9 November 2011

Congo-Kinshasa: Elections Divide Youth

Photo: Jane Some/IRIN
The DRC's ruling coalition of President Joseph Kabila had started putting up banners and posters in the capital long before the official start of election campaigns.

Goma — Disappointed by politics, young people in the Democratic Republic of Congo hope to bring change by participating in the November 2011 presidential elections. But will they vote for a candidate simply because he is young or vote for an older candidate with more experience?

"During the 2006 elections in the DRC, many young people were manipulated by politicians. But it won't happen this time around because we are prepared: we are receiving political training," explains Balolage Mujangwa. The vice-president of the UDPS (Union for Democracy and Social Progess) Youth League is rather optimistic. The UDPS is the party of the main opposition candidate Etienne Tshisekedi.

With the presidential elections only a few weeks away, the DRC has seen the birth of numerous political youth organisations. It demonstrates the youth's interest and engagement in the political process across the country, especially in the eastern city of Goma.

Frustration

Israël Munyonyi, who is a member of Kengo Wa Dondo's UFC (Union of the Forces for Change) in Goma, explains why he joined the opposition: "I had been a member of the PPRD [the ruling party] since 2006. But I decided to leave because the promises made to the people were not fulfilled: roads have not been built and there is no running water or electricity."

Electoral goldmine

The youth in Goma are convinced that, without their participation, none of the presidential candidates can decisively win the elections. "The youth constitute more than 70 percent of the population. Therefore, in order to win these elections, it is essential for the candidates to get young people involved in the electoral process," observes Joël Malembe, president of the JUC (United Youth for Change) party, which supports the current president, Joseph Kabila Kabange.

Dilemma

Yet the question remains as to whether the youth will vote for a candidate simply because he is young or vote for an older candidate with more experience. In all camps, members are divided over this issue. "The man who can bring change in the DRC is Etienne Tshisekedi, despite his old age. He is the leader for democracy in our country," says Mujangwa.

For the young supporters of President Kabila, he is the only one who has managed to bring peace in the DRC, after the bloody conflicts in recent years. "It is very important that he remains at the helm because he has already initiated five of his social projects. So he must be given a chance to continue his work," explains Malembe.

Manipulation

Claiming to have been manipulated during the 2006 presidential elections, the Congolese youth will not be fooled twice.

"The president is young but he hasn't accomplished anything. His regime has been in power for 10 years, but they have failed to improve the lives of the people."

"Insecurity is reaching all-time highs in various neighbourhoods and territories of the DRC, particularly in Ritshuru and Masisi, where people are being killed every day. The Congolese army is still to be unified," says Mujangwa.

Cynthia Ilunga Mulala, who studies economics at the University of Goma, also sees the dangers of financial manipulation: "The greatest challenges facing most of the youth in the DRC are financial ones. Because of poverty, some young people could be voting against their ideals."

Pre-election violence

Political repression and partisanship by the security forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo could lead to bloodshed in this month's presidential election, the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office said in a report on Wednesday.

Continued repression and rights abuses "may increase the likelihood of individuals and political parties resorting to violent means, endanger the democratic process and lead to post-electoral violence", the UN report said.

The report documented 188 cases of election-related violence between November 2010 and September 2011. At least four people have been killed during political demonstrations and more were injured when the police used tear gas and shot live ammunition in the air to break up crowds, it said.

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