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Eastern Congo braces for election results

Guest blogger Laura Heaton writes that vote tallies indicate incumbent President Joseph Kabila remains the frontrunner, but there is a chance of violence if Kabila is declared the winner.

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Some parts of the country, in particular the capital of Kinshasa, are bracing for a likely showdown in the event that Kabila is declared the winner and opposition leaders dispute the final results. News reports indicated that thousands of Kinshasa residents had poured over the border into neighboring Republic of Congo in anticipation of violence in the capital.

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Reports emerged in the East as well of people crossing the border into Rwanda. Enough spoke to a businessman as he prepared to take his family of seven over the border into Gisenyi: “I want none of my kids to be this country’s hero,” Katembo said. “With leaders who want to remain in power at all costs, and an opposition incapable of transcending their egos, only gunfire judgment will be able to separate the two. I don’t want to watch that coming and wait.”

But as Enough researcher Sarah Zingg Wimmer reported from Goma, the city feels relatively calm. “Congolese are going on with their lives,” she said. “The biggest difference today is that Goma is empty of internationals, and some police and soldiers in riot gear are patrolling the streets.”

Armed groups, most worryingly the ex-CNDP rebel group and segments of the Congolese army, have pledged to fight back if Kabila is not declared the winner. Military units and members of the ex-CNDP have been involved in coercive attempts to compel voters to support Kabila.

A Kabila win may thwart the likely renewed insurrection instigated by the armed groups who have benefited during his time in power — an outcome no doubt quietly welcomed by institutions like the UN peacekeeping mission that already have a difficult time responding to frequent attacks against civilians in the East, at times perpetrated by Congo’s own army. Threats issued by groups like the CNDP, combined with the view expressed by some civilians that the region feels more peaceful now than it has in more than a decade, have contributed to the sense of resignation about the prospect of another term of President Kabila. Certainly not all opposition leaders and supporters will accept the results without protest, possibly leading to clashes, but even those who say they voted for the opposition voiced concern about the impact in the East if their candidate won.

“I voted for Kamerhe, for change. Kabila promised so much, but he didn’t do anything,” said a 26-year-old woman Enough spoke to in Goma. “If Kabila passes, it will be calm in the East. If Tshisekedi wins, there will be war. Kabila will come here to start a war; he has already placed Rwandan soldiers here.”

A 37-year-old man in Bukavu voiced a similar view: “We have to accept the results as they will be published by the CENI. We have no other choice, otherwise there will be another chaos if people protest. We are tired with violence.”

Laura Heaton blogs for the Enough Project at Enough Said. Fidel Bafilemba and Sarah Zingg Wimmer contributed to this post from Goma, and Amani Matabaro contributed from Bukavu.

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