A rigged election? The latest chapter in Congo's sad history

view gallery VIEW GALLERY


There are serious concerns over the prospects for fair elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) after a confidential report suggested that the register of voters has been manipulated to favour the incumbent, Joseph Kabila.

The historic 28 November polls, only the second vote since the end of a disastrous war in 2003, are seen as crucial to international efforts to prop up a resource-rich country the size of western Europe. But there are serious flaws in the electoral roll including hundreds of thousands of ghost voters, shows an unpublished survey by a Belgian firm on behalf of the Congolese government.

The document, obtained by The Independent, highlights how numerous "duplicates" – voters registered twice – could potentially skew the result to favour re-election of President Kabila.

"For the provinces of Bandundu, Equateur, and Province Orientale, there are a very significant number of duplicates, above what would be expected from the census data," the report concludes. In the province of Kinshasa, a stronghold of opposition leader Étienne Tshisekedi , "the number appears to be normal", it says.

The research was handed to authorities in August by Zetes, a Belgian firm contracted by the government to issue biometric voter cards. Rumours of its contents in DRC have since prompted accusations of vote-rigging, but the government has rejected any accusations of irregularities with the electoral roll and has refused opposition demands to release the report or to allow an audit of the apparently flawed database.

Some duplicates could be attributable to technical glitches, but Zetes appears to suggest tampering is a more likely explanation due to the scale. "This leads one to think that it amounts to a direct manipulation," the report says.

In several of the Congolese provinces, the double entries are equivalent to more than 12 per cent of voters. The margin of error for duplicates on similar databases used in Western elections is less than 1 per cent.

Preparations for the vote on 28 November, in a vast country with few roads and little infrastructure, have been dogged by serious delays. Even as campaigning officially began yesterday, ballot boxes and other materials have yet to reach most of the 62,000 polling stations across the country. Senior figures in the UN mission in Congo (Monuc) said last month that it would be "impossible" for the presidential and parliamentary polls to happen on time.

Western donors have pumped more than $1bn into state-building efforts in a country still hobbled by armed insurgencies fuelled by the illegal minerals and timber trades. The UN is backing logistical efforts for the November vote with more than $100m. Donors are footing a further $210m in election costs, while continuing to supply half of the country's $6bn annual budget.

This year, Mr Kabila controversially changed the law to scrap a second round in the presidential vote in what was seen as an effort to improve his own chances of winning a single vote against a fragmented opposition.

"Who are we investing all this money for?" asked Congo analyst Jason Stearns. "Are we investing all this money for a rich elite to stay in power in Kinshasa? It's no good donors wringing their hands over the state of the army, the judiciary or the police. Elections are the chance to hold leaders accountable for the state of institutions."

So far diplomats and Western governments – some of whom have seen the Zetes report – have been wary of criticising the Kabila administration or the electoral process. "It's important for us to build up a climate of trust and not mistrust," said Manuel Lopez Blanco, director for West and Central Africa in the EU's external action service. "We must not build up a list of reasons as to why the elections won't work. Otherwise it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy."

More than four million people are thought to have died as the result of recent wars in DR Congo. The legacy of the former dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, who looted the country for 32 years, and Laurent Kabila and his son, Joseph, who have ruled since is a country synonymous with rape, atrocities and corruption. A patchwork of armed groups, including Rwandese former genocidaire and the quasi-religious Lords Resistance Army, still terrorise large areas, and the Congolese army is regularly accused of appalling human rights abuses.

Tensions are already mounting on the ground, with clashes between government and opposition supporters in the capital Kinshasa in recent weeks. An opposition television station was among a number of buildings burnt to the ground in September, with many people fearing a prolonged standoff after the vote.

"This election in Congo is the ultimate test," said Thierry Vircoulon, from the International Crisis Group. "Is Congo on course to consolidate its fledgling democracy or return to a state of widespread instability, insecurity and violence?"

In the ballot box: The main candidates

Joseph Kabila

Joseph Kabila was never expected to stay in power. He was only 29 when he took over from his assassinated father, Laurent, and had to survive at least two attempted coups before he won an election in 2006. He cut his teeth as a commander of a brigade of child soldiers in his father's army during the Rwanda-backed war against the Mobutu regime. Educated in Tanzania, Uganda –and later China – he was seen by many in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as an outsider. His main support at the last election came from the east, where he was born, but discontent at the lack of a peace dividend has eroded his backing in all parts of the country.

Étienne Tshisekedi

Tshisekedi, 78, is the nearly man of Congolese politics, a perennial opposition figurehead who has always lost out on the top job. Thought to see next month's elections as his best chance, Tshisekedi spent three stints as prime minister to Mobutu Sese Seko, the first of which lasted a month and the third a week, as rebels approached the capital. He boycotted the last elections contested by Joseph Kabila and alleged warlord Jean Pierre Bemba, who is now on trial for war crimes. He has been accused of being obsessed with the constitution he helped edit in 1967.

Vital Kamerhe

Vital Kamerhe is expected to come third in a packed presidential field. Accused of being a Mobutu supporter in his youth, he later joined the main opposition UDPS and then served under President Kabila before setting up his own party. Still seen as "the kid" by the veteran opposition leader Étienne Tshisekedi, it was hoped the two men would make a united stand against President Kabila. He is backed by the rich and influential Jean Pierre Bemba, the runner-up at the last election now on trial for war crimes at the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
Arts and Entertainment
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior SEO Manager - £30,000 - Manchester City Centre

£30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This forward-thinking agency works with ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Field Sales - OTE £30,000

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a rapidly expanding offi...

Recruitment Genius: HVAC Project Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The successful candidate will b...

Recruitment Genius: Key Accounts Administrator - Fixed Term

£13500 - £14500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting new opportunity has...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game