Congo Vote Count Begins After Election Day Marred by Unrest

Congo Vote Count Begins After Election Day Marred by Unrest
An official takes part in the counting of ballots in Lingwala, a day after elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Photographer: Junior D. Kannah/AFP/Getty Images

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s electoral commission began counting votes in parts of the country as it allowed balloting to continue in areas where there were delays amid unrest and late deliveries of voting materials.

At least seven people died yesterday in clashes in Lubumbashi, the capital of Katanga province, according to Congo’s African Association for the Defense of Human Rights. Poll workers were accosted and an unspecified number of voting stations were destroyed, according to Kinshasa-based Radio Okapi, the United Nations-backed broadcaster.

While the presidential and parliamentary vote in general was “satisfactory,” the commission “deplores the cases of incidents and violence recorded in certain voting centers and in certain cities and places within the republic,” Matthieu Pita, rapporteur for the commission, told reporters in Kinshasa.

Incumbent President Joseph Kabila is facing 10 challengers in the country’s second election since Congo in 2003 emerged from nearly a decade of war that engulfed the country and surrounding nations. At least 3.1 million people died between 1998 and 2007 as a result of conflict, making it the deadliest since World War II, according to the New York-based International Rescue Committee.

Continuing Violence

The United Nations and Congolese rights groups say violence is likely to continue after yesterday’s vote. Prolonged conflict may destabilize an economy that attracted $2.9 billion of foreign investment last year, a more than 10-fold increase since 2006, and fostered a five-fold increase in copper production to 500,000 metric tons over the same period, according to United Nations and central bank data.

The European Union observer mission, which has more than 140 observers in the country, is investigating reports of violence and will comment on their findings on Nov. 30, Mariya Nedelcheva, the head of the team, said in an interview at a polling station in Kinshasa.

After Nedelcheva finished speaking at the balloting site, crowds of supporters of Etienne Tshisekedi, the main opposition leader, assaulted an election worker they accused of stuffing ballot boxes. Dozens of people punched and kicked the poll worker until police intervened. The crowd of people waved piles of ballots, which they accused the official of carrying, and which were all marked for another candidate.

Voter Intimidation

Congolese soldiers in Masisi territory in eastern Congo’s North Kivu province stopped people from voting, stole electoral cards and accompanied voters into voting booths, according to Radio Okapi. Masisi was a stronghold of former rebels associated with Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes. His political party is supporting Kabila in the election.

In the two central Kasai provinces, voters burned downed polling stations and in northwestern Equateur, police fired tear gas into one voting station, Radio Okapi said.

Baya Kara, the head of the Atlanta-based Carter Center mission in Congo, which trained more than 6,000 election observers, declined to comment on the vote until Nov. 30. Madnodje Mounoubai the spokesman for the UN mission in Congo wouldn’t comment when reached by phone.

Kabila is seeking another five-year term on the basis of his recent economic record. Since late 2009, the country has rebounded from a plunge in commodity prices caused by the global economic crisis that decimated mining operations and spawned annual inflation of 50 percent. Gross domestic product grew 7.2 percent last year, compared with 2.8 percent in 2009, according to the International Monetary Fund, while inflation is currently at 17.5 percent, according to the Central Bank of Congo.

Living Standards

That improved economic performance hasn’t translated into improved living standards for most Congolese. The country this year ranked last out of 187 nations in the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index, which measures health and education indicators and income. Congo is also one of the most difficult places in the world to do business, according to the World Bank, which placed Congo 178th out of 183 countries surveyed last year.

Corruption has stymied the growth of small and medium-sized businesses, according to the World Bank. It has also helped keep more than 90 percent of its working citizens out of the formal job market, the government says.

Tshisekedi has called for new laws against corruption, improvements in agriculture and a jobs program. Tshisekedi has also pledged to improve the country’s image for investors, which has deteriorated after the government’s three-year review of mining contracts and the sale over the past two years of mining and oil concessions at below-market rates.

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