In 2006, the Democratic Republic of Congo held its first multiparty elections in 46 years. At the time, the Congo was emerging from many years of war, involving all of its neighbors and other African nations. There was a fragile peace, or, in the case of the Kivus, none at all.
The 2006 election was largely financed by international donors, who accounted for 90% of the financial burden. In addition, MONUC, UNDP, and other international agencies provided much-needed oversight and guidance. After all, this was a country that had just been recently reunited through a weak peace agreement, and many of the major players still had armed groups at their disposal.
Now, the situation is quite different, as Joseph Kabila and the rest of the government represent a much stronger, democratically-elected Democratic Republic of Congo. Things may still be bad, but they are still better from the cauldron of chaos of the late 90s/early 2000s. However, there are still signs of trouble.
One particularly eyebrow-raising development of 2011 election process has been the recent changes to the Congolese constitution, which, among other things, has altered the presidential election system from a 2-round, majority-wins election to a 1-round, plurality-wins election.
When the Congolese National Assembly and Senate passed these controversial amendments, there were immediately allegations of bribery against President Kabila. A 1-round plurality-wins election would make things easier for Kabila to divide the opposition and win with a much smaller percentage of the national vote. In addition, it appeared suspicious that these amendments were passed so quickly through the Congolese legislature, given its reputation as a body that usually works grindingly slow. While there is nothing inherently wrong with a single-round election (or with the changes to the constitution, if indeed there was no bribery), the problem is that it appears to have occurred only to the benefit of Kabila. The sole argument, it seems, for the public benefit of these electoral changes is that it will save money for the Congolese state, which is now carrying 60% of the cost of the election.
A report by the International Crisis Group (ICG) released back in May gives a rather pessimistic image of the 2011 elections: opposition supporters and journalists are being harassed and beaten during demonstrations, there is a considerable lack of much-needed international involvement, the CENI (the national electoral commission) is politically biased, there is not enough election security, and the proposed November 28th election date is too soon to organize a free-and-fair election. However, if the date of the election is pushed back, there is sure to be controversy, as Kabila’s term expires on December 7th by constitutional mandate. There are already rumors that members of the opposition (notably Etienne Tshisekedi) are planning on demanding a power-sharing agreement if there is no clear winner by the date on which Kabila’s term ends.
So, what is going on here in Uvira? All over town, posters are plastered onto walls and kiosks, and men on foot or bicycles are advertising for various candidates via megaphone. Things are calm so far.