Pessimism grips Congo with elections in disarray

Historic poll in war-ravaged DRC may be delayed as ballot papers go undelivered

Kinshasa

Campaigning in the Democratic Republic of Congo lurches to a riotous and uncertain finish this weekend, with authorities warning that rain could still delay a historic vote in sub-Saharan Africa's biggest country.

Should it go ahead, Monday's vote will pit the young incumbent Joseph Kabila – whose father toppled dictator Mobutu Sese Seko – against elder statesman Etienne Tshisekedi, hailed as the "father of Congolese democracy" and standing for president for the first time.

The prize is control of a war-ravaged swathe of central Africa, home to $24 trillion (£16 trillion) of mineral reserves and a population that lives mostly in abject poverty. Preparations for the $700m election are, by common consent, in disarray with ballots still undelivered to many of the 60,000 polling stations. In what was seen as a prelude to a possible voting delay, the electoral commission cancelled a press conference yesterday blaming the weather.

Some international observers have still not deployed to the interior, with many believing a last-gasp delay will be announced which will be blamed on heavy rains. The international community has spent billions of pounds trying to stabilise the country – providing half the national budget – and the opposition has demanded that elections be held on time. The frenetic contest has seen candidates spend so freely that the Congolese franc has devalued by 10 per cent against the dollar in the past week, while accusations of hate-speech and vote rigging have been rife.

Mr Kabila, enriched by recent mines deals, has been by far the biggest spender. Fleets of mobile cranes jammed the main avenue of the capital, Kinshasa, yesterday in a kind of construction parade as he sought to underline that the country was being rebuilt under his watch. The orange trucks – part of a vast and opaque £4bn barter deal with China involving minerals for infrastructure – were draped in pro-Kabila banners and a brass band wailed from the back of one of them.

In Place Onatra, where people gather to read photocopies of newspapers they can't afford, the headlines were angrily partisan: "Tshisekedi will crucify Kabila" predicted the Alerte Plus.

"Kabila has been completely negative for this country," said civil servant Gabriel Etsou, who said he has not been paid for four months, despite working for the national budget office. "The state doesn't operate, there are no jobs, people are murdered and women are raped in the east."

The former Belgian colony was left shattered by two wars that spilled over the border from Rwanda and ripped open Congo's complex wounds, costing five million lives prior to a 2003 peace deal. An unofficial war continues in eastern Congo, where more than a dozen militias compete for territory and mining riches. The brutality of that conflict has been underlined by the continuing presence of rebel commander, Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka, on the ballot.

Known as "Mai Mai Sheka" and accused of leading the rape of nearly 400 people last year, he handed himself in to the army on Thursday.

Rather than arrest him they have offered him protection as an election candidate.

The high stakes were underlined this week when one opposition candidate, Marius Gangale, was shot dead in front of his wife while stuck in one of Kinshasa's epic traffic jams. But the tension hasn't stopped 400 political parties and 18,300 parliamentary candidates from running, while there are 11 men in the race for the presidency.

Among the would-be MPs is 40-year-old Darius Mufwansoni, who has left his job as a transport official to run as an independent in the poor Mont-Amba district of Kinshasa, where 1,534 candidates are competing for 11 seats. "Only a small group is enjoying the benefits of power," he said. "They want to stay in power so they're giving out money at bars, in churches, everywhere."

While most diplomats expect Mr Kabila to win after he scrapped the run-off and removed the need to win a majority, the DRC is stepping into the unknown. There has been no credible opinion polling and the crowded ballots have added to the uncertainty.

A heart attack suffered by opposition leader Leon Kengo wa Dondo this week may force him to withdraw and unite much of the opposition around Mr Tshisekedi. And from his cell at The Hague, where he is on trial for alleged war crimes, Jean Pierre Bemba, the man Mr Kabila beat last time, called on his supporters to vote out his rival.

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star