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Wednesday, March 12, 2014
- Fears of violent demonstrations against the provisional results of the presidential elections – released on Dec. 9 by the electoral commission – have given way to terror in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has crackled with the sound of gunshots and the firing of tear gas canisters since Friday afternoon.
DRC held presidential and legislative elections on Nov. 28. Provisional results for the presidential poll were expected on Dec. 6, but only released three days later, after two postponements by the electoral commission.
The incumbent president, Joseph Kabila, was declared the winner by the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) with 48.95 percent of votes, against 32.33 percent for his leading adversary, Etienne Tshisekedi.
Since Dec. 5, psychosis has reigned in the capital. Schools have been closed for more than a week and economic activity has been totally paralysed. In Kinshasa, stores and markets have been closed for several days and people have begun to run out of food.
On Saturday, government spokesperson Lambert Mende Omalanga appeared on RTNC, the national broadcaster, calling for calm and warning that anyone caught taking part in violent acts would be brought to justice.
But shots continued to be heard all over the city, notably in the posh Kinshasa neighbourhood of Macampagne, in the Ngaliema commune, and in Masina, a densely-populated area won by Tshisekedi. Across the city, nothing moved, as residents remained indoors.
Another candidate, Vital Kamerhe, is also contesting the results; he alleges that electoral officials stuffed the ballot boxes with votes for Kabila even before polling started. “CENI must restore the victory stolen from Tshisekedi by Kabila,” he said.
“The fear of catastrophe is growing,” said Thiery Tomatala, a civil servant and resident of Kintambo, a crowded Kinshasa neighbourhood. “And we will not get a full account of the actions taken by the police and the army against demonstrators and Tshisekedi supporters.”
Tomatala says two Chinese-owned shops in the area were looted by armed men in civilian clothes, one in Kintambo on Friday evening, and another on Saturday morning in the Bandamungwa neighbourhood.
There have been other incidents. “On Saturday morning, around 8.30 am (7.30 am UTC), a jeep full of heavily armed policemen stopped outside my depot, looted it and relieved me of some two million Congolese francs (around 2,200 dollars),” said Yvonne Kinja, a bread wholesaler on Avenue de Libération, in Bandalungwa.
“No traffic is being allowed on Avenue Libération, the street on which the Kinshasa Penitentiary and Reeducation Centre (CPRK), the Colonel Kokolo military camp, the Ministry of the Interior, Security and Decentralisation, as well as the Palais de la Nation, the president’s office – it’s been entirely taken over by the army and heavily armed police,” said Addée Ngudi, who lives along the avenue.
A police colonel speaking on condition of anonymity told IPS, “The police have the obligation to protect strategic locations in the country, including the CPRK, the military base and the president’s office.”
“It’s necessary at all costs to avoid crowds around the CPRK,” Dido Kitungwa, director general of the prison, told IPS over the phone, without offering further detail.
The CPRK holds two classes of prisoners, according to a May 2011 study carried out by the University of Kinshasa, “soldiers and members of the security forces, sentenced by military courts between 1997 – when the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (AFLD) of Laurent Désiré Kabila seized power – and 2001, when he was assassinated.”
Former president Laurent Désiré Kabila was the father of the incumbent, Joseph. The senior officer who spoke to IPS said police were simply trying to disperse crowds, and people should remain calm and go about their usual business.
“But how can we go about our business when for the past six days, the police themselves have been building up psychosis and fear in the population?” said Guy Mamboleo, a Tshisekedi supporter and resident of Bandalungwa, not far from the CPRK. “A heavy military and police presence, and the firing of tear gas and live ammunition… it is not reassuring,” he told IPS.