Attempts by authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo to crack down on dissent during tense vote counting could “backfire,” the United Nations said Friday, warning it was “watching carefully” as events unfold.
Elections held last Sunday will determine who succeeds President Joseph Kabila – who held office for 18 years – at the helm of sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest country.
Authorities have restricted internet access, blocked French public-service broadcaster Radio France Internationale and forced its correspondent out of the country.
“This being a very sensitive, very tense period, we are concerned that these efforts to silence dissent could backfire considerably when the results are announced,” a spokeswoman for the United Nations Human Rights office, Ravina Shamdasani, told reporters in Geneva.
“We are watching carefully and we are calling on all sides to refrain from the use of violence,” she added.
Why This Matters
Opposition fears are running high that the result will be rigged to favor Kabila’s preferred successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.
The Congolese election commission said Thursday that logistical problems may force it to postpone publication of provisional results, which are due by Sunday.
But the DRC’s powerful Roman Catholic Church, which deployed thousands of election observers, said it knew who had won and urged the electoral panel to publish the “truth.”
#UPDATE Millions of voters in the Democratic Republic of Congo are going to the polls in elections that will shape the future of their vast, troubled country, amid fears that violence could overshadow the ballot https://t.co/DKh9HoBA3q #DRCElections pic.twitter.com/7tvNugLrmk
— AFP news agency (@AFP) December 30, 2018
The DRC’s minister for higher education, Steve Mbikayi, on Friday said the country’s universities would reopen on January 14 after the year-end break, a week later than scheduled, because of election tensions.
“Every time that presidential election results are published, regardless of which side who wins, there is always one side which is dissatisfied and wants to exploit the students,” Mbikayi told AFP in Kinshasa.
“I think that they can stay at home and return after publication (of the results), to shield them from any temptation or manipulation.”
Elections to the national parliament and provincial assemblies took place alongside the presidential ballot.
More on the Subject
Life fell apart for a mother of four who was among 200,000 Congolese attacked and then forcibly thrown out of neighboring Angola in October despite having lived there for a decade.
The Congolese authorities said they were struggling to cope with the returnees, with up to 1,000 arrivals every hour.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo has an abundance of mineral wealth but large swathes are rocked by unrest and violence unleashed by rebel groups and militias from within and neighboring nations such as Uganda and Rwanda.