NEWS DISPATCHES > Congo: Stormy Road To Elections


27 Oct 2006

Barely three days to D.R. Congo presidential elections, fighting has broken out between forces loyal to Nzanga Mobutu (ally to president Joseph Kabila) and those of Kabila’s challenger Jean Pierre Bemba. The incident occurred in the Northern town of Gbadolite and UN sources say that the skirmishes have cost the lives of at least three people. The violence broke out as Nzanga Mobutu paid a visit (uninvited) to a radio station loyal to Jean Pierre Bemba in this predominantly pro-Bemba part of the country. As of the time of writing, it was reported by the BBC that the UN is trying to negotiate a peaceful outcome to the crisis as it seems Nzanga Mobutu still remained trapped in the radio station that is guarded by forces loyal to Bemba.

 

This is one in a line of violent incidents that have threatened to unravel the delicate electoral process that the United Nations has strenuously tried to keep on course in this war torn country. Since the beginning of the presidential election run-off many violent incidents have shaken the political process.

 

On Sunday October 29th, voters in the Democratic of Congo are expected to choose a president between Joseph kabila and Jean Pierre Bemba. An earlier election did not produce an outright winner and as such a second round of voting is taking place. Jean Pierre Bemba is a businessman and former warlord from the north and Joseph Kabila is the current president and son of assassinated former president Laurent Kabila. Joseph Kabila was a soldier in the then Rwandan-backed invading army (headed by his late father) that swept away the tottering regime of Mobutu Sese Seko from power. Mobutu Nzanga is the son of the late dictator Sese Seko and is now a political ally of Joseph Kabila.

 

A few days ago, 14 detainees accused of involvement in the assassination of former Congolese leader, Laurent Kabila vanished from prison in Kinshasa. The government reacted by imposing tighter security on the prison including restriction of visits to inmates. The prisoners reacted to this government policy by staging a rebellion. At least three inmates were reportedly killed when the authorities tried to quell the rebellion.

As tension rises, Jean Pierre Bemba has cancelled his last election rally billed for Kinshasa, citing security concerns.

 

The stakes are high. Congo is very rich in natural resources and has tens of thousands of armed men roaming the country (many of who are guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity). With the current situation reigning in the country, there are genuine fears that the political process may skip out of the ballot box into the battlefields.

Njei Moses Timah