The un-calm before the storm

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The un-calm before the storm

It’s t-minus two months to the first elections since 1960 here in the Congo and things are starting to heat up. There are 33 candidates for president, with the current president-by-inheritance, Joseph Kabila pegged to win, and 9000 contestants from 218 political parties vying for the 500 Parliament seats up for grabs. It’s hard to say what this all means exactly but I can give you a few data points for the time being:

1.) One of my staff members had his home robbed by bandits on Sunday night. They broke in through the window, stole anything of value and damaged his car. Luckily no one was hurt. He’s the third staff member of ours to have experienced this since the beginning of the year. Only it’s usually the military –not your ordinary bandits- turning their guns on the very people they’re supposed to be protecting.

SNEL, the Congolese electricity parastatal, has been cutting the power more often which enables crooks of every type to better plan attacks. Once the streets and houses are dark, it’s more or less a free-for-all among the unsavory types. Chances are, these robberies will increase as the elections get closer. People are desperate.

2.) There’s going to be a protest tomorrow. Once of Congo’s four stellar vice presidents, Jean Pierre Bemba, who has been accused of cannibalism by the UN and is currently being referred to the Hague for war crimes committed in neighbouring CAR, has finally figured out he’s not going to win the election. So his supporters are taking to the streets, to prematurely contest an election they are sure to lose.

Word has it that the police will be out in full force to control the protestors.

3.) Etienne Tshisekedi, an opposition leader dating back to the days of Mobutu vacillates between threatening to boycott the elections all together (along with his large number of supports from the central region of Kasai) and demanding that the whole electoral processes should start again so that his party can be involved.

4.) Meanwhile MONUC (the UN force in Congo) is still $48 million short of $430 million needed to pay for the elections.

What does that mean for the rest of us? Well, the expats in my organisation are no longer allowed to roam around
la cité after dark. So no more Congolese clubs or Mama Colonel’s Chicken (the best chicken in the world) for awhile.

On the bright side, my recent trip to Kisangani showed a peek at what free and fair elections might look like in a truly democratic Congo: two neighbours just across the road from one another, one displaying the flag of Bemba’s MLC party, the other displaying Kabila’s flag.

Update: In the last five days, the police have both caught the team of miscreants who robbed my staff member's house and recuperated the large part of his things. The place never ceases to astound and amaze me.

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Pubblicato il 30/5/2006 alle 23.31 nella rubrica Strudel.

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