Congo elections, a mixed picture across the Kivu provinces

On 30 December 2018, Congolese finally took to the country’s long-awaited national elections to cast ballots for their preferred presidential candidate as well as national and provincial MPs. In the run-up to the polls, significant polemic had evolved around numerous questions and the entire country held its breath in anticipation of what would come.

The main pre-electoral contestations included a faulty voter registry, the effective barring of opposition heavyweights Bemba and Katumbi, a mysterious fire in one of Kinshasa’s main CENI warehouses, the extension of contested EU sanctions on Shadary, restricted possibilities to campaign for Fayulu and Tshisekedi, the Congolese government’s decision to not accept UN support and EU/US-originating observation missions as in 2006 and 2011, and a last-minute annulation of the presidential election in Beni (town and territory), Butembo and Yumbi due to Ebola and security threats (legislative polls are scheduled to take place in March there, potentially also affecting the composition of the National Assembly. However, by far the biggest issue in these debates, the discussions around the use of voting machines dominated national and international discourses – most of which had an urban bias anyways – on the upcoming polls.

Subsequent debates had been framed by a series of delays since late 2016, of which the postponement from 23 to 30 December was but the last. Against this backdrop, numerous diplomats and opposition-leaning stakeholders have been cautioning for the elections to not be credible and coming up with a significant risk of violence in various parts of the country. With 30 December arriving, some of the doomsday scenarios would materialise while others did not. And as reported in numerous national and foreign media, the polls turned out to be relatively peaceful despite a number of complications across the entire country.

Across North and South Kivu, the most important dynamics and concerns were on display. With the exception of specific instances of violence around the polling stations – such as in Lurhala where at least two were killed in a row over alleged ballot stuffing – the polls have been far more peaceful than most scenarios would have projected. Yet, this begs three key questions, as we await the first official announcement of provisional results, and the following snapshots from North and South Kivu – arguably two of the heavyweight provinces as per the number of voters they combine – show a fairly differentiated picture:

In terms of technicalities, were the elections sufficiently well organised and rolled out to deliver credible results?

Like elsewhere in the country, the late or incomplete deployment of polling materials – especially voter lists – and dysfunctional voting machines in various polling stations has had major effects on ballot casting. The picture roughly mirrors what has been the case across the entire country as many voters struggled to vote – leading to low participation around 50% in numerous polling stations due to late opening and closing before working down the queues. Nonetheless, in some areas polling stations have been in order – in Goma and other cities, for instance, observers reported rather high turnouts. Another problem – intimately linked to the use of the voting machines – has been digital literacy of voters. In rural areas in particular, numerous Congolese struggled to use the machines to cast their ballot. This has affected the secrecy of the vote in various places. While this has led to further delays (it was forecast that voting would take one minute/person while in many places it took between two and four), broken machines and the lack of power have further complicated the polls. In some places across the Kivus, candidates of different political affiliation (including from the three main coalitions backing the key presidential contenders – namely the FCC, Lamuka, Cach…) have been seen bribing voters. However, these irregularities came along with numerous polling stations where elections went on without significant disturbance. As the Congolese episcopal conference CENCO, and the SYMOCEL observation mission, outline in their subsequent situation reports and updates, the majority of polling stations have not been visibly affected by such irregularities no reports of obvious a priori rigging exist.

In terms of security, are there major irregularities as to how security providers in the broadest sense have intervened?

In short the answer is no. This may seem surprising given that over 100 different armed groups currently operate across the Kivus, and some of them exert reasonable control over vast stretches of territory and a significant population, but let’s have a closer look. Certainly, a wealth of confirmed and unconfirmed reports indicate how state and non-state security forces have intervened in elections. In southern Fizi, Yakutumba’s CNPSC Mai-Mai front controlled various polling stations while others had been cordoned by government troops requesting payment from people trying to reach their polling station. In Kalehe, some of the notorious Raia Mutomboki factions have ambushed CENI agents and polling stations. In northern Masisi, fighting between the APCLS-Rénové under Mapenzi and Guidon Shimiray’s NDC-Rénové against the FDLR breakaway faction CRND has causes significant delays in opening the polls around Kashuga and Mweso. Later on, Mapenzi’s troops reportedly forced civilians to vote for Shadary. In western Rutshuru, Nyatura factions that form part of the CMC coalition obliged voters to not vote for the ruling coalition. In southern Masisi, the Nyatura faction led by Delta Gashamare demanded civilians to vote Shadary. In Waloa-Loanda, the polls were administered by Mai-Mai Kifuafua.

And while the polls in Butembo and Beni were self-organised – mocking CENI’s annulation – people in Lubero territory casted their votes in polling stations under control of either the NDC-Rénové or any of the many Mai-Mai factions commonly known as “Mazembe”. However, most local sources at this point have stressed that no particular assignment has been given to voters in these areas, with the exception of two Mazembe splinter factions (Jackson/MNR and Mai-Mai Kighanda Yira) who have been instructing voters to cast their ballots for the Lamuka coalition. In various other places, government troops were reported to have influenced civilians to vote Shadary. While there is a lot of analysis to be done still, this first picture stands at odds with certain quickly issued media and advocacy reports. Indeed, there has been major inference into voting by armed actors but available information suggests no clear picture in terms of which presidential candidate benefits from it. Rather, it seems that in different places different armed groups and other actors have been pushing respective local-regional agendas. Moreover, there has not been any decent analysis about whether armed group interference has been triggered at the level of presidential elections or – which seems more likely in a number of places – intense competition over national and provincial MP seats.

Important to keep in mind, these observations are snapshots and focus mostly on the role of armed actors in the polls.

In terms of politics, is there a meaningful chance that results will be accepted by key stakeholders and the population?

Perhaps the most difficult question – for Kivu and beyond – is whether we will see results that stand a chance to go down without major contestation. There is reasonable ground to doubt as the standoff between CENI and CENCO has pointed at and at this point, given both the cacophony of real and fake polling station results in the night after the polls and the subsequent shutdown of mobile internet and messaging services afterwards, it appears unlikely that any of the main contenders (Shadary, Tshisekedi and Fayulu) will accept a result that does not put himself at the helm. This might be the case for voters in North and South Kivu as well. Yet, perhaps the most problematic point is the exclusion of Butembo, Beni town and Beni territory – adding to Yumbi territory in western DRC. The DRC has one single constituency for presidential elections. Constitutional lawyers, hence, are likely to argue the polls were null and void given this single constituency has been “Ebola-gerrymandered”. Curiously, this might be the argument for anyone not winning. That much being clear, there remains a number of factors difficult to estimate prior to CENI announcing its provisional results (and probably CENCO following suit by beefing up its so far reporting). Up to that point, the rumour mill is likely to continue turning – both in Kivu and DRC more broadly.



4 Responses to “Congo elections, a mixed picture across the Kivu provinces”
  1. Josaphat Musamba says:

    Felicitations pour cet article équilibré et qui fait parler le terrain malgré qu’il n’a pas dit si les candidats Felix ou Fayulu ont été appuyé sans avoir des liens avec les groupes armés de L’Est… Bravo…

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