A recent report by the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks revealed one obvious fact and one not so obvious factoid about the upcoming election in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The former is that the election, scheduled for July 30, has already been tainted with allegations of fraud. Nineteen of the thirty-three presidential candidates have called for a suspension to the election campaigns, citing growing evidence of irregularities in voter registration, as well as a complete lack of transparency. The latter is that three of the candidates are sons of prominent Congolese political figures: Joseph Kabila, who has been serving, at least nominally, as president since the assassination of his father, Laurent Kabila, in 2001; Zanga Mobutu, son of former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, who was overthrown by Laurent Kabila in 1997; and Guy Patrice Lumumba, son of the first prime minister Emery Patrice Lumumba, an outspoken anti-colonial leader who was overthrown by Mobutu and his Belgian backers in 1960. Quite an impressive line-up, if you ask me.
(see article at http://allafrica.com/stories/200607050235.html)
Of course, the commander of the 2,000 strong EU peacekeeping force in the DRC, German General Karlheinz Viereck, is convinced that his hi-tech monitoring set-up, which consists of three illuminated wall maps and some computers on a military base in Potsdam, will produce a "clean and orderly" election. The command post will coordinate the 800 troops who are unlucky enough to be stuck in the DRC, 3,500 miles away from Potsdam, and 385 miles away from the remaining 1,200 soldiers of the EU mission stationed in Libreville, Gabon. The primary task of this EU detachment, which will be stationed at the Kinshasa airport for the duration of the election, is to support the 17,000 truly unlucky UN peacekeepers, the majority of whom come from the non-EU nations of India, Pakistan, Nepal, South Africa, and Uruguay. These 17,000 souls are charged with the task of monitoring the election in a country of 2,345,410 Sq. km. and 58 million people, or nearly 215 times the area and 29 times the population of Kosovo, which was patrolled by a UN force of 40,000 during its transition to democracy. This is the arithmetic of apathy. I'm not saying the west has ignored the epic tragedy in the DRC since the inception of MONUC in 1999; France was kind enough to offer 3 troops and 3 observers and, in a true display of generosity, the UK has offered up a whopping 7 observers. The ever-magnanimous United States, seeing as this is a perfect opportunity to assist in the growth of a nascent democracy, has sent 0 troops and 0 observers, but, to be fair, it does cough up 27% of MONUC's operational budget.
(see article at http://allafrica.com/stories/200607040008.html)
Despite the fact that there are 50,000 polling stations in the DRC, which means MONUC would be spread quite thin were it to provide security to the entire electorate (0.34 troops per station), the head of the UN mission to the Congo, former U.S. Ambassador Bill Swing, expressed his confidence that the largest election operation ever attempted by the UN will go off without a serious hitch in a recent interview with the State Department sponsored Washington File
. Ambassador Swing is concerned mainly with the logistics of getting the 1,800 tons of ballots to the polling stations by the 30th, and with maintaining security during the election, not with ensuring that the election is free and transparent.
Swing also claims, in the same interview, that the violence in the eastern DRC is finally subsiding, after years of warfare, famine, and disease have claimed approximately 4 million lives. According to his account, the local and foreign sponsored militias operating in the eastern half of the country, which borders the Great Lakes states of Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda, as well as Tanzania, Zambia and Sudan, are operating within a few containable "pockets of instability." Despite the recent ambush of a Nepalese unit serving under MONUC, which left one dead, three wounded, and seven in the hands of the militia, Swing is confident that his forces will be able to provide the necessary security during the elections. They will have to do so without air support, as MONUC's helicopters and airplanes will be busy shuttling ballots.
(see article at http://usinfo.state.gov/af/Archive/2006/Jun/04-168939.html)
Where Swing sees a few "pockets of instability," others see a deteriorating security situation. Timothy Raeymaekers, fellow with the Conflict Research Group at the University of Ghent, is one of those cassandras who sees the glass half empty. According to Mr. Raeymaekers, the conflict has worsened since the establishment of the transitional government in 2003, due mainly to the fact that the government has become yet another player in the plundering of the resource-rich east. There is a long list of individuals, companies, and governments that have an interest in keeping the eastern DRC rife with chaos and ripe for the picking. There are economic forces at work that an election, particularly a fraudulent election, is not going to reverse. Eighty percent of the world supply of coltan, a rare metal used in electronic devices, is in the eastern DRC. There will not be a sea change in central Africa until the true source of its instability is recognized and challenged head-on, and this will not happen until the consumers of products made with the DRC's plundered resourses wake up and take action. Though I'm not sure of the most effective way to do this, I started by sending Motorola an email asking them to explain their policy on acquiring coltan. I received a reply with a number for their Media and PR department: 847-668-7086.