The excitement and anticipation of the upcoming Congo elections have been overshadowed by rising tensions between opposing political parties, resulting in recent clashes throughout the country. The election—only the second in the nation’s history—is set for November 28, but already violence and hate speech surrounding the election has heated up and fears of further eruption are looming.
Clashes between opposing parties have spread to the far corners of Congo. Over the past weeks political unrest and shootings have been reported in the nation’s capital Kinshasa. Last week, armed men in Kinshasa opened fire on opposition party supporters after they had reportedly finished distributing Union for Democracy and Social Progress, or UDPS, posters—seriously injuring two people. Earlier this week on November 7, political tensions kept many Kinshasa residents in their homes, as shop windows were smashed, banks shuttered, and pedestrians were mugged, according to Agence France-Presse.
Also on November 7, on the other side of Congo in the eastern city of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, there was reported unrest and shootings after a popular Hunde singer Fabrice, who was singing songs in favor of the opposition party, was abducted, and his fellow ethnic Hunde protested.
This trend of violence has become more of the norm than the exception. In the southeast city of Lubumbashi, political tensions spilled over into violence as early as August when Union of Nationalist Federalists of Congo, or UNAFEC, members attacked the office of UDPS presidential candidate Etienne Tshisekedi. And more recently in Lubumbashi, clashes between opposition parties left more than a dozen people injured this week.
Congo’s widespread electoral violence has garnered the attention and concerns of both the African Union and U.N. mission in Congo. This week, AU chairman Jean Ping visited Kinshasa to call for peace leading up to the elections, and the U.N. issued a new report detailing numerous human rights violations during the pre-electoral period.
“The kind of intimidation, threats, incitement, arbitrary arrests and violence that we have documented is unacceptable,” said Navi Pillay, the U.N. human rights chief. “The Government and leaders of political parties must make it clear that there is to be zero tolerance against any such actions which seriously limit the exercise of the right to vote.”
The U.N. report noted an increase in political activities and acts of violence targeting political party members, journalists, and human rights defenders. It also recognized “worrying trends of manipulation of the state’s police, intelligence and justice sectors by political actors,” and warned that the continued repression of human rights in the pre-election period may increase the likelihood of post-electoral violence.
The Congo is no stranger to this. After the 2006 vote, several armed clashes took place between Kabila’s forces and former rebel Jean-Pierre Bemba supporters. The dynamic has changed this time around, and analysts predict that the main threat of post-electoral violence will likely stem from street protests, according to Reuters.
To avoid further explosions of violence, the U.N. called on the Congolese government to promote and respect human rights and hold all perpetrators of electoral violence accountable, and on political parties to issue public statements promoting peaceful participation in the voting process. Although these steps sound respectable on paper, it is whether or not they are implemented in practice that will determine the fate of the 2011 Congolese elections.
Photo: UNC campaigners carry a poster of opposition candidate Vital Kamerhe (Enough/Fidel Bafilemba)