A Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) opposition bloc called yesterday for a nationwide stoppage and police clashed with demonstrators in two eastern cities after upcoming elections were placed on hold in their region due to the Ebola outbreak and militia violence.
On Wednesday, the Democratic Republic of Congo's national election panel announced the thrice-delayed vote would be postponed in several troubled areas until March. But it said the vote will continue to take place in the rest of the country as scheduled on Dec. 30, and the next president will be sworn in on Jan. 18. Sunday's election will be the DRC's first presidential ballot in seven years. Legislative and municipal elections are being held at the same time.
In the province of North Kivu, the region most affected by the delay, several hundred demonstrators gathered yesterday in the administrative district of the city of Beni. Gunshots were heard over a roughly hour-long period, apparently fired by police to disperse protestors. In addition, protesters ransacked an Ebola isolation center in Beni and it is possible that patients fled, Aruna Abedi, a senior health official, told Reuters. Protesters also attacked the office of the government agency coordinating the Ebola response before U.N. peacekeepers pushed them back, Abedi said.
In Goma, the provincial capital, demonstrators set up barricades in the districts of Majengo and Katimbo and at the entrance to the university. Police fired teargas and made at least half a dozen arrests, said an AFP reporter at the scene.
The vote should have been held in 2016 when President Joseph Kabila, in power since 2001, reached a two-term limit set under the constitution. But he remained in office, invoking a caretaker clause under the constitution.
The election postponement applies to the cities of Beni and Butembo in North Kivu, as well as to the territory of Yumbi in the southwestern province of Mai-Ndombe. Around three percent of some 40 million registered voters will be affected by the delay.
The announcement by the Independent National Election Commission (CENI) blamed militia violence and an outbreak of Ebola in North Kivu, and inter-communal clashes in Yumbi. The elections were twice postponed until a new date was set for Dec. 23, and were then delayed by another week. CENI blamed a warehouse fire that destroyed election equipment.
A vast, mineral-rich country that straddles central Africa, the country has a reputation for political turmoil, corruption and poverty. It has not had a peaceful transfer of power since gaining independence from Belgium in 1960.
In 1996-1997 and 1998-2003 it became the theatre of two wars that left millions of dead and homeless and sucked in countries from around central and southern Africa. The U.N. and western powers have repeatedly urged the country to have peaceful, transparent and free elections, a call echoed on Wednesday by the presidents of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and the neighboring Republic of Congo.