US: Congo polls "seriously flawed"
The elections in the DRC were seriously flawed and lacked transparency, the US ambassador to Congo said on Wednesday.
“The elections lacked transparency and did not measure up to the positive democratic gains we have seen in recent African elections," Ambassador James Entwistle said.
The United States and other Western donors are offering technical assistance to the Congolese to review irregularities identified by observer missions, and Congo's prime minister has already welcomed the offer, according to Entwistle.
"It's important that friends of the Congolese people do not only find fault. Therefore we are encouraging the Congolese authorities to closely review the identified irregularities."
On the streets of Congo's capital Kinshasa earlier this week, a car carrying a Westerner was stoned by angry locals. They were convinced the outside world helped rig the outcome of the central African country’s presidential election.
"White man, white man, you have stolen the elections for Kabila!" they shouted in the incident, two days after incumbent Joseph Kabila was declared winner of the November 28 vote.
In a country long scarred by outside meddling, the notion of the ‘international community’ has a bitter taste for many Congolese, from Kinshasa's poor up to the professional elite who grumble at boisterous lunch parties about foreign influence.
Kabila's main rival, 79-year-old opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, has declared himself the real winner of an election marred by chaos and widespread irregularities which he says masked an outright robbery of the vote by the Kabila camp.
While Kabila dismisses such allegations, many in the Democratic Republic of Congo - especially backers of Tshisekedi's UDPS party - accuse world powers of standing back and allowing Kabila to snatch a new term in the cynical calculation that this will open up access to Congo's sub-soil riches, from copper through to gold and oil.
The next few days will prove crucial, as Congo waits for its Supreme Court to decide whether to validate provisional results that gave Kabila 48.97 percent of the vote against 32.33 percent for Tshisekedi.
Ivory Coast scenario?
Some draw comparisons with Ivory Coast, where last year's vote resulted in two men claiming victory until UN and French forces helped to facilitate the arrest of incumbent Laurent Gbagbo and install his challenger Alassane Ouattara in power.
But there is no chance of a repeat scenario in Congo. Unlike in Ivory Coast, where the United Nations was able to make its own tally of votes and was mandated to sign off on results showing Ouattara the victor, its MONUSCO mission in Congo helped with logistics but has no bigger political role.
Congo's 2006 election, its first since a 1998-2003 war, was organised under the auspices of the United Nations and funded by hundreds of millions of dollars of donor cash. This time the donor funds amount to merely dozens of millions and Kinshasa-based diplomats have no powers of arbitration as before.
Moreover, Congo's elections have had to compete for media and diplomatic attention with allegations of vote-rigging in Russia and the tangled aftermath of the ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings, not to mention Europe's spiraling sovereign debt crisis.
Tshisekedi “stubborn and awkward”
According to two sources involved, UN Security Council members informed heads of the Congo U.N. mission during a video conference that there was no chance of extending the world body's mandate beyond its existing logistical role.
"There has been a gradual political disengagement in Congo," said Jean-Marie Guehenno, the UN's former head of peacekeeping who is now a professor at Columbia University. "There is definitely Congo fatigue after 11 years and billions of dollars. There is no appetite for repeating the Ivory Coast experience."
Concern over Congo's election and the risk of unrest was raised long ago, by local politicians right through to international observers and think tanks such as the International Crisis Group. But criticism of the polls by foreign governments has been muted, partly because they are billed as being Congolese-run, and partly because of unease over Tshisekedi, seen in most diplomatic circles as stubborn and awkward.