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Little Hope for Congo Elections
The history of Africa has shown that a country's natural resources can be a curse
Njei Moses Timah (njemotim)     Print Article 
Published 2006-07-31 12:27 (KST)   
On Sunday, the Democratic Republic of Congo conducted a historic election -- historic because the last election took place more than 40 years ago, in 1965.

Normally, elections usher in a period of stability and progress, but most observers of the African political scene, including me, have serious reservations about Congo's future. Congo is too rich, vast, weak, and awash with weapons to be stable.

Congo is the heart of Africa and shares borders with nine countries. It has a population of 60 million. About 60 percent of its 2,344,885 square kilometers is covered with equatorial rain forest. It has abundant and varied animal species and fertile volcanic soil in the highlands. Africa's second longest river, the Congo, runs through it. Very few countries in the world can compete with Congo in terms of the variety and quantity of minerals it has beneath its soil, including cobalt, copper, uranium, gold, diamonds, silver, tungsten, zinc, and coltan (used in mobile phones and laptop computers).

Among the 33 candidates vying for president are former rebel leaders who were offered posts as vice presidents during the transitional period to reduce the level of violence caused by their militias. Jean-Pierre Bemba, Azarias Ruberwa, and Arthur Z'ahidi Ngoma are unlikely to accept a future arrangement that excludes them even if they lose elections woefully, because they know they can turn to their old ways (armed insurrection) to make the country ungovernable.

Nzanga Ngbangawe Mobutu, who is the son of the late dictator that helped bring Congo to its knees, is also in the race for the presidency. People like these (and they are many), who must have benefited from the "kleptocracy" of the late Mobutu Sese Seko, have enough cash to destabilize Congo if they choose to do so.

Congo has been in a state of war for about 10 years, and about 4 million people have reportedly died from the conflict. Different militias are either fighting wars of greed to control minerals or fighting proxy wars for neighboring countries like Rwanda and Uganda. A 17,000-man U.N. peacekeeping force stationed in the country has been unable to stop the atrocities committed by the different armed groups. In a recent interview with CNN, the U.N. force commander likened the situation in Congo to dealing with a "tsunami every six months." There are reportedly 10,000 people with weapons in eastern Congo alone, and these people have instilled a culture of violence in the area. Women in particular have borne the brunt of the violence.

Congo's 25 million registered voters have cast their votes in the hope that the leaders who will emerge from the whooping 267 registered parties can create conditions that are conducive for them to live in peace. They hope local and foreign predators will allow the elected president and 500 parliamentarians to govern in the people's interest with little interference. How I wish that could happen, not only in Congo, but also in other resource-rich African countries.

Unfortunately, the history of this continent has shown that a country's natural resources can be a curse. Those of us observing from the sidelines will be pleasantly surprised if the wish of the Congolese people to govern themselves is respected by those internal and external forces that have held the country hostage for years.

Angola, Liberia, and Sierra Leone are recent examples of countries that have gone through the pain of war because of diamonds. In the case of Sierra Leone, the late rebel leader Foday Sankoh preferred to be a warlord roaming around diamond fields than the vice president of the country. He received more power and more money from the diamond mines he controlled.

There are many people like him in Congo. Some, like Gen. Laurent Nkunda, who is holed up with his private army in eastern Congo, have even refused to participate in the political process. They are waiting for the least opportunity to justify their preference for the rule of the gun. They do not want a stable and strong central government to see the light of the day in Congo. Nor do their sponsors. That is why I have little hope and no excitement about the outcome of the elections.
A version of this article will appear on my website.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Njei Moses Timah

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