DR Congo: Voters hope for peaceful conduct of polls

Whether they are in favor of change or continuity, whether they are full of hope or without any illusions, many in Kinshasa, the capital, Goma or Lubumbashi in the east, want to believe that the elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo will be free of violence and properly organized on Wednesday.

“Tomorrow will be calm, it’s when the results come in that there could be problems,” predicts 32-year-old Flory Tshimanga.

“Who am I going to vote for? I’m not saying, I don’t want to get beaten up”, adds the telephone credit salesman whom AFP met on Tuesday in Kinshasa, very close to the headquarters of the Electoral Commission (Céni).

In a tense climate, some 44 million voters out of a population of around 100 million are called upon to elect their president, as well as national and provincial lawmakers and communal councillors.

In the presidential elections, incumbent president Félix Tshisekedi, is running for a second term against 18 candidates from a fragmented opposition, which has been unable to agree on a common candidate for this single-round election.

After a month of rallies and promises, the campaign ended at midnight on Monday. Tuesday is, officially at least, a day of “electoral silence”, of reflection and final adjustments for the organization of the quadruple ballot, a real logistical headache in the immense country of 2.3 million km2.

“We’ve been assured that the material will be in the polling stations,” says a confident Eric Ikoma, a civil servant wearing a T-shirt bearing the effigy of the outgoing president under his half-buttoned shirt.

At the Kintambo Magasin traffic circle, in the usual morning bustle, many of the Kinshasa residents interviewed said they were going to vote for number 20, even if, paradoxically, they wanted “change”.

Like Gédéon Panzu, 27, a fare collector in a yellow public transport minibus called “esprit de mort”. “During his first term, he couldn’t do what he wanted, because of Covid”, says the young man. But during the second, “he’s going to work miracles”.

Under the watchful eye of Félix Tshisekedi’s supporters, Joséphine Guyguy, 59, a teacher, is not quite at ease, but takes the plunge: she’s going to vote for “number 3”.

She doesn’t pronounce the name, but number 3 is Moïse Katumbi, the former governor of Katanga (south-east), considered to be the incumbent president’s main challenger. “We have to choose the best, and with number 3 we have hope”, she confirms.

“God help us” –

At the other end of the country, in Lubumbashi, Moïse Katumbi’s stronghold, Mulumba Kalombo, a 46-year-old hawker, doesn’t hesitate for a second and will vote for him. Because “Félix is an ingrate”, he says.

“Tomorrow I’m going to vote for change, even if the results are known in advance…” says Syrile Mulaj, 67, a political scientist by training, in the same town in the south-east of the country, although he won’t give the name of the candidate of his choice. “The vote is secret”, he reminds us.

As for Mélissa Feza, 53, a French language and literature graduate, she won’t be voting. None of the candidates has convinced her, but what’s more, in her opinion, “it’s a show vote”. “It’s a waste of time for me”, she says.

In Goma, a large city in the east of the DRC at the heart of the conflicts that have been tearing the region apart for nearly 30 years, mistrust is rife.

“God help us, so that whoever we vote for is the one who will be proclaimed,” asks Eric Mumbere, a 27-year-old unemployed man. “There’s a lot of suffering with the current president,” he says.

Whitney, a “kadhafi” (fuel seller) we met at the Instigo traffic circle in the provincial capital of North Kivu, doesn’t believe for a second in the transparency of the election. “Whether we vote for him or not, he’s going to win,” he says of Félix Tshisekedi.

For her part, Esperance Mazika, 50, a maize seller in the west of Goma and mother of 9 children, is not sure whether she will be able to vote. Like thousands of other Congolese, her voter’s card has faded.

“It’s a problem”, she says simply, even though the Céni assures us that any Congolese registered on the electoral roll will be able to vote.