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GUEST COMMENTARY: Upcoming Elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Posted by kinchendavid on July 27, 2006

By  Tom Proebsting 

Moberly, MOThe Democratic Republic of Congo will be holding free elections soon, the first since they declared their independence from Belgium in 1960. After 32 years of rule by dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and several years of wars involving six other nations, the DRC may be ready for a change.


The United Nations has a peacekeeping force of 17,000 stationed in the mineral-rich nation. Election watchers from the South African Observer Mission will be in place until August to observe all phases of the election, including campaigns, voting, and ballet counting.


The Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly known as Zaire, is the third richest African nation in mineral wealth. They boast 30% of the world’s diamonds. They also have copper, cobalt, gold, silver, and bauxite. The DRC even has an abundance of coltan, an essential element in cell phones. Much of this wealth is concentrated in the Katanga province, where the current president, Joseph Kabila, grew up.


Mr. Kabila assumed power in the Congo after the assassination of his then-president father, Laurent-Desire Kabila in 2001. He is a frontrunner in this Sunday’s elections. The voting selection offers a huge choice: 32 presidential and 9700 parliamentary candidates.


Not all is rosy in the Democratic Republic of Congo, however. Most of the villages have no TV’s, newspapers or electricity. Residents fetch water from wells. There are few roads and few jobs. The unemployment rates sits at 70%.


For its transportation needs, the region relies on maritime transport from Kisangani to the capital city of Kinshasa (both are Congolese cities). The transport continues to the port of Matadi (another Congo city) on the river Congo — which empties into the Atlantic Ocean — by rail to Kinshesa. There is an airport in the capital.


Many citizens cannot read or write, creating severe problems for the elections. After so many decades of being a colony and being run as a dictatorship, the nation is a humanitarian disaster zone. Its infrastructure was destroyed by years of war.


The problems of the DRC get worse. In spite of the peace agreement of 2003, the conflict continues, especially in the Katanga province where most of the wealth and corruption exist. Up to 1200 people die every day, 600 of them children. Most die from the ongoing conflict, disease, and famine.


The civil war lasted from 1998 to 2003. As many as four million died during it. There are now 2.5 million displaced persons, some living in tents or hovels.


Another problem is the already mentioned mineral-rich region of Katanga, where Human Rights Watch visited and reported on earlier this year. The Mai Mai’s, who formed to fight the invading armies of the earlier wars, are now waging an insurgency against the government. Their turf, centered in Katanga, is known as “The Triangle of Death.” They are terrorizing the locals with murder, torture, and rape.


The Congolese army was sent in to secure the strife-torn region and they used murder, arbitrary arrests, torture and rape against the Mai Mai’s, real or suspected. Their brutal counter-attack was only matched by the brutality of the rebels. In addition, the Army has war criminals from the previous conflicts, traitors and murderers. They infiltrate the ranks even up to the officers.


Finally, the situation of the Congolese runaway children is horrendous. Tens of thousands of children leave home because they are turned out or family violence forces them out. Without family care and support, they endure physical, emotional and sexual abuse by law enforcement personnel and ordinary citizens.


These severely abused children are robbed of a home, an education, their health, and their souls. They are the future of their nation.


The Democratic Republic of Congo plans its national presidential and parliamentary elections this Sunday, July 30, 2006. Many citizens are unaware of what democracy is, only knowing colonization, dictatorship, and wars. They know and trust tribalism and little else.


The upcoming vote is a positive development, but can it make a dent in the real Congo? How much improvement can an election bring when there is no infra-structure, when conflict still rages, when there are no jobs, when few are educated, and where life is short, nasty and brutish?


                       * * *

Tom Proebsting is a writer and blogger in Missouri. Tom Proebsting, 823 N. Ault St. Moberly, MO 65270

                     e-mail: truthprobe777@yahoo.com

Proebsting invites comments. Reply to: http://truthprobe.blogspot.com





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