­lot is the tur­moil in the Ka­sai prov­inces — al­though the au­thor­i­ties have reg­is­tered 42 mil­lion elec­tors in the coun­try’s 24 other prov­inces.

Pre­cious card The start of the reg­is­tra­tion drive on Tues­day shed light on vot­ers’ crav­ing for sta­bil­ity as well as the long road that lies ahead.

At a reg­is­tra­tion cen­tre inside a Catholic school in Kananga, peo­ple formed long lines, ea­ger to ac­quire a voter’s card.

Glody Kabongo said he had got up at dawn in prepa­ra­tion for a six-hour wait but he was un­fazed, be­cause the cov­eted doc­u­ment also serves as an im­por­tant ID card.

“I am very happy, be­cause I’m a stu­dent and this card will save me a lot of has­sle,” he told AFP.

In Kananga’s Nganza dis­trict, which has been badly hit in the vi­o­lence, the turnout was far less — many peo­ple have fled, said Mamie Kakubi, the lo­cal mayor.

“I am de­ter­mined to stay here as long as it takes to get my card,” said Emery Nondo, a man in his fifties.

“It means I can vote to choose lead­ers who will im­prove se­cu­rity in our prov­ince.”

Wor­ries for 2017 elec­tions Reg­is­tra­tion so far has been opened only in Kananga and an­other city in the Ka­sai, Tshikapa. Peo­ple are still be­ing trained to carry out the reg­is­tra­tion pro­ce­dure, and it will take time to ex­tend the drive to ru­ral ar­eas.

The la­bo­ri­ous cam­paign will have an im­por­tant knock-on ef­fect for the na­tional timetable.

Un­der the law, voter reg­is­tra­tion in the Ka­sai has to last 90 days from when the fi­nal reg­is­tra­tion of­fice is open.

That badly com­pro­mises the aim of hav­ing pres­i­den­tial, leg­isla­tive and pro­vin­cial elec­tions take place “in De­cem­ber 2017 at the lat­est,” as the New Year’s Eve deal, bro­kered by the in­flu­en­tial Catholic church, stip­u­lates.

Last week, Pope Fran­cis’ rep­re­sen­ta­tive in DRC sternly warned that the pon­tiff would not visit Kin­shasa un­til the elec­tions were held.

“The (Con­golese) state has a tra­di­tion of be­ing a preda­tory state,” Mon­signor Luis Mar­i­ano Mon­temayor said.

— AFP

The big hope is that voter reg­is­tra­tion in the Ka­sai will open the door for a so­lu­tion to DRC’S dan­ger­ous po­lit­i­cal stand­off.

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