June 25, 2006


The horror and the hustings (DANIEL PEPPER, 6/25/06, Scotland on Sunday)

As the people of DR Congo prepare for their first multiparty, democratic elections in more than 40 years, stories such as M's are all too common. Fighting rages between the new Congolese army and remnants of scattered militias throughout the east. At four million, the death toll is the worst of any conflict since the Second World War, even though the war in DR Congo supposedly ended with a peace agreement four years ago. According to the UN, more than a thousand people die from disease and malnutrition every day.

The elections have been pushed back twice already, but now seem to be on track for July 30, when about 23 million registered citizens will cast ballots for one of 33 presidential candidates and choose from over 9,000 candidates to fill a new 500-member parliament.

Costing nearly £300m, the elections are an attempt to turn around a country long mired by the plundering of ruthless dictators, from Belgium's King Leopold II who ran the Congo as his private fiefdom for 23 years to the Western-friendly dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, whose control lasted 32 years and ended in 1996.

When Laurent Kabila, father of the current president Joseph Kabila, took power shortly afterwards in a coup, he enlisted the help of neighbouring armies, but soon turned against them. He was assassinated in 2001.

That spawned a complex series of militias backed by neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda, dragging the mineral-rich region east through bloody turf battles.

"This is potentially a turning point for Congo. If elections go well and are seen as free and transparent then they are the first step in helping to move Congo on to a more peaceful footing," says Anneke van Woudenberg, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. "A stable Congo could become the driver for development in the rest of Africa."

Today, the militia are largely replaced by the new Congolese army. But even as the Congolese army tries to stamp out the last of the militia, it has acquired a reputation for being equally murderous and uncontrollable.

"How does one have free and secure elections when there is still active fighting in the Congo?" asks van Woudenberg.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 25, 2006 9:41 AM

Europe's legacy comprises America, too.

Posted by: Mörkö at June 25, 2006 11:53 AM

No, England's does.

Posted by: oj at June 25, 2006 11:56 AM

Mörkö, Bite your tongue.

Posted by: erp at June 25, 2006 1:03 PM