Violence erupted outside the home of presidential candidate Etienne Tshisekedi and his party HQ this morning as election officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo prepared to release the results of last week’s presidential election.
Tensions are rising and deadly violence anticipated when the election commission publishes the poll’s final tally, which is expected to declare incumbent President Joseph Kabila the winner, following a poll marred by widespread fraud and irregularities.
“Our organizations are afraid the election process will lead to conflict,” said Dismas Kitenge of the International Federation of Human Rights.
The government has warned that it will mobilize the army (above) if protests become “too chaotic.”
“We are not going to fall into the trap of massacring our own people,” said Aubin Minaku, secretary-general of Kabila’s ruling coalition. “The police will work to maintain peace, but they will not fall into that trap.”
A coalition of Congolese civil society groups has called on the Independent National Electoral Commission to make the results available for public inspection in offices and shopping centers.
A transparent process is the only effectively guarantee that peace can be maintained, said a statement from the Non-Governmental Organizations for the Defense of Human Rights (ONGDH).
The violence and fraud accompanying the election are part of a pattern of “multiple and serious violations of human rights”, the statement says, which confirm what a recent report called the DRC’s “dictatorial and authoritarian drift” under Kabila.
The international community has been slow to respond to the flawed poll and to the threat of violence.
Diplomats meeting at the UN Security Council were reluctant to take a stance, writes Jason Stearns, a former coordinator of the UN Group of Experts on the Congo:
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 unsavory 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,” writes Stearns, author of Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa.
“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.”
The International Federation of Human Rights and several of the ONGDH signatory groups are partners of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.