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Catching up on Congo elections

Guest blogger Jason Stearns recaps some of the recent developments leading up to the Democratic Republic of the Congo's elections, scheduled for next month.

By Jason StearnsGuest blogger / October 14, 2011



I have been posting irregularly over the past few weeks. Here are some stories you may have missed over the last week that relate to elections.
Attack on Lukolela:

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Compared to many incidents in the East, this attack seemed minor, but has a strong symbolic value. According to Kinshasa, on Oct. 6 an armed group attacked the fishing village of Lukolela, along the border with The Republic of Congo (ROC) around 500 km from the capital Kinshasa. Five of the attackers were arrested, allegedly carrying residency permits from the ROC and signed orders from General Faustin Munene, a dissident DR Congolese officer.
Immediately, the ROC government dismissed the claims as a set-up by the DRC government, saying "if those who are organizing the elections are not ready, they should say so, but they need to leave others out of this." Its minister of interior scoffed at the idea that the attackers had signed orders from General Munene, wondering how Munene could sign orders if he is in prison in their capital Brazzaville.
In response, Kinshasa sent a large delegation of 21 officials to Brazzaville to show them proof of the attack.
This back-and-forth comes to the backdrop of tense relations between the two countries. DRC officials have suggested that the armed men who attacked the presidential residence in February came from across the river, and Brazzaville has still not responded to an extradition request for DRC's two main western rebel leaders: General Munene and Udjani Mangbama. ROC President Sassou Nguesso visited Kinshasa in April to discuss these security issues with his counterpart, but no concrete steps have been taken to ameliorate relations.
Gizenga finally makes his move:

Just days after his 86th birthday, Antoine Gizenga, former prime minister and the head of the PALU political party, declared his support for Joseph Kabila's candidacy. A declaration had been long awaited, as PALU had previously just said they would support the "party of the left." Gizenga made clear that Kabila had won that label, and that he was the only "Lumumbist" candidate in the running. None of these labels mean much to most Congolese, or they think they are window-dressing for political expediency.
The alliance is important, as Gizenga helped Kabila will over 60 percent of the vote in Bandundu province, where he is revered almost as a saint by many, in 2006. This time around, however, it may well be different, as PALU has held the prime ministry for the past five (first Gizenga, then Adolphe Muzito) and has not delivered much. Some doubt whether Gizenga has much appeal outside the elders of his Pende community.
Ethnic tensions rise in Fizi, South Kivu:

On Oct. 5, the jeep of the NGO Ebenezer was stopped by armed men close to Fizi. According to several sources, the soldiers seperated the passengers by ethnicity, putting the Banyamulenge to one side and shooting them, but sparing the others. Twelve Banyamulenge were reportedly killed in the incident. The attackers were allegedly members of the Mai-Mai Yakutumba, together with members of the Burundian FNL rebels. It was the FNL that claimed responsibility for the 2004 massacre of 152 Banyamulenge in the Gatumba refugee camp in Burundi.
Yakutumba has gleaned a certain popularity in the Fizi area for his opposition to the deployment of rwandophone officers (ex-CNDP and ex-PARECO) in the region. He is rumored to be preparing an endorsement of Etienne Tshisekedi.

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

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