What is the main issue driving these elections? What will influence the vote this time? Almost always, the answer to our question was: Vote sensibly. What does that mean exactly, here in Katanga, the wealthiest province in the Congo and home to the outgoing president?
In the town of Likasi, the second most important in the province and a major mining centre, Development and Peace local partners organized sevenTribunes d’expression populaire (Popular Forums), which were held in and around the city. Election candidates were invited to meet with their constituents. The general public participated massively, but politicians, less so. In Kambove, only 5 out of 48 candidates showed up, while in Kapolo, only three came. However, in Likasi, 28 out of 101 contenders were present.
The well-attended forums were rich in learnings: as is rarely the case here, candidates were able to hear directly about their constituents’ concerns. Participants talked about the everyday worries that hamper the province’s development, as well as the country’s, such as being hassled by the police for numerous and unpredictable taxes. They also mentioned the poor supply of water and electricity, hard to understand in this industrial region which funds an important part of the national budget. Finally, parents must still pay for their children’s primary school, despite 2006 electoral promises.
Set up by local civil society organizations, the popular forums provided a fairly accurate picture of the Congolese population’s state of mind. This explains, at least in part, the high voter turnout in spite of many challenges. Across the country, if one could vote properly, things went rather well. However, when this fundamental right to self-expression was threatened, people conveyed impatience, discontent and anger in a forceful, and at times, violent way.
After having been deprived of the right to vote for over forty years, the Congolese population once more took this duty very seriously.