I grew up in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Located in Central Africa, DRC is the second largest country in Africa by area, the largest in sub-Saharan Africa and eleventh in the world, with a population of over 79 million.
I have experienced first-hand the consequences of conflict, poverty and failed institutions. As a citizen, I have never had the privilege of participating in a presidential or legislative election in my country. DRC was ruled by Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga, a military dictator and President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 1965 to 1997. By the time the DRC held its first presidential elections in 2006, I was in the United States, completing my undergraduate studies at the University of Arizona and was unable to go home to cast my vote. For the 2011 elections, I was again unable to go back home for fear of encountering electoral violence and not being able to return to the United States.
As my country is preparing for its 3rd Presidential Elections, there are many challenges ahead. One key challenge is updating the existing voter roll in advance of legislative and presidential elections.
Preparations for a revision of the voter roll were slated to begin in May 2015, but unfortunately the CENI (National Independent Electoral Commission) did not launch the tender for the purchase of voter registration kits until February 10, 2016. During the 2011 elections, the International Organization of the Francophonie conducted an audit of the voter roll, where it was revealed that there were major issues such as 450,000 duplicate entries, 1.4 to 1.6 million deceased voters remaining in the 2010 voter roll, and issues with the diaspora being absent from the country and not able to register. According to Chapter 1, Articles 5 and 7 of DRC’s electoral law: “Congolese nationals living abroad cannot register to vote if they are physically absent from the country during the registration process”.
An update to the voter roll will need to account for newly eligible voters: seven million youth between the ages of 18 and 22 came of voting age since the last election. Additionally, action must be taken to account for DRC’s 1.6 million internally displaced persons, to allow them to participate in the voting process away from home.
The challenges associated with the voter roll are only a few of the issues facing the DRC as it moves toward elections. DRC is scheduled to hold national elections in November ahead of the December end of President Joseph Kabila’s second term (presidential terms are currently limited to two in the DRC constitution, however on May 11 the Constitutional Court ruled that Kabila could remain in office if elections were delayed). There are serious doubts that elections will be held on time and signs of a deep political crisis ahead. Many in DRC and the international community believe that President Kabila is trying to stay in power by manipulating administrative matters to delay elections – a strategy known as glissement (slippage in French) – including by promoting an electoral law that required the organization of a large, expensive and time sensitive national census before elections could be held.
Central to addressing these aforementioned issues is the need for Congolese from all backgrounds to be fully aware of the legal and political framework and realities at play as the country moves toward elections, including those related to the voter registration process and options for updating the voter roll. This need is most acute among youth, many of whom lack basic education and are ill prepared to engage in democratic processes in DRC.
There is opportunity in the fact that Congolese youth are already invested in the process. Many youth movements have lit up social media with rallying calls to maintain a united front in the run up to elections. Congolese youth have also taken part in pro-democracy events and have launched a youth movement and collaboration platform called “#Ingeta” to boost the involvement of young people in the electoral process. This youth movement offers a platform for Congolese residents and members of the diaspora to share information on solutions to the Congolese crisis. Ingeta is a Kikongo (one of DRC’s National languages) word that means “Let it be”, a cry of Congolese youth for freedom in a country that has lost up to six million to civil conflict. It will be important that this energy and activism by youth continue to be channeled toward a positive solution and a call on the Kabila government to uphold the constitution and hold elections within a reasonable and responsible timeframe, rather than toward electoral violence that youth can easily be manipulated into. As a young Congolese, I strongly believe that civic education can change the current situation in DRC by empowering young people to protect their freedoms and the future of their country. I wish the opportunity to attend civic education workshops was available to me when I was living back home to increase my level of comprehension of my country’s constitution and rights. Hopefully these opportunities will be available to others during this critical time for my country.
I join millions of Congolese youth in hoping for free, fair and successful presidential elections.
Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.
Nelson Mandela- University of the Witwatersrand South Africa, 2003Top