Congo Voting Machines Destroyed in Fire 10 Days Before Elections

The intense column of black smoke was still visible this Thursday morning. A fire in the central warehouse of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has burned the main deposit of electronic voting machines for the general elections on December 23 at dawn.

The building contained 8,000 of these apparatuses, two-thirds of the total destined for the capital, of four million inhabitants and that lodges to near 15% of the electorate. The incident, 10 days before the appointment at the polls, has added uncertainty to a campaign that is already very tense.

The cause of the fire has not been determined. The CENI has rushed to ensure that “the electoral process goes ahead.” The Minister of the Interior, Henri Mova, has pronounced in the same line: “The spare material will be deployed quickly, so there is no excessive fear about the execution of the elections.”

However, it is a very hard blow for elections that have been postponed for two years, which require monumental logistics (Country has 2.3 million square kilometers, five times more than Spain, and has virtually no land transport infrastructure) and that are surrounded by polemic and political tension.

They represent the end of the Government of Joseph Kabila, who has been in power for 17 years and has finally opted to withdraw and deliver the baton to his dolphin, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary. The election is expected to be decided between the latter, and opponents Martin Fayulu and Felix Tshisekedi.

According to the opposition, it is the regime itself that has caused the fire in order to delay further elections. Opposition spokesman Moise Katumbi, Olivier Kamitatu, asked rhetorically: “Has it been a stroke of luck or a black hand against the elections?” The civil movement La Lucha has also questioned this “coincidence” on Twitter: “A fire has just reduced to ashes the logistics for all Kinshasa, including the famous voting machines. Coincidence?”.

The climate of the electoral campaign is as hot as the fire of this dawn. It has already left six dead in just three days, all of them from the opposition and the majority in confrontations before or during the arrival in Lubumbashi.

The second largest city in the country and Kalemie de Fayulu, the candidate of the main opposition coalition, Lamuka That, while the cases of Ebola have skyrocketed 45% in the last month in the east of the country, and while the electoral records have not yet landed in Congo from South Africa.

After avoiding the elections for two years – the legal mandate of Kabila ended in December 2016 and with the indexes of human rights abuses and freedom of expression triggered during this period, the CENI has rejected the logistical support of the Monusco (the UN mission in Congo) in the elections and has not authorized the observation missions either of the European Union or the Carter Foundation.

The country is the scene of one of the most bloody conflicts on the planet. The new Nobel Peace Prize, the Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege, denounced this week, in the delivery of the prestigious recognition, “the complicity of those who look the other way” in this war that has left millions dead. After 20 years of living the atrocities committed in the east of the country, where he cares for raped women, he asked the world to react.

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