August 16, 2005


First step toward democracy: a five-hour wait in the sun: Voters in Congo registered this week, preparing for the first multiparty elections in four decades (Abraham McLaughlin, 8/17/05, The Christian Science Monitor)

Nationwide elections are slated for the Democratic Republic of Congo next year. Registration began on July 24 and will end this Sunday. Yet many obstacles remain. There's far more history here of kleptocracy than democracy. And in a country as large as Alaska and Texas combined - with few roads - electioneering involves a logistical effort as daunting as D-Day.

Still, many citizens see voting as integral to peace and economic revival in a land where up to four million people died during a 1998-2003 war.

"It's very important for building the country," says Leonie Uyewa Uzele, a diminutive mother of seven, who's just spent five hours in the broiling sun, waiting to register, with her youngest child strapped to her back. But she's willing to wait, if democracy means putting the war behind her. She says she once spent an entire month hiding inside her thatched-roof house to avoid rape or murder at the hands of marauding militias.

Mrs. Uzele is one of the 40,639 people who had registered in Bunia by last week. Officials expect some 1.6 million people - out of 6.5 million total population - to register in the country's remote Ituri province, one of the most violent areas in recent years. Congo's national population is roughly 60 million, and 28 million are expected to register.

As Uzele walks past the long line of people still waiting to register, she flashes her newly minted registration card - and a wide smile.

The mere fact that registration is occurring at all in the country's remote eastern provinces is a major feat.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 16, 2005 7:43 PM
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