Bracing for Election Violence in Congo

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman. This is The World. The scenario is all to familiar in Africa. An election is held but neither front runner wants to admit defeat. It happened in Zimbabwe, Kenya, and Ivory Coast. Now it's happening in the Democratic Pubic of Congo. The country's president, Joseph Kabila, has claimed victory in last month's election. Official results announced last week back him up. Kabila is rejecting accusations that the vote was rigged in his favor. Several international observers, including the Georgia based Carter Center, have questioned the votes legitimacy. Opposition candidate Etienne Tshisekedi continues to insist that he was the elections real winner. Reporter Michael Kavanagh is based in Kinshasa, the Congolese capital.

Michael Kavanagh: In Kinshasa it's very tense. Basically the opposition is waiting to see how this process unfolds. They've taken the vote to the Supreme Court. They've challenged the vote at the supreme court. We're expecting a decision on the 17th so I think that people are concerned thought that there could be mass protests in the streets if the election doesn't go the way that the opposition wants.

Werman: Then tension right now has to be heightened in a certain way by the fact that the main opposition party led by Etienne Tshisekedi apparently it sounds like they're gearing up for something.

Kavanagh: Right, and we've known this for awhile. I think the reality of this situation is that Tshisekedi has been an opposition leader for several decades here in Congo and he frankly has been a relatively peaceful one. He hasn't joined militias, he hasn't been a rebel, and his supporters for the most part don't have weapons. So that means that they're going to need to take to the streets. He keeps talking about the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt and that's what his followers are prepared to do is go to the streets without weapons knowing that they're going to face a quite powerful security surface who basically supports the president and thinks that he won the election and feel like this is a major disturbance to public order and a challenge to the government of the country.

Werman: To an extent we saw the same sort of scenario a year ago in Ivory Coast where two powerful leaders dug in their heels over election results and then that resulted in massive violence for four months until the situation got settled. It sounds like you're concerned about a similar scenario shaping up for Congo. Are others worried about that?

Kavanagh: That is definitely the biggest concern and the worst case scenario that we have. The situation in [?] was a little bit different in that you had two national institutions who basically had come up with two different results for the election. That's not going to be true here. The Supreme Court supports Kabila just as they electoral has supported Kabila. It means that the international community is much less apt to back Tshisekedi and the opposition in this fight. They're going to be much less patient with him when his supporters go out into the street.

Werman: Now, incumbent President Joseph Kabila says he won the election fair and square. Tshisekedi says no, so does the European Union Mission, the Atlanta based Carter Center, and the Catholic Church all there who are watching this. They say last months election wasn't credible. What is the starkest evidence right now of fraud? Is there widespread agreement that fraud happened?

Kavanagh: Yes, these elections looked like the counting was done in a very untransparent manner. There are some very suspicious results from parts of the country where Kabila is popular where they had over 100% turnout and 100% of the voters voting for Kabila. That kind of thing never happens in an election and so these are the sorts of things that observers are worried about. Their votes, thousands, perhaps at one point 6 million votes have gone missing. Again, will that change the results? We just don't know.

Werman: There had been such hope in recent years that this presidential election in Congo would be key to helping stabilize a country and reduce the violence actually in several theaters of conflict in Congo. Is there now a sense among Congolese that these elections are in fact the wrong direction, maybe they're even destabilizing further their country?

Kavanagh: I think that is a worry that you hear, especially here in the capital of Kinshasa, they feel like their vote was stolen and they feel like Kabila has lost legitimacy. They feel like this democratic process which was promised to them as the thing that would change Congo and bring development and bring peace, it's not all that it was supposed to be. Of course, the thing to remember is that Kabila was elected with quite a lot of votes in parts of the country. So it's not as if this election is under question from the entire population of Congo. I think the question is just does he have enough support to remain legitimate? Will the international still support him? Can he find ways to build bridges to the opposition so that this country which is so rich and yet on the other hand so poor in terms of what the people actually have, can it develop to a point where it's more stable in the next few years? For the moment, I think the jury is still out.

Werman: We'll stay on top of it as things unfold. Reporter Michael Kavanagh, based in the Congolese capital Kinshasa. Thanks very much indeed.

Kavanagh: Thanks, Marco.