The International Crisis Group released a new report on the Congo this week called “The electoral process seen from the East.” The report touches on several key points that are worth mentioning here.
First, they cite revealing figures concerning the voter registration process in the East. The registration figures for North Kivu, South Kivu and Province Orientale are roughly similar, with each province meeting its goals almost exactly. This means that the population in each of these provinces grew around 20 percent between 2006 and 2011. Across the Congo, over one million voters registered more than expected by the election commission, a figure that ICG says should raise questions.
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However, these figures mask the numerous flaws in the registration process – the report provides a summary of fake voters, children and foreigners registering, as well as cases of voters registering multiple times (one diplomat I recently spoke to said they had seen one case of a voter registering eleven times). ICG also documents suspicious variations in registration levels within the provinces – why did 161 percent of expected voters register in Goma and 216 percent in Nyiragongo territory, while only 88 percent of those expected registered in Uvira territory?
Unfortunately, all ICG can do is ask questions. The truth is, we don’t know how many eligible voters live where, as the last physical census was carried out in 1984. The election commission simply took the 2006 registration figures and extrapolated based on population growth – but not taking into account internal migration and variations in mortality and birth rates within the country.
In addition, as the report suggests, there was very weak monitoring of the registration process. In North Kivu, not a single official party official registered to observe the registration process, in part because the election commission only gave parties two days to register their witnesses (the electoral law requires seven days to registration). In general, political parties are poorly organized, and civil society did the bulk of what little monitoring there was. But as the election commission has not released the official voter register (they are required to do so 30 days before the election) and did not always post voter lists on the respective registration offices (they are required to do so by law), we have no idea how many fake voters there are in the East.
Given this extremely useful summary of election preparations, I find it strange that ICG did not call for an urgent audit of the voter register, as the opposition is now doing.
There are several other minor disagreements I have with the report – it claims that the political class in the eastern Congo thinks the presidential election is a fait accompli and that Kabila will win, given his superior financing, access to media and the security services. This was not my reading of the situation during my recent visit; the predominant mood was rather one of uncertainty, as many people in urban areas opposed Kabila but were worried of rigging. As I have written before, as there has been no rigorous polling, nobody has much to go on. The UNC and UDPS officials I spoke with certainly disagreed with this sentiment, and there have been several defections from Kabila’s coalition in the Kivus that would confirm this uncertainty.
Secondly, I am not sure that people will vote for a candidate simply because a senior leader from their community tells them to. ICG suggests that Mwenga (South Kivu), for example, may vote for Kabila because a minister in his government comes from that territory. But Mwenga has also been one of the areas most riven by violence in the past years, with large parts occupied by the FDLR and various Mai-Mai groups. While Chinese engineers have built parts of the National Highway #4 through Mwenga, I am not sure that this will be enough to sway them. This question – to what degree a relatively uneducated population will vote for their leaders – is key, and to mind is still up in the air.