Congo's election season gets rough start with hate speech, violence

Congo's elections, scheduled for Nov. 28, have gotten off to a rickety start, with few stump speeches and sporadic violence, says guest blogger Jason K. Stearns.

By , Guest blogger

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    Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila Kabange (R) and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro review an honor guard at the Revolution Palace in Havana September 26.
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Congo's election campaign is into its second week now, but there's only been modest campaigning by the main presidential contenders. On top of that, there's been some disturbing violence.
 
Even before the campaign officially began, groups such as Human Rights Watch and the Congolese umbrella group Act for Peaceful and Transparent Elections (AETA), were warning of violence and hate speech. Human Rights Watch pointed to UNAFEC, a party with a strong following in Katanga, which was using hate speech against outsiders, in particular Kasaians.

On April 31, the fugitive militia leader Gabriel Kyungu is reported to have said in a public speech: "There are too many mosquitoes in the living room. We have to spray some insecticide." This past week, at the beginning of the campaign, Mr. Kyungu conveyed again his belief that only "children of Katanga" should run for parliamentary seats there. Kyungu and his party are known for their militant youth wing and their hostile views toward Kasaians.

 
This kind of hate speech has degenerated into violence on several occasions. In August, UNAFEC members attacked the office of presidential candidate Etienne Tshisekedi in Lubumbashi, damaging some cars and buildings (there were also allegations of UDPS provocations). Then, two days ago, UNAFEC reportedly clashed with UDPS supporters on their way to a Kyungu rally in Lubumbashi – it is not clear who provoked whom first, but apparently several UDPS supporters were beaten up.

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Meanwhile, in Kinshasa last Wednesday armed men opened fire on a group of people who had reportedly just finished distributing UDPS posters, seriously injuring two people. And just this evening, two political parties faced off in Kinshasa, throwing stones at each other. Over the past weeks, the UDPS has faced off with both the police and PPRD supporters in Kinshasa, resulting in several deaths and many injured. 

Finally, in Goma this evening there has been unrest with reports of shooting in the Katindo neighborhood. It wasn't immediately yet clear what the source of trouble was, but some reports suggested that a popular musician from the Hunde ethnic community was enlisted to sing for the presidential campaign, which did not go down well among other members of the community, who protested in the streets and tore up posters of Joseph Kabila.

It came out later that the popular Hunde singer Fabrice was reportedly taken from his recording studio by intelligence agents on Friday evening, allegedly because he refused to sing for President Kabila's campaign. He was released in the early hours of Monday morning and is currently in hospital, receiving treatment.
 
 (I am leaving out unrest in Mbuji-Mayi and inflammatory speech by opposition radios in Équateur).
 
While there appears to be plenty of violence, there is little positive, issues-based campaigning. In fact, there is little campaigning at all by presidential candidates. Of the three main presidential contenders (Tshisekedi-Kabila-Kamerhe), only Kabila has been visible, launching his campaign in his mother's home province of Maniema. Kabila is also by far the most visible in terms of posters and advertisements – he has bought all of the front-lit billboards in Kinshasa, making him the only candidate visible at night in the capital.
 
Tshisekedi is not even in the country, claiming that his plane was refused a landing permit in Kisangani. The civil aviation authority denies this. Last I heard, he was still in South Africa. Kamerhe began his campaign in Kinshasa and Bas-Congo. But it seems that the opposition campaigns have suffered substantially from a lack of funds, as well as transport difficulties – only one airline (CAA) is still making domestic flights since a crash prompted Hewa Bora's license to be suspended.

Jason K. Stearn, an expert on the Democratic Republic of Congo, blogs at Congo Siasa and is author of the book "Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa."

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