At the polls in Goma, eastern DRC. Nov. 28, 2011. Photo by Piet Suess for ECI
Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, November 30, 2011
The Congolese people went to the polls this week to elect a new president and a new parliament. Early indications are that the turnout was generally high with polling booths remaining open for up to two days after official closing time on November 28th. Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI) witnessed a high level of participation in the voting and celebrates that, in spite of great odds, election day was largely peaceful in the east of the country.
Given the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) vast size and lack of adequate transportation infrastructure, it is not surprising that the elections occurred with a myriad of technical and logistical problems. It seems that in much of the DRC citizens were able to vote under relatively peaceful conditions. We were encouraged by the proactive and peaceful behavior of the voters in the activities that we witnessed.
However, ECI is concerned that throughout the country the voting process was compromised by allegations of fraud, targeted violence and a simple lack of capacity of CENI to implement elections that could be considered accessible, free and fair to the entire electorate.
Represented by Founding Member Cindy McCain and Founding Member and CEO Whitney Williams, ECI witnessed first-hand in North Kivu province that many women were prevented or hindered from going to the polls. In a country where perhaps more than half of all women cannot read or write, the Electoral Commission neglected the need to assist illiterate people in gaining access to the polls. In nearly all of the polling stations we visited, especially in rural districts, many women were clearly confused as they attempted to vote. They were not aware that they could be supported by a literate assistant, and reported that they left the polling stations unable to vote. In some cases, they reported being encouraged to leave the polls but did not, instead staying for many hours hoping for the chance to cast their vote. Unfortunately, this shows that the CENI did not adequately communicate rights to illiterate voters and did not have the resources onsite to support the volume of voters with such needs.
While it is too early to pass definitive judgment on the freeness and fairness of the election, we encourage the Congolese and international observation missions to investigate if there have been any organized efforts to disenfranchise voters, especially women and the illiterate, during the 2011 elections.
As the Congolese people wait for the results of their election, it is time to consider what happens next. Fears of post-election violence are widespread and ECI calls on all parties to refrain from the use of violence to resolve political conflict.
ECI believes in Congolese solutions for Congolese challenges. This election process has shown that the Congolese people want their voices heard and that there is an overwhelming desire for good governance, security, economic opportunity, and social development.
The Congolese electorate deserves a future where their basic rights are respected, including the right to freely elect leaders of their choice and to have full confidence that the reported results accurately reflect their will. We hope that in the coming crucial weeks that these core aspects of the democratic process, which require transparency and openness, are adhered to by election officials.
The Eastern Congo Initiative is a U.S.-based advocacy and grantmaking initiative that believes local, community-based approaches are essential to creating a sustainable and successful society in eastern Congo.