Why so much is at stake as Congo goes to polls
Congo's polls today could be a crucial step for the resource-rich country's progress toward stability and self-determination. Disputed elections could leave it conflict-prone and poor.
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On Saturday, Congolese police blocked Tshisekedi and his followers from holding a banned rally in Kinshasa. Police shot tear gas and live ammunition to disperse Tshisekedi's supporters, killing at least three. Gunmen in the copper-belt city of Lubumbashi, attacked campaign vehicles and set them ablaze.Skip to next paragraph
Inflammatory rhetoric on the rise
The biggest sign that Congo is entering an election season is not so much posters and slogans but the incitement of political violence. Reports by the International Crisis Group, the United Nations, and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have documented both the threats and the actual incidents of violence, in which several party supporters were killed and more than 30 opposition activists arrested.
In southern Katanga Province, one prominent Kabila supporter, a state parliamentarian named Gabriel Kyungu, has made veiled threats against Tshisekedi's Kasai ethnic group. According to an HRW report, Mr. Kyungu referred to Kasai as "mosquitoes," saying, "There are too many mosquitoes in the living room. Now is the time to apply insecticide."
"Everyone, from all parties, is attempting to whip up support with inflammatory speech," says Anneke Van Woudenberg, a senior Africa researcher for HRW in London. It's important for the international community – not just the UN and Western observers, but also the African Union and the Southern African Development Community – to speak out strongly against hate speech and to ensure that these elections are safe and credible, she adds.
"It was good to see strong condemnations by the international donors, but now we're seeing the temperature being raised, and we're in the final campaign phase," Ms. Van Woudenberg says. "How the African observers call this election will be crucial. We have a boiling situation where the credibility of these elections may be in question, and if Tshisekedi contests the results, he'll get thousands on the streets. If that happens, I can imagine a brutal crackdown by police. So the reaction of international observers will be crucial."