Congo's preparation for elections lags, both in planning and funds

Congo is only seven months away from elections, but the parliament is still considering changes to the electoral law and donor support is far less than requested.

By , Guest blogger

Seven months before elections, criticism is growing louder of the lack of preparations by donors and the government alike. On Friday, the new head of the election commission – Daniel Mulunda Ngoy – opened a seminar on the electoral process in Lubumbashi. In the meantime, the national assembly is debating changes to the electoral law. There are rumors that there will be a delay in the electoral calendar and that the presidential elections may be held before the legislative polls, but we will have to wait for probably another week to have any confirmation of this.

In the meantime, where do we stand in terms of the financing of the elections?

The total budget for the elections is $618 million, which includes the regular operating budget of the electoral commission between 2007-13. The Congolese government is supposed to supply $350 million and donors $265 million. MONUSCO is also supposed to give $80 million in logistical support.

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I am not sure where we stand on government support (by January they had disbursed $113 million), but here's where I think we stand on donor support. The figures might be a little outdated, as they stem from a few months back:

  • Amount asked for: $265 million
  • Amount pledged: $171 million
  • Amount signed for: $98 million

(By far the largest contributor is the UK government, with Belgium and Canada following. The US is nowhere to be seen, as it is only providing $5 million to NGOs for civic education).

That leaves us with a shortfall of $94 million if all the pledged money comes through. However, donor officials suggest that most of that shortfall (around $78 million) will be for the local elections, currently scheduled for 2013, and for the operations of the electoral commission in 2012-13, so it is not an emergency. However, they have also pointed out that the funding needs may change depending on what the electoral commission decides this week. Also, MONUSCO's mandate to support the elections may not be extended beyond 2011, which would also affect funding – PACE (the UN-managed basket fund for election support) has submitted a new budget to take this into consideration.

While it appears that the funding situation may not be as dire as some thought, there are other risks regarding the elections. First, the civil society monitoring groups do not yet appear to be as organized as they were in 2006. The Open Society Institute is trying to get funding for a monitoring network, but this is still in the works with only seven months to go. There has been no independent evaluation to my knowledge of the electoral registration process, which has been ongoing for months now.

Secondly, the donor community has not moved on creating a coordination body – even an informal one – on election monitoring. Donors need to be able to speak with one voice if they are confronted with election abuses and concerns.

Lastly, the electoral institutions are already politicized, in particular the commission itself, but also the constitutional court that will preside over major electoral disputes. This could seriously compromise the electoral process in case of major problems.

See here for a good list of recommendations put forward by OSISA and AfriMap (from the Open Society Institute family) on elections (in French for now).

Jason Stearns blogs about the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Great Lakes region at Congo Siasa.

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