Amid tight security, voters in diamond-rich Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) held the country’s first multi party election in more than 45 years. According to the United Nations mission in the country (MONUC,) the voting process was largely peaceful. Counting of the votes is in progress, following the United Nation’s backed elections on July 30. Some presidential candidates have expressed dissatisfaction with the process even though United Nations monitors had no issues with the election process.
Polling stations opened at 6:00 in the morning July 30 to accommodate the nearly 25 million voters choosing from among 32 candidates for the presidential elections and more than 9,000 candidates for the National Assembly. In all provinces the majority of the nearly 50,000 polling stations opened on time and voters patiently waited to slip their votes into the ballot box, MONUC reported in a statement.
Some incidents occurred in opposition strongholds such as Mbuji Mayi, in Kasaï Oriental, where many offices could not open their doors on time, and where 134 electoral kits were destroyed during “acts of antisocial behavior,” the mission reported. In addition, one of the polling stations was burned down but there were no casualties.
However, the RCD party, led by former rebel and vice-president Azarias Ruberwa, told the BBC that there had been “widespread fraud.” RCD secretary general Kabasu Babu Katulondi said RCD representatives had been chased out of polling stations when counting started, while ruling PPRD officials were caught trying to vote multiple times.
“The delay is one of Kabila’s tricks to manipulate the figures,” he said. But Thomas Luaka, a spokesman for Jean-Pierre Bemba’s MLC party, which appeared to be doing well in early results from Kinshasa, told the BBC that while he “deplored some incidents, overall, the elections went well.”
Independent Electoral Commission official Carole Kabanga Kaoy said she could not comment on the allegations of fraud until she received official reports, at which point each party would be free to provide evidence of irregularities.
Kabila, who came to power unelected in 2001, told the BBC that he would accept the result of Sunday’s presidential elections, even if he is not elected. “It would have been the verdict of the people and of course we will definitely accept the verdict of the people,” he said. Kabila needs at least 50 percent of the vote in order to win the election.
Opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi and his UDPS party boycotted the vote, the BBC reported. The presidential candidates include the four vice presidents who took office in 2003 in terms of a transitional power-sharing deal.
Three of the four vice-presidents are the leaders of former armed factions. The Independent Electoral Commission estimates that official results of the first round of presidential elections will be known in approximately three weeks.
Diamonds, cobalt, copper, gold, silver, tin and coltan (ingredient of cell phones,) add up to make the DRC one of Africa’s most mineral rich nations. It is also rich in coffee, rubber and palm oil. DRC’s wealth however, has only partially been exploited due to poor infrastructure and years of conflict.
The DRC gained independence from Belgium in 1960 after 75 years of colonial rule. Its first elected prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, was assassinated, and its first president, Joseph Kasavubu, was overthrown in 1965 by Mobutu Sese Seko, who ruled for 32 years. Mobutu allowed for widespread corruption that ravaged the nation’s infrastructure until rebel leader Laurent Kabila was propelled to power by Rwandan forces.
It was in 1998 that war broke out between Rwandan-backed rebels and six other nations. Kabila was assassinated in 2001 and his son Joseph took over as president, ended the war in 2002, and negotiated a deal with all parties for which reunited the country.
Among those exploring for diamonds in the DRC are, SouthernEra Diamonds, BHP Billiton, Gravity Diamonds, and First African Diamonds Ltd., all of which have a stake in a stable political and economic environment.