Professor Clarence Lusane from American University in Washington DC [Equanomics Supportor]

Professor Clarence Lusane from American University in Washington and an Equanomics UK supporter, writes here from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He is there as part of a delegation from American University as an independent observer for the elections supposedly happening today on the 28th November. As Clarence writes:

‘On the UN Development Index, the DRC is ranked 187 out of 187 countries. It is usually listed as the first or second poorest country in the world below countries such as Iraq, Somalia, Haiti, and Afghanistan. This is misleading, however. The people are poor, extremely so, but the country is rich in minerals and raw materials. This includes tin, tungsten, cobalt, diamonds, gold, copper, oil, and 80% of the world’s supplies of coltan. Virtually all of our cell phones and most of our computers upon which you are reading this contain the essential mineral coltan. The mineral wealth of the DRC is estimated to be worth about $24 trillion’.

November 25th

Hey all,

I am writing from the DRC where I arrived yesterday to be an Election Observer in the upcoming Nov. 28 presidential and parliamentary elections. This is my first time to the DRC and, as I sometimes do on my travels, I will share the experience with you all. It was a long travel to get here (DC to Paris to Kinshasa) and I am very tired so this note will be relatively short.

I was invited by the head of the National Independent Election Commission (CENI), who is a former American University student, to be part of a three-person delegation from AU and Wesley Seminary. There are about 500 other observers and monitors from the Africa Crisis Center, the Jimmy Carter Center, the African Union, and other human rights groups who are flying in. Virtually everyone on our flight from Paris was coming for the election.

Fortunately, we met a woman on the plane, Giselle, who we will be working with directly in terms of our monitoring assignments. I say fortunate because I was pulled aside by immigration when we arrived and there was an attempt to get a bribe from me before they would let me in the country. Giselle, who is from the DRC, intervened, however, and said no and refused to back down to the threats and intimidations. After about half an hour of dramatic shouting and arm waving and finger pointing in French and Ki-Congo, she had had enough and simply said to me “let’s go.” She grabbed my passport, yellow card and visa and we walked out leaving five guys sitting there with their mouths open but not daring to say another word to Giselle. You can guess who I planned to be attached to for the next 7 days.

These elections are the second multiparty elections since the 1960. After centuries of slavery and then colonial domination, and then decades of horrific dictatorships and civil war, the nation had a genuine democratic election in 2006. The first elected president is Joseph Kabila, who became the head of state when his father Laurent (who had seized power in 1997) was assassinated by his bodyguard no less in 2001.

In this year’s election, there are 11 candidates for the presidency including Kabila, and about 20,000 – yes 20,000 – candidates for parliament. It is generally thought that the second election after a post-conflict situation is critical in determining how politically stable things really are. There is usually world attention in the first election after a civil war, but little global media focus on the next election.

Let me quickly add that the country is far from stable. In the east, south and parts of the north in particular, war against villagers including wide-scale rapes, massacres, and other atrocities continue. It is unclear to me at the moment how elections will take place in those areas given the security situation. [Let me make it clear, especially to my dear wife, I will not be going to those areas.] There have been lots of violent incidents all over the country in the run-up to this election including here in the capital city of Kinshasa. More than 6 million have been killed or displaced in recent and continuing wars. About 400,000 women are raped on an annual basis.

On the UN Development Index, the DRC is ranked 187 out of 187 countries. It is usually listed as the first or second poorest country in the world below countries such as Iraq, Somalia, Haiti, and Afghanistan. This is misleading, however. The people are poor, extremely so, but the country is rich in minerals and raw materials. This includes tin, tungsten, cobalt, diamonds, gold, copper, oil, and 80% of the world’s supplies of coltan. Virtually all of our cell phones and most of our computers upon which you are reading this contain the essential mineral coltan. The mineral wealth of the DRC is estimated to be worth about $24 trillion.

Since Joseph Kabila has come to power there have been some changes. Roads in the capital are being paved, no small miracle for working people. On the ride from the airport, you can witness the hospital that was built by funding from the former NBA star Dikembe Motumbo as well as a giant statute for Patrice Lumumba, the revolutionary leader who became Prime Minister after independence in 1960 but was shortly thereafter overthrown and assassinated with support, encouragement, and probably with bullets supplied by the CIA. The ride from the airport takes about an hour and the road is swamped with billboards and banners from candidates for the election. I don’t know about the rest of the economy, but the political banner-making industry is booming for sure.

Apologies. I have only had about 5 hours of sleep in the last two days so I am shutting down here. I will write more over the next couple of days and post pictures on my Facebook page.

In peace – Clarence


November 26, 2011 

The brilliant Algerian theorist Frantz Fanon once wrote that in looking at the map, “Africa is like a revolver, and the trigger is the Congo.” There is a deep sense across the region that more than any other place, the Congo has the potential to drive prosperity for all of Africa if its resources can be harnessed and genuinely developed in the interests of the Congolese people. The long slog to democracy will be essential if the country is ever to take control of its resources and use them to not only help the Congolese people but folks throughout Africa. 

Before I give an update I want to thank many of you who have sent your prayers and blessings regarding the seriousness of the situation that I am in. I am (mostly) being very careful. The circumstances have become a bit more dangerous but our delegation is pretty protected. After I return I will do my best to answer many of the individual questions and issues that you have raised. 

Yesterday, we met with our host and sponsor Rev. Daniel Mulunga, the head of the National Independent Election Commission (CENI), in his office. He is also the boss of Gisele who I mentioned in the previous email. He received a double Master’s degree from American University and the Wesley Seminary, which is right next to AU, back in the early 1990s. At AU, he studied International Peace and Conflict Resolution while also earning his theology degree. After graduating, he became active and a leader in the All African Council of Churches, the largest network of Christian churches and religious leaders across the region. After working in several countries around the region, he came back to his native Congo and has established one of the nation’s largest mega-churches. 

He personally wanted a delegation from American University and Wesley to attend this historic election. Our three-person delegation consists of myself, Betty Sitka, who worked for 19 years in our program of IPCR, and Josiah Young, a professor of theology at Wesley Seminary and Mulunga’s former teacher. Although it was my first time meeting him, Betty and Josiah both know Rev. M quite well. He is a smart, diminutive guy that talks fast and passionately who makes good eye contact with everyone in the room. Our conversation with him came across as an old friend sharing present frustrations and issues with sympathetic, supportive and understanding comrades. He is a voracious reader according to Betty, so we brought him a bunch of books. I grabbed a couple of political science books on politics in Africa and on International Relations as my contribution to the booty. Betty also presents him with a 2008 Obama t-shirt and another t-shirt she brought from the new MLK memorial site in DC. 

He is under a great deal of pressure to call off or postpone the election. We found this rather shocking given that it is only four days away, but according to Rev. M some of the opposition, who believe they are going to lose, want to create a political crisis. His job has also been made more difficult by broken promises of support from the United Nations and some African countries. The UN, for example, had promised to provide 80 helicopters to transport ballots from the capital to remote areas that cannot be reached by road. However, it informed him last week that it could only offer 38. Despite these obstacles and difficulties, Rev. M is determined that the election will take place. He argues, correctly in my opinion, that this second election will demonstrate that the first one was not a one-off and that the path to democracy is irrevocable regardless of the problems. He has lived and breathed this election everyday for the last year, and despite constant death threats, will make it happen. 

It is only since I got here that I have understood the depth of the challenge to making this election happen. South Africa printed up 35 million ballots while China constructed more than 186,000 ballot boxes. These have be distributed in a country that is 2/3rds the size of all of western Europe. The logistics are daunting. Ballots and ballot boxes have to travel to places that are remote and often only accessible by helicopter, canoe, or literally walking 20-30 miles. There are more than 600 political parties vying for power in the DRC. As of today, yes today, perhaps half of the areas outside of Kinshasa have not received their ballot boxes. 

Tensions around the election are stark indeed. Entrance to the Election Commission building and his office requires passing through multiple layers of security that rival the offices of the U.S. Homeland Security Department. Outside his office, up on the fifth floor, police and other security folks are stationed every few feet apart. In his office, he has a big screen television with six live monitors showing all the entrances to the building and to his floor. 

Today there were a number of people killed in election related violence in the city. Clashes between supporters of President Kabila and his main rival erupted and the police fired teargas and live ammunition into a crowd numbering in the thousands. It is hard to know for sure how many were killed because there are conflicting reports. All rallies have now been banned between now and Monday’s election. 

Rev. M has provided us with a driver and armed security. They are to travel with us whenever we leave the hotel – a mandate that we have not entirely kept (see below). We visited two outdoor markets yesterday as well, a fabric market and an arts and crafts market. Only women were selling the fabrics and overwhelmingly men were selling the paintings, small statutes, jewelry, rugs, and other tourist oriented items. Except for a very few items, all the goods are imported from China, India, and other parts of Africa. There were a few handmade, locally-produced goods, such as walking sticks, but those were the exception. Given that Kinshasa is hardly a tourist attraction, it is hard to imagine how the sellers make even a pittance. At the fabric market, I counted over 100 women in dozens of booths who were all selling pretty much the same items. The price for a piece of fabric, no matter the intensity and richness of the negotiation, was about $15. I saw a couple of people pay a little more, but no one paid less. But these sales were all to foreigners not to local women who may not earn $15 a month. 

We spent most of last evening with Ben (short for Benediction), a Congolese businessman who studied and received his Master’s degree from the University of Texas and spent 16 years in the U.S. and Canada working in IT. He came back to the Congo and Africa to start a transportation business that has not worked out that well. 

A very thoughtful and articulate mind, he sat with us for about three hours, despite our exhaustion, talking politics and life. Topics from rap music to the current elections to Aristole’s notions of virtue were up for discussion and debate. A tall guy with an infectious and constant smile and a good sense of humor, Ben is hopeful for the DRC although he thinks there are cultural issues [acceptance of corruption and tolerance of irresponsible elected officials] as well as political and economic ones that have to be overcome. He was very insightful regarding the politics of present Congo. He is critical of the Election Commission, a criticism that is wide spread and growing. 

I should report that the visit so far has not been incident-free. Today, Josiah and I were detained by some soldiers when we went for a walk to see the famous Congo River which is within walking distance of our hotel. It was about a ten minute walk from the hotel to the river through some local neighborhoods. When we got there, I took out my camera and began to take pictures. We were suddenly approached by two soldiers who wanted to know who we were and what we were doing. Although I understood what was going on, I feigned not understanding hoping they would back off. Josiah, who speaks some French, told them we were only taking a few photos and that we were official observers for the election. A third sol
dier arrived and they continue to ask us questions. At that point, the first soldier gestured for us to come across the road to where they were stationed. We followed them expecting that at some point they would ask for money or take my camera and Josiah’s phone that he had been using to take pictures. There have been a couple of observers who have been robbed. Josiah continued to try to explain why we were there. Then the first soldier demanded to see the pictures that I had taken so I took out my camera and showed him that I had only taken a picture of the Congo River. 

While this was going on two or three more solders arrived including one big guy who was clearly of higher rank and took charge. When he got close we could smell the alcohol on his breathe and he became very aggressive and threatening. We were quickly encircled. All the soldiers were armed with AK-47s and were fidgeting with their rifles. The big guy, who did not speak any English, told us emphatically to “stay” and that we could not leave. He wanted to know where was our identification and who he could call to verify that we were legitimately in the country. Although I had my passport with me in my shoe, I told him I had left all of my ID at the hotel and he could come with us to get the documents that was only a few blocks away. He said we could not leave, “Stay, Stay!” 

The situation was not good because we were in an isolated area and there did not seem to be a lot of regular people around. It was a backroad near the river and the only people close were these soldiers. The river is right across from Brazzaville and is considered the frontier. These soldiers, we guessed, viewed themselves as protecting the border. 

Fortunately, at this point, another solider had come up who was not in uniform but who spoke a little English and had a friendlier disposition toward us. He tried to explain who we were and that we were not doing anything wrong. The big guy, however, wanted to assert his authority and push him aside. Josiah at this point pulled out his official Election Observer badge (I had left mine at the hotel) and told the guy he could call Election Commission President Mulunga to verify who we were. I was not sure whether we should have dropped that name because Mulunga has a lot of enemies and these soldiers could have been supporting the opposition. In any case, the soldiers recognized the name and seemed a bit startled. Josiah had put the badge around his neck and presented it to the big guy to read. He said he wanted Josiah to give it to him and proceeded to take it from around Josiah’s neck, who thankfully did not resist the move. I suddenly realized that the guy could not read and was probably embarrassed about it. 

The situation was escalating despite the fact that we never lost our composure. Then, while the big guy was looking skeptically at the badge but clearly did not understand it, the kinda English speaking soldier came over and read to him the information that demonstrated that we (or at least Josiah) were officially with the Election Commission. That seemed to satisfy the big guy, who was staggering at this point, and we began to edge away from the group with lots of “merci boucoups.” We turned out backs to them and started to walk away. Somebody said something but we did not turn around and kept on going. We figured that half an hour of detainment had been enough and apparently they did to and they let us go. 

I reluctantly have to report this incident to my leader Giselle who had of course told us not to go out without our security. So it looks like I will definitely be stuck in the hotel with the many other observers until we go for our training tomorrow where we will get out polling site assignments. We are in the Gombe section of the city which is kind of upper middle class so things are relatively calm here (not counting our little adventure down by the river). 

In spite of the heroic efforts of Rev. M, there is a big question of how ready the country is for the election. Election observers from the Southern African D C have been visiting poll sites and tell us that in some places ballot boxes and other materials have not arrived. In a number of sites, lists of registered voters have not arrived as well. It is only two days before the election and if polling sites are not ready in the capital city then I can imagine that in the remote areas of the country where the vast majority of Congolese live things are probably unprepared as well. 

The Election Commission is coming under criticism as well because it had a budget of $300 million which is three times that of the last national election in 2006 but is horribly behind in its preparation. The big worry is that neither the president nor his main opposition will gracefully accept defeat. This will especially be the case if millions are unable to vote. Given the posture that every loser seems prepared to declare fraud and illegitimacy, it will be a small miracle that violence will not occur. 

I had Betty text Rev. M with the suggestion that his office prepare to extend the election to a second day. Even if by some unforeseen miracle dozens of planes manage to fly out tomorrow and they and the canoes and donkeys deliver their ballots to areas deep in the bush, the expectation that millions of people, most overwhelmingly illiterate, and with no election education from the Commission, will in a timely manner be able to sort through a 53 page ballot book (in one area, there are 1,700 people running for about 50 seats) is unreal. In addition, there are only 500 official observers for 63,000 polling sites to witness the ensuing chaos. There has to be some gesture from the Election Commission that demonstrates some sensitivity to what has become an impossible situation.
Peace for real – Clarence


~ by jonathanure on December 5, 2011.

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