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Osita Afoaku
African Studies Program/SPEA

George Vlahakis
IU Media Relations

Last modified: Thursday, July 13, 2006

IU expert doubts Congo's first elections in 45 years will lead to peace

July 13, 2006

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The first democratic elections in 45 years may have been scheduled in the African nation of Congo, but an Indiana University scholar doubts that they will succeed and help end the decades of violent strife there.

For the third time since the end of armed conflicts in 2003, the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) has set a date for national elections, this time on July 30. Congo is the third largest nation in Africa and strategic neighbors include Sudan, Rwanda, Uganda and Angola. The most recent, six-year civil war there has claimed about 4 million lives and has been described as the world's most deadly conflict since World War II.

"There aren't the basic conditions for free and fair elections in the Congo," said Osita Afoaku, director of outreach for IU's internationally respected African Studies Program and a professor of public and environmental affairs. "The international community is not ready to commit the amount of resources -- which will be staggering given the prevailing conditions of instability existing in the country -- that will be necessary for truly democratic elections."

Congo has a "territory approximately the size of Western Europe and what you have in place since the end of the two consecutive civil wars is the absence of an effective state or a state that is capable of maintaining security across a vast territory," added Afoaku, author of the book, Explaining the Failure of Democracy in the Democratic Republic of Congo: Autocracy and Dissent in an Ambivalent World (Edwin Mellen Press, 2005). "From the standpoint of ordinary Congolese participants, it will be election without actual representation."

According to news reports, about 25.5 million people in Congo will be eligible to vote at about 50,000 polling stations for 33 presidential, 9,000 national legislative and 10,000 provincial assembly candidates.

Afoaku, a native Nigerian, also is co-editor of Sustainable Development in Africa: A Multifaceted Challenge (Africa World Press, 2005). In 1998, he received the Lawrence Dunbar Reddick Memorial Scholarship Award from the Association of Third World Studies for his work on U.S.-Congo relations.

Security at election sites throughout the Congo will be affected by the presence of armed groups throughout the country, who include both internal factions as well as rebel militias who have found refuge from neighboring countries. The nation's capital, Kinshasa, is 1,000 kilometers from the rebel-held eastern region. A deadline set for Saturday (July 15) for militias to disarm will fail, Afoaku said.

In addition, several minority ethnic groups, notably the Banyamulenge (Congo Tutsis) and the Mai Mai militia, were not represented in the Inter-Congolese Dialogue sponsored by South Africa. About 40,000 Congo Tutsis are still living in Rwanda as refugees. Another 300,000 Congolese citizens have sought refuge outside the country while an estimated 1.8 million Congolese are internally displaced as a result of the civil wars.

"Their interest in having an inclusive government is evident. They still consider themselves marginalized, even within the framework of the National Unity government," Afoaku said. "The new national army does not yet include these ethic militia groups that are scattered, specifically in the east and northeastern provinces. In other words, they do not have a stake."

Afoaku said the United Nations and the international community ultimately are "legitimizing" the current Congolese government led by president Joseph Kabila, which emerged from the 2003 Inter-Congolese Dialogue designed to reconcile political differences between the central government and Congo's major rebel groups.

"It has representation from major rebel groups, but it doesn't have representation by these other minor groups, plus and even more importantly, the dialogue did not resolve some basic issues associated with ongoing conflict in the eastern region and the northeastern province of Ituri," he said. "It did not represent a comprehensive effort at conflict resolution that would clear the ground for a transition to democracy."

He said the National Unity government has not dealt with the citizenship questions relating to Congo Tutsi, concerns of the Mai Mai and long-standing ethnic conflicts involving two ethnic groups in Ituri, the Lendu and Hema.

Afoaku is available for interviews. Please contact George Vlahakis at 812-855-0846 or for assistance.