DRC Elections 2012: Observing a Rush to the Polls

Lord McConnell

Lord McConnell observing the Congolese electionNovember 28, 2011 was historic in the DRC; the first ever democratic national election organized by the Congolese themselves. Indeed it was only the second time since independence in 1960 that a multi-party electoral vote would be set to determine the presidential seat.  However, this relatively undeveloped voting system left the electoral process wide open to systemic and local corruption that could erode its very legitimacy.   Two years ago I visited communities affected by violence in the eastern DRC.  So when Christian Aid offered me the opportunity to help monitor and evaluate the election, I felt compelled to return in the hope that a fair election would improve the livelihoods of the Congolese people.

I was one of ninety international observers who flew into Kinshasa as part of the European Network for Central Africa’s (EurAc) observer mission. At the invitation of Congolese civil society organisations working together in the Action for Transparent and Peaceful Elections (AETA) network, EurAc’s observers were deployed in locations across Congo’s eleven provinces. EurAc’s objective was to ensure a transparent and fair  electoral process by supporting the Congolese observation effort, working in partnership to ensure a peaceful and reliable process which respected Congolese electoral law and human rights.

On arrival, I was particularly struck by how little French I actually remembered. While this may seem to be a trivial matter, it was one that grew in significance over the course of the weekend – especially when it transpired that this was to be the language of delivery for our first day of training! Luckily, I had plenty of willing translators on hand and, as each day passed, my linguistic skills improved.

Not too dissimilar to the electoral process in the UK, school buildings serve as the majority of polling centres, with individual classrooms serving as polling stations.

On Saturday 26th November, we were tasked with ensuring that preparation was underway at the polling centres, checking whether the buildings were secure and if lists of voters had been posted.  On Sunday 27th November, we took notes detailing whether materials, such as ballot papers and boxes had been delivered to the centres and securely distributed to individual classrooms.

By the time election day arrived, the atmosphere was electric. We arrived at the first centre at 05.30.  In the wee hours of the morning, it was an inspirational image to see nearly 100 people who had begun queuing for the anticipated 06.00 door opening. As voting clerks made final preparations for the hours that would ensue, the polling centre finally opened at 06.20.  Congolese citizens literally ran into classrooms, eager to be among the first to cast their vote.

As I spent time observing several voting sites on Monday 28th November, I was truly inspired by the Congolese people’s enthusiasm and genuine desire for a transparent and truly fair electoral process..  Despite the ballot paper amounting to more of a ballot book due to the sheer number of parliamentary candidates, most people voted for both their future president and their parliamentarian of choice.  People took their time to ensure they adhered to the rules of voting, eager to do it properly. Most poignantly, it was apparent that people simply wanted to vote; they wanted their voice to be heard.

As we travelled to various polling stations, it was evident that the majority of voters not only wanted to participate in a fair and open election, but were genuinely grateful for the presence of the international observers.   There were four or five situations where tensions flared between voters, but these were in many ways similar to the aggravation caused by party activists in any typical British election.  On receiving complaints of misconduct, our role was to report such instances through the appropriate channels, and note any patterns or discrepancies.

At the end of the day, votes were counted in each classroom and witnesses for candidates signed in agreement of ballot figures, before these were transported in a sealed bag to the National Results Centre for verification.

While I bore witness to several amateur practices – including loose ballot papers, sloppy admin, and human error in vote counting – overall, the election day itself seemed to be quite successful. The EurAc/AETA Official Report highlights several violent incidents in the Kananga province, and there was clearly intimidation in other areas.  But the vast majority of Congolese did vote peacefully. With determination and high spirits, the majority of the people in the DRC tried to do their part to contribute to an effective and reliable democratic electoral process.  This should not be discounted or overlooked.

It is vital that the DRC’s Independent National Election Commission (CENI) works diligently and transparently to publish the election results from individual polling stations. The storm of controversy surrounding the inauguration of Joseph Kabila for a new term only reinforces the need for an open and accountable voting system. As vote counting in the parliamentary elections continues to be suspended, with officials seeking assistance from foreign election experts, I fear that time is running out for a credible election result that Congolese citizens were so desperately hoping would boost the reputation of their country, both in Africa and beyond.

A large part of the international community has responded to the elections with condemnation and frustration.  However, it is vital that criticisms of a few do not negate the sincere efforts and genuine hopes of the many.  My personal experience is that the majority of the Congolese believe in a credible and honest democratic election, and went to great lengths travelling near and far to participate.  A complete dismissal of their efforts risks undermining their faith in democratic values, the very values which the international community has worked hard to support.  It is imperative that global criticisms of corruption of the Congolese few should be met equally with admiration of the Congolese many who have endeavored to participate in the election openly and fairly.   And that the international donors, like the UK and the EU, insist on lessons learned so that the next Congolese elections meet the aspirations of the Congolese people more consistently.

15 comments for “DRC Elections 2012: Observing a Rush to the Polls

  1. MilesJSD
    23/01/2012 at 7:58 pm

    With respect where it is due, Lord McConnell, and I do see several such places in your ‘article’, and ‘between the lines’ thereof.

    But once again we see the Modernised-Plato’s-Cave being held up for the world to view as if it is now ‘a sustain-worthy democratic advance’ struggling to be born, and borne, in Africa.

    Within such “Cave” are huddled “The People”,
    fascinated by the shadow-show on the wall that they face
    and which they have always been told and have believed is their total reality.

    Wondrously! now comes incresaingly regular photographing, and filming, for worldwide TV including by the Modern International-Governancial-Papparazi (of which Lord McConnell now appears to be one).

    Yet we all know that the Establishmental Powers-That-Be, not just in African and other ‘pre-democratic’ contries, but in ‘leading’ democratic-countries such as the UK and the USA, want to keep the great majority of their People in both Life-Educational and Governancial-Expertise ignorance and dis-information.

    I think there is conflation as well as confusion, in “voting for one of the Establishmentarian-Powers-That-Be
    by simply in a few seconds pencilling a cross on a betting-slip kind of once-every-five-years ballot-paper”
    “voicing one’s lifesupports, health, illness, and Earth-citizenship needs and possible-affordable-and-sustainworthy Hows for meeting those needs” ?

    and in so mingling aren’t you actually helping that wider and corrupt governance-gang to be “pulling the wool” over The Peoples’ eyes ?

    You report that
    “Most poignantly, it was apparent that people simply wanted to vote;
    they wanted their voice to be heard”

    How long would it take for each democratic-citizen’s voice to be heard ?
    each individual must surely jot-down on a piece of paper their own individual needs, and possibly some affordable how for meeting each such need, too ?

    and then each such Needs-Statement needs to be ‘voiced’, read out, such as via a Public-Hearing, the Radio, or a Dimbleby-like ‘democratic-forum’, doesn’t it ?

    Difficult ?
    Not impossible I think.

    Notwithstanding UK’s 63 million individuals would only be ‘entitled’ to 2.5 seconds of speaking-time each, once every 5-years:

    nevertheless, the recording and inclusion of each voice is “possible”.

    To make that ‘Voice’ democratic, the 63-million lists-of-needs & hows would need to be collected-and-collated, sorted into categories by quality (different items) and quantity (per capita, and per 63m-population);

    a comfortable micro-skilled process-worker’s job, maximum £300 per 40 hour week,
    possibly even cost-&-time-effectively assisted by computerised-scanners;

    and then that list could be published and be sound-recorded for publishing, for reading-out via interactive-sites or audio-tapes.
    Otherwise, “democracy” is, as the saying goes, “as scarce as hens’ teeth in the desert”.
    As well, Governance thinking needs to come up-to-date cognitively, betwixt “needs” and “rights” too:

    first must be recognised not simply the “Need” but its “How”
    before starting to legislate what “Right” any-one must also have added-in to satisfy that Necessity (to “go-get-it”, or “have-it-delivered-to-the bedside”) .
    Furthermore, it sounds as though the Congolese Peoples’ “aspirations” need not only a wholesome new Training curriculum for their formal 25% timeframe in The Workplace and The-Nation-State Places (and I would argue primarily so too do their Leaders),

    but a Holistic education curriculum for their LifePlace and Earth-citizenship Place, too
    (and I would argue so do their Leaders for their “off-duty” 75% timeframes, too).

    As in point of fact, and strongly-arguably,
    do all other Nations of People, all around the World.

    Which seems to be trying to happen, but is being suppressed and inhibited by the very same Governance Privilegocracies, that daily forked-tonguedly ‘sing’ to us, about “Democratisation”
    and that “We’re All Equally In This Together”.
    Yet it looks to me as if the “democratic values” need to be very clearly and consensually established,
    first-and-foremost within a “Method III Cooperative Needs & Hows Recognition and Problem Solving Constitutional Framework (Win-Win-Win-Win-Win-Win-Win)”

    possibly coming-down from the United Nations itself;

    but also this Method III being eminently possible at a self-funding local-neighbourhboods level by the People themselves, given one effective and egalitarianly-honest-leader or facilitator per neighbourhood,
    and one or two co-operational guidance-manuals (in translation of course) such as
    “Health Care Together” (Johnston & Rifkin)
    “Six Thinking Hats” (de Bono); and
    “How To Win Every Argument” (Pirie).
    So, thank you for your interesting and in-depth report, including the many uncomfortable exigencies it reveals.

  2. maude elwes
    23/01/2012 at 11:32 pm

    So you see, even when I get it right I get it wrong.

    And Father of the House is, Rt Hon Sir Peter Tapsell, eldest at 81, Louth and Horncastle

    • Lord Norton
      Lord Norton
      24/01/2012 at 10:29 am

      maude elwes: I think you may also be getting it wrong in respect of the post you are replying to!

      • maude elwes
        24/01/2012 at 11:51 am

        @Lord Norton:

        I certainly have. And I have no idea how this happened? I wasn’t even reading this thread, or, so I thought.

        Too much Port perhaps!

        I do hope the good Lord of the Thread will put it down to zealousness. On my part of course.

        • MilesJSD
          24/01/2012 at 2:23 pm

          “…Listen to what we say”

          I inadvertently posted my
          “the Top is apathetic, not the Bottom” response for Lord Norton’s “Stirring up apathy”
          to the same Lord Norton’s other blog-topic;
          but it was published
          (for the Whole World to read if It so wishes and has time)

          so “It’s OK”, Maude”

          now perhaps especially so, because the daily Press reports the House of Lords as having-the-People-solidly-behind-them, at least in some of the current legislatory bills, aiming to at last get-it-right-and-fair

          therefore we may feel assured that at least one of the Posting Peers is seriously and appreciatively reading what we submit, whereversoever it may “sub-democratically” appear.

          Innit ? Eh ?

          “It’s alright,
          It’s OK;
          What does it matter if you’re old and grey –

          It’s alright
          It’s OK;

          To what we say)” .

          (with acknowledgment to British Popular TV’s “New Tricks”)

          • maude elwes
            25/01/2012 at 12:16 pm


            I feel what took place in the Lords over the welfare cap was a turning point and one we needed for a very long time.

            There was a sense that, at last, the thinking was more open and accountability for their actions more important to them. Lord Winston took to his feet with an intent to put right what was obviously a smear. And it was good to see.

            I thought the Bishops had found the courage to speak out on behalf of their theology.

            On the whole, very encouraging.

  3. Gareth Howell
    24/01/2012 at 9:21 am

    Mathematics has got to be arithmetic to start off with?

    Lord McConnell remarks are apt that we expect far too much from new democracies, and yet sometimes actually get it. South Africa seems to have no difficulty with theirs.

    • MilesJSD
      24/01/2012 at 3:08 pm

      “Mathematics has gott to be arithmetic to start off with?”

      a propos “that we (the world-leading democracies) expect far too much from new democracies…”


      (For some critical-thinking and supportive-references, please see my above contribution 7.58PM 23Jan2012)

      plus that
      Human Lifesupportrs- and Welfare -wise, specification of Percentage arithmetical Thinking is required
      of Necessity

      but is not being so included

      (which is why the argument remains very-strong, and valid always, that
      “any-one being-given, demanding, or drawing from the Common Purse, more than one-human-living, is psychiatricly-deluded and a destroyer of the Earth’s and Our-Common-Civilisation’s very-lifesupports, believing and enforcing that s/he is multiple-human-beings rather than just the factually-existential one-human-being that s/he is (and never more shall be)”.

      So Government(s) need to specify “percentage-arithmetic”, in more sectors than just human-lifesupports, too; e.g. destruction-of-precious-non-renewable-resources on an x-axis tikmeframe of at least the number-of-years We have to keep-going until we have successfully ‘colonised’ a Second-Earth, somewhere way out in Space.
      “South Africa seems to have no difficulty with (their ‘new democracy’)”

      (1) they started off not so much ‘democratically By the People’
      as oligarchically-constituting their Governmental-Cabinet to be Tripartite
      i.e. not only the Winning-Party is to sit in Cabinet, but ther runner-up Party too, and any other Party scoring %5 or more of the total Votes gets at least one voting seat in the Cabinet(in South Africa’s case the third party in Cabinet was the Zulus’ Party);

      which, I am further told, was a “World First”;

      and no other democracy (especially we the UK and USA ‘leaders’) has yet advanced as far.

      (2) South Africa quickly began funding their ‘new-democracy’ by becoming a major hot-war-arms-&-ammunition Supplier and Exporter.

      (No doubt there is much more ‘detail’ to be brought-in hereto, too)…

  4. MilesJSD
    25/01/2012 at 5:56 pm

    @ Maude
    You’re right;
    and you other Contributors, too, are all Right,
    as far as that rightness goes;

    but relevant to the Congo problem is perhaps ‘Capping an unemployed family’s income at £500 per week’

    ((which may still be too-high (vis a vis the Earth’s and Global-Civilisation’s longest-term Means) ))

    even though for a family of two adults and two school-aged children that £500 is little more than the (New-Labour-First-in-the-World) Guaranteed Minimum Income, now of, what, £!45 per week per individual ?

    and some of Britain’s top-thinkers opportunistically come out to accrue popularity, by opposing “the cutting-down and capping of a minimum-guaranteed-human-livings”.

    I ‘sense’ that the Bishops-Themselves feel “threatened”, that they may have to face “cuts” to the many multiple-human-livings they each take from the Common Purse; and also of the somewhat lesser but still multiple-livings they “give” to their employees.
    (And their Church’s catechismal Christian standard is still (“)to labour and truly earn my own living ((one (1) human-living”) –
    (that’s “each”, my Lords, Baronesses, and Graces; one human living each).

    We all are coming to realise, that Theology is contrived on-high and handed-down (dictated|) one-way;
    and evidently a central part of that theology is that “some animals are more equal than others”
    (“a Bishop is more-human-beings than a mere Curate”)
    with the Archbishop drawing the fattest package-of-multiple-human-livings from the Common Purse –

    and so it is across the Whole-World ruled by Protected-Establishmentarianism,
    (except perhaps for China’s Prime Minister who, TV recently reported, draws only $US11000 per year as Salary ?)

    (oh! and we havn’t forgotten that the Christian Priest’s “pay” is very-low,
    nor that s/he is given free-accomodation, free-servants, often free-food, and clothing, and free transport = quite a fat gross-income !

    So it is in the Congo, the Rulers have a “divine right” to be legislating, constituting, ‘managing-elections’, such that they can legally (and therefore Morally) consume many-many more human-livings from their common-national-purse than their millions of supportive-citizens who thus can “feel free to go starve-to-death” ?

    (no doubt there are many more devils-lurking-in-further-hidden-details)

  5. Gareth Howell
    25/01/2012 at 7:08 pm

    Some of these posts get, if their noble lords will pardon the expression, completely F****d up by a certain gentleman, or lady, who believes that ” %5 ” has some kind of meaning.

    To anybody else, except that certain Lady or gentleman, the people of the Central African republics are, as Montesqieu the French philosopher would have remarked, hotheaded and temperamental, and their politics is no less so. For young, new democracies such as DRC, to achieve a moderately fair result is good.

    • maude elwes
      25/01/2012 at 8:48 pm

      @Gareth H:

      You must not be so sidetracked by Miles and I, even in this situation where we have gone over to another matter and off topic.

      As far as the Congo and Democracy is concerned, my feeling is, Africa, as a whole is being pushed into a western answer to a complicated issue. And it is taking place without careful consideration to the society it is being thrust upon. Evolution is a human process governed by nature. And this pace of change expected of them is way out of proportion in its objective.

      I do often wonder why the Western civilization appears to want Africa to be something other than it is? If they profess to ‘love’ it so much, why don’t they first learn to accept it as it is. For what it is. Which is the first requirement for genuine admiration. And then allow it, without pressure, to move at its own pace in its own direction?

      • Gareth Howell
        26/01/2012 at 7:14 pm

        as a whole is being pushed into a western answer to a complicated issue.

        The examples of Uganda and Southern Sudan and the famine migrations of Somalia in to Kenya in the last few months, must be taken in to account when considering African politics, which is often tribal.

        My own opinion, [as a former member of that book club the RCS (Royal Commonwealth society) whose libarary disappeared completely when the club was closed down in its previous life in about 1988] is that the FCO civil service who masterminded the so called independence celbrations of different regions of Africa designated as nation states, did the best they could to create nation states, in the mould of UN requirements.

        The recent celebration of independence of Southern Sudan, from greater Sudan of the past, may be yet another example of African endeavours to persevere with such nation state organisation.

        My learned Ky brother’s gdaughter is partly proud Sudanese, and his charitable work with the Rotary club of Ky, is based in Uganda, where the veritable peace maker Muselveni (rhymes with muscle man!)keeps it as well.
        He even spent some time in the Congo in Tshombe’s era, so his opinions about Central Africa are very valuable indeed, reticent as he is to give them.

        Reticence is the best way, as is the balanced judgement of the noble lord who posted this subject.

        • Gareth Howell
          26/01/2012 at 7:24 pm


          The noble lord might like to look through that Ky website to see what work is being done at an individual level for the people of a nearby country and its rural population.

    • MilesJSD
      25/01/2012 at 10:38 pm

      Noble Lords and Ladies,
      and respected Participants;

      that 5% typographiclly-transposed as %5 should have escaped both the lifeplace-intelligence of your well-established public-attender at meetings in your Westminster Palace, and his/her ability and willingness to apply the three principles of good-communication & honest-argumentation to his/her own thinly-veiled gutterlike-utterances,
      need not put us off either the main-issues in and around the great Matters presented here by the noble Lord McConnell, or our normal and healthy mind-functional-abilities and our own mature duties to observe those three principles
      1. be Clear
      2. be Charitable (i.e. overtly recognise the good intention contained in another participant’s contribution)
      3. be Self-Corrigible (without waiting to be shown misinformed, misled, ommissive, or otherwise plain ‘wrong’).

      Apart from your wrong spelling of Montesquieu, Gareth, your ‘presentation’ is overall plain ‘wrong’.

      Certainly we all would do better to find exemplary-leaders in today’s world, rather than trying to fall back upon historically-traditional “thinkers” such as Montesquieu, (who indeed did some good, first identifying for us our Governance and Civil need for Separation of Powers,
      but who had significant weaknesses, and tended to ‘theorise’ perhaps conflating Climate with Human Conduct, thinking as he did that people in cold-climates become ‘cold people’ whilst people in hot climates become ‘hot-people’).

      Today’s Thinking-leaderships, that are readily at hand and quite easy to fall into step with, have advanced a long way ahead of pre-20th century thinkers:

      “Edward de Bono’s Thinking Course”,
      and the world-leading “Six Thinking Hats” (author also Dr de Bono, but being implemented successfully around the world by boardrooms and by many foresightful schools, a-plenty in Japan, increasingly in China, and even a goodly number in the British Isles;

      and we need to include one or two of the best ‘non-lateral-thinking’ sources, in Formal-Argumentation and Moral-Reasoning, such as
      “Inductive and Practical Reasoning” (Girle et al);
      “Fallacies and Argument Appraisal” (Tindale);
      “How To Win Every Argument” (Pirie).
      Be reminded, Gareth, that the “people” do not own their country’s “politics”;
      ‘politics’, like ‘theology’, is foisted on them by immature, irresponsible and greedy charlatan ‘leaders’.

      It is no good “ad hominem”, “ad verecundium”, and “non sequitur” attacking the disadvantaged people of the DRC by saying that you and the whole rest of the world (except the JSDM-gentleman) consider the Central African People to be “hotheaded and temperamental”
      that is a further foul-play.
      Be reminded also that neither the UK nor the USA have yet achieved a Participatory-Democracy, in which there can prevail primarily “Government By the people” instead of “Government Of the people, by the super-privileged Establishment, For the super-privileged Establishment”
      You are included in the shadow of “in the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is King”.
      Our democracy leaves almost as much to be desired as do any of the ‘new democracies’;
      and that, I think, is why the new democracies falter so much:
      the world’s “leading” democracies are in fact dragging their feet, and failing to give exemplary-leadership and effective-enablements to their own Peoples.
      Mostly, the Hot-Civil-Protestations arising from the People in many countries around the world, have been fed and catalysed by increasing access to the internet and thereby to some up-to-date information-gathering and know-how achievement.

      It certainly is not being much helped by Politicians;
      nor by the Military;
      nor by the United Nations which is still way back in the 17th century with Montesquieu
      ‘poo-poo-ing’ the individual person, and failing to formulate an Individual Human Development model and index.

  6. Gareth Howell
    26/01/2012 at 7:42 pm


    And another on the DRC from Kristin Drake.

    American edu website. A great deal of valuable work going on in the region, often from self motivated individuals.

Comments are closed.