The election season is now in full swing. Many are dissatisfied with the status quo and are thirsty for change that they believe will improve their lives. The November 2016 election will usher in a new president now that the incumbent president is termed out. The candidates are campaigning, holding rallies and advertising on social media. There are concerns about efforts to suppress votes and disenfranchise minorities, jeopardizing full and equal democratic participation. The election has enormous consequences for peace and stability. Of course, this description is in reference to the November election in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
One might immediately think that the above description was in reference to the November presidential election in the United States. However, there is one characteristic that makes the election in DR Congo very different from the U.S. election. Everyone in the U.S. is certain there will be an election come November, but this is not so in DR Congo. That’s because the incumbent president, Joseph Kabila, has been coy about whether he will actually leave office after his term is complete. Also, there’s been little administrative preparation to commence a national presidential election. In fact, the government is saying it doesn’t have the funds to sufficiently register voters and conduct a nationwide election by this November.
Challenges involved with strengthening democracy in DR Congo are not new. The current crisis began right after the 2011 presidential election when the integrity of that election was called into question after widespread allegations of voter fraud and voting irregularities. Joseph Kabila was declared the winner for second term. Some of those who questioned the integrity of the election found some solace in the DR Congo’s constitution that limited the president from running for another term.
There’s a high level of engagement in civil society, especially among young people. This is a hopeful sign that demonstrates the next generation is ready and eager to move the country forward. However, when it comes to whether there will be a presidential election in November, many Congolese don’t have high hopes. The young people have been the most vocal and active protesters of this situation. This year, DR Congo increased the number of provinces from 11 to 26. The move was long anticipated, but the timing seems suspect to some. Nonetheless, the new provisional maps have been embraced by the people. Elections were held in March for new governors in the expanded number of new provinces. Many of the appointed governors lost as the desire for change swept through the new provinces.
This change has produced some hopeful signs. For example, Mbandaka is a city that is not connected to a power grid, and when the city goes dark at night one can hear the humming of sporadic generators. The provincial government began installing solar-powered street lights in the last few months, and now market activity after dark has increased. Another example can be seen in the flow of reliable tap water to local residents after the water resource company began diverting water from a shuttered brewery. Today, two competing airlines offer air service between Mbandaka and Kinshasa for $128 each way, down from $179. It seems that progress is slowly occurring at the provincial level.
Let us pray for peace and democracy in our world. Let us pray for the rights of citizens everywhere to openly express themselves in an atmosphere of civility without fear of reprisal, incarceration or death. And as we do, let us continue to pray for the church in DR Congo in their role as a prophetic voice leading the Congolese people to one day enjoy the fruits of independence and democracy.
Paul Turner serves with the Community of Disciples of Christ in the Congo as a project consultant. His appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Churches Wider Mission, and your special gifts.