Election results in the Democratic Republic of Congo have yet to be revealed as a nationwide internet blackout has raised suspicions across the country. The DRC’s electoral commission has reported that over half the votes have been counted in what was largely agreed to be a less than clean election. Many believe that the Congo’s Joseph Kabila, who ruled for 18 years and postponed elections for 2 years in 2016, is attempting to rig election results for his endorsed candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary. During the campaigning season, Kabila outlawed rallies by the opposition, had police shoot at protestors, and postponed elections in areas of the country in which he was particularly unpopular saying it was due to the Ebola outbreak. Those in the opposition are largely in favor of Martin Fayulu, who was ahead in opinion polls before the election. Although until election results are released and people regain access to data services, many in the Congo remain anxious about the direction their country is headed toward.
Amid an internet blackout, Congo delays election results
“IT’S ALL PART of a grand manoeuvre,” says a mobile-phone credit vendor leaning back in his chair and puffing on a cigarette. “They are fiddling the count and they won’t announce until the end of next week at the earliest.” His customer disagrees. The electoral commission is almost ready. Citizens of the Democratic Republic of Congo will know who its next president is by Tuesday, he says confidently. “Weren’t they announcing it at 3pm today?” someone else chips in.
With the internet and text-message services turned off across the country for more than a week it is difficult to get reliable information in Congo. Radio France Internationale (RFI), a popular news source, has also gone quiet. Its French correspondent was sent packing and its transmissions were blocked when the Congolese authorities accused it of reporting the results before they were officially released.
The electoral commission, known as CENI, is the only body legally allowed to announce the results of the flawed election that was held on 30th December. It is taking a long time to do so. On January 6th the commission’s president, Corneille Nangaa, said that he had received a tally for only 53% of the votes. The preliminary result, which was due to be released on Sunday, would now be delayed, he said, vaguely. It is but the latest postponement in an election that was already two years late. The latest delay is stoking suspicions that the government of Joseph Kabila is trying to rig the count. Mr Kabila, who has ruled Congo for almost 18 years, did not step down when his term ended in 2016. His excuse was that he was not ready to conduct an election in this vast, roadless country. He only relented under international pressure.
Since he was barred from running again, he decided to copy Vladimir Putin and try to install a puppet to keep the throne warm. His chosen candidate was Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, a former interior minister with a bare-knuckle reputation. He used various tricks to boost Mr Shadary’s chances. The government banned rallies held by the opposition. Police shot at its supporters. The electoral commission postponed the vote in two regions in the east where Mr Kabila is particularly unpopular, saying that it could not be held because of insecurity and an outbreak of Ebola.
Yet most signs suggest that this may not have been enough to secure victory for the unpopular Mr Shadary. On January 3rd a group representing Catholic bishops announced that it had done its own tally of the results released by counting stations and knew who had won the election. It called on the commission to release the result “without delay”. It did not name the winner but many in Congo think it is Martin Fayulu, a former oil executive who came out on top in a pre-election opinion poll. America’s state department has also urged the commission to “ensure that votes are counted in a transparent and open manner” and to be sure that its announced result corresponds with the counts released by voting stations.
In anticipation of trouble, meanwhile, America has also deployed troops to nearby Gabon to be ready to evacuate American diplomats and citizens from Congo. Awkwardly they arrived just days before a group of soldiers in Gabon took over a radio station and declared a coup.
As Congo nervously awaits the release of the results, the digital blackout continues. Among the few profiting from the situation are the teenage hawkers at the port. They are busy flogging overpriced SIM cards from neighbouring Congo-Brazzaville to anyone desperate to get online. Getting a weak 3G signal means lingering close to the mighty, muddy river that separates the two countries, but that is the price people are willing to pay for news—any news—about whether or not their country is being stolen again.
Source: The Economist, (No byline), Jan. 7, 2019. Photo credit to Reuters.