30 June 2009

Congo-Brazzaville: 'Simmering Discontent' Ahead of Elections

Brazzaville — Barely two weeks before presidential elections in the Republic of Congo, Marcel Kombo decided to send his wife and children away from Brazzaville.

"When you listen to the politicians talking, you've got to be prudent," said Kombo, a secondary school teacher in the capital. The poll is due on 12 July.

"Their language is a bit violent and they don't give one confidence. I have decided to send my family - my wife, three children and a nephew - to the village so they are safe if fighting breaks out," he added.

With a past marred by army mutinies, rebellions, coups and attempted coups, Congo has been in the throes of a humanitarian crisis for more than a decade. Hundreds of thousands of people remain displaced, especially in the north of the country, where rebel activity is ongoing.

In the Pool region, for example, where government forces fought militias for years until 2003, the conflict destroyed livelihoods and set back years of progress, according to aid agencies.

Primary school enrolment, which used to be almost 100 percent, had by the end of the war dropped to less than 60 percent, according to the UN World Food Programme, which in May expanded its school-feeding programme in the Pool.

"People have not forgotten that elections have led to certain conflicts in the past," Henri Okemba, a former minister, explained. However, he thought the political class had sufficiently matured to avoid a civil war.

Marguerite Kongo, a vendor at Bouemba market, said she had put some cash aside in case the situation deteriorated. "With our politicians anything can happen; they want power so much that they could unleash war on the country again," she said. "When you hear people saying in the media that no one has a monopoly on violence, you get worried and take action."

Service breakdowns

Maixent Hanimbat, chairman of the Forum for Governance and Human Rights (FGDH), said Congo's socio-economic context was an important factor.

"Simmering discontent" was noticeable in the city, with frequent breakdowns in essential services such as water, healthcare and electricity, and discontent could lead to civil war when the election results are announced, he warned.

The socio-economic situation is precarious, with salaries unable to cover basic costs, he added. Education and health facilities are inadequate and unemployment is high - despite significant revenue from oil and timber.

Two supposedly "moderate" opposition candidates on 22 June threatened to withdraw from the elections in protest at the late publication of electoral lists.

They also claimed that the composition of the electorate and the number of polling stations was still not known by 26 June, and disputed the impartiality of the electoral commission.

Parliamentary elections in 2007 and local elections in 2008, organized by the same electoral commission, were marred by fraud, according to observers from the African Union observers and the Coordination d'appui au processus électoral, a Congolese civil society body comprising more than 20 NGOs.

On 22 June, Prime Minister Isidore Mvouba, who is also vice-president of the National Security Council (CNS), sought to reassure people that adequate security measures were in place.

The CNS was deploying 17,000 security staff to protect polling stations and election rallies, as well as the candidates, including incumbent President Dennis Sassou Nguesso, who has ruled twice, from 1979 to 1992 and from 1997 to date. In March 2002, he won elections with 89.41 percent of votes cast.

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]

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