[Dehai-WN] (Reuters): World has little stomach to take on Congo vote row

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Thu, 15 Dec 2011 23:51:20 +0100

World has little stomach to take on Congo vote row

Thu Dec 15, 2011 8:04am GMT


(Repeats story from Dec. 14 without changes)

* Westerners face street anger in Kinshasa

* One poll district result defies mathematics

* No prospect of wider U.N. action - diplomats

* Kabila swearing-in due within week

By David Lewis and Jonny Hogg

KINSHASA, Dec 14 (Reuters) - On the streets of Congo's capital Kinshasa
earlier this week, a car carrying a Westerner was stoned by angry locals
convinced the outside world helped rig the outcome of the central African
giant's presidential election.

"White man, white man, you have stolen the elections for Kabila!" they
shouted in the incident, two days after incumbent Joseph Kabila was declared
winner of the Nov. 28 vote.

In a country long scarred by outside meddling, the notion of the
"international community" has a bitter taste for many Congolese, from
Kinshasa's poor up to the professional elite who grumble at boisterous lunch
parties about foreign influence.

Kabila's main rival, 79-year-old opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, has
declared himself the real winner of an election marred by chaos and
widespread irregularities which he says masked an outright robbery of the
vote by the Kabila camp.

While Kabila dismisses such allegations, many in the Democratic Republic of
Congo - especially backers of Tshisekedi's UDPS party - accuse world powers
of standing back and allowing Kabila to snatch a new term in the cynical
calculation that this will open up access to Congo's sub-soil riches, from
copper through to gold and oil.

Tshisekedi has called for outside help to resolve the dispute. But the fact
is there is no international mandate or appetite to enter the arena to
settle the festering dispute.

"I hope the UDPS is not banking on international involvement as it is not
happening," said a senior diplomat in Kinshasa who is closely involved in
the election process.

"The number of killings, the demonstrations ... would have to get pretty bad
for that to happen," added the diplomat, who like others interviewed by
Reuters requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

"We're trying to create some space for mediation," the official said,
referring to an ongoing low-profile strategy offering to resolve the
Kabila-Tshisekedi deadlock and end election-linked violence that has killed
at least 20 people.


The next few days will prove crucial, as Congo waits for its Supreme Court
to decide whether to validate provisional results that gave Kabila 48.97
percent of the vote against 32.33 percent for Tshisekedi.

Some draw comparisons with Ivory Coast, where last year's vote resulted in
two men claiming victory until U.N. and French forces helped to facilitate
the arrest of incumbent Laurent Gbagbo and install his challenger Alassane
Ouattara in power.

But there is no chance of a repeat scenario in Congo.

Unlike in Ivory Coast, where the United Nations was able to make its own
tally of votes and was mandated to sign off on results showing Ouattara the
victor, its MONUSCO mission in Congo helped with logistics but has no bigger
political role.

Congo's 2006 election, its first since a 1998-2003 war, was organised under
the auspices of the United Nations and funded by hundreds of millions of
dollars of donor cash. This time the donor funds amount to merely dozens of
millions and Kinshasa-based diplomats have no powers of arbitration as

Moreover, Congo's elections have had to compete for media and diplomatic
attention with allegations of vote-rigging in Russia and the tangled
aftermath of the "Arab Spring" uprisings, not to mention Europe's spiralling
sovereign debt crisis.

According to two sources involved, U.N. Security Council members informed
heads of the Congo U.N. mission during a video conference that there was no
chance of extending the world body's mandate beyond its existing logistical

"There has been a gradual political disengagement in Congo," Jean-Marie
Guehenno, the U.N.'s former head of peacekeeping who is now a professor at
Columbia University, told Reuters.

"There is definitely Congo fatigue after 11 years and billions of dollars.
There is no appetite for repeating the Ivory Coast experience," he added.

Concern over Congo's election and the risk of unrest was raised long ago, by
local politicians right through to international observers and think tanks
such as the International Crisis Group. ID:nLDE744237]

But criticism of the polls by foreign governments has been muted, partly
because they are billed as being Congolese-run, and partly because of unease
over Tshisekedi, seen in most diplomatic circles as stubborn and awkward.


While preparations for the vote were consistently behind schedule, talk of
delay to allow better preparation was rejected. Both the United Nations and
the United States expressed optimism it would go smoothly right up to
polling day.

While millions did manage to vote despite delays, confusion and outbreaks of
violence, many others never got the chance or saw their ballots lost in the
anarchic counting afterwards, according to observer missions.

In one district of Kabila's southern stronghold of Katanga, turnout was
recorded at a mathematics-defying 100.14 percent, with Kabila winning 99.98
percent of the votes.

The election commission website also showed that the results from nearly
2,000 polling stations in the capital Kinshasa, an opposition stronghold,
had not been tallied.

Yet some backers of the process were swift with praise. Two days after the
vote, African observer missions hailed the fact the elections were managed
despite all the challenges.

"This is not the international community's finest hour in Congo," said
Congolese blogger Mvemba Phezo Dizolele, a visiting fellow at Stanford
University's Hoover Institution who also worked on the ground as an election
observer in the vote.

"Whether or not diplomats like Tshisekedi, he is an icon to the Congolese
... For a segment of the population, he is the man who best articulates
their aspirations and dreams," he added of the disconnect between
Tshisekedi's local and foreign image.

Kabila acknowledges "mistakes" in the election process but said his win is
not in doubt. He accused the U.S.-based Carter Center observer mission - a
rare international voice to openly question the credibility of the vote - of
"baseless" criticism.

While none of the international missions have said they have evidence to
suggest Tshisekedi may have won, the growing weight of material raising
questions about the vote is making it harder to brush over the problems.


Couched in diplomatic language, the United Nations on Dec. 12 issued its
strongest statement yet, noting "with deep concern" the observer mission
reports and "strongly" urging the election commission to investigate them.

While there are reports of mass ballot-stuffing, it is the final compilation
of the results at centres in Kinshasa rather than the tallies made at
individual polling stations that most observers are concerned about.

The European Union estimates that votes from some 5,000 polling stations, or
a possible 1.6 million votes, did not make it into a final tally. But
prospects for a recount seem dim as the compilation centres were often
chaotic and many ballots appear simply to have been lost.

The Catholic Church had 30,000 observers on voting day, the largest observer
network by far. It says it is in a position to know the real winner and has
issued a statement saying the provisional election results "do not conform
to the truth".

Yet while the church wields influence in this overwhelmingly Christian
country, there is little prospect of it having a role in sorting out the
current dispute.

For now, foreign governments and bodies are repeating calls for restraint
and for the opposition to channel any complaints through the courts and not
out onto the street.

Third-placed Vital Kamerhe, who has thrown his weight behind Tshisekedi, has
lodged just such a complaint. But there are questions about the independence
of Congo's Supreme Court, which even sitting magistrates say is stuffed with
pro-Kabila judges -- a charge it has vehemently denied.

As always after a contested vote, there are warnings that whoever emerges as
victor will face problems of legitimacy - a major risk in a vast country
where, eight years after the war formally ended, there are simmering
rebellions across much of the east and frustrations are running high

The George Soros-funded Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA),
among others, has warned that the lack of credible results risks plunging
Congo back into violence that the United Nations and its peacekeepers could
not contain.

Yet for now, according to one diplomat, ambassadors in Kinshasa are hoping
the tensions do not escalate into violence before a swearing-in ceremony for
Kabila scheduled for around Dec. 20 that shows all the signs of being

"They will probably all turn up, therefore rubber stamping the results,"
said the diplomat. "So it is business as usual." (Editing by Mark John and
Mark Heinrich)

C Thomson Reuters 2011 All rights reserved


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