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DRC elections: Be cautiously patient

YESTERDAY, millions of voters in the Democratic Republic of Congo went to the polls to elect President Joseph Kabila’s successor in a rather tense wait-and-see situation.
These elections are of special interest to Zambia, not only because the DRC shares a boundary of over 1,900kms long, but also because the happenings there often have a major impact here.
The election, which is being contested by 21 candidates, marks the first ostensibly democratic transition of power in the vast central African country’s troubled history.
The election, which was initially scheduled to be held two years ago, was further postponed from December 23 to 30, 2018, to overcome logistic challenges in a country with a population of 80 million and 46 million registered voters.
Earlier this month, one of the electoral commission’s main warehouses in Kinshasa was burned down, destroying more than two-thirds of the voting machines allocated for the city.
During the polls yesterday, it is said about 20 percent of the polling stations could not open due to lack of electronic voting machines.
In Bumbu, only 10 out of 12 polling stations had opened, and some voters said they were unable to vote because they could not find their names on the register.
Last Wednesday, the electoral commission (CENI) postponed the presidential and parliamentary polls in three cities because of concerns over the Ebola outbreak and ethnic violence.
Voting in Beni and Betumbo in the eastern North Kivu Province has been postponed to March next year due to the Ebola outbreak, which has killed more than 330 people.
In the western city of Yumbi in Bandundu Province, voting will also take place in March next year due to ethnic violence that claimed about 100 lives this month.
The postponement of voting in these areas has unfortunately sparked violent protests.
While optimists hope the DRC’s third presidential poll since the 2002 end of a civil war that killed around five million people will mark a turning point, pessimists fear it will lead to a cycle of protests and repression and subsequently renewed anarchy.
The opposition has registered misgivings on the exclusion of voters in areas affected by Ebola and ethnic violence which are their strongholds.
While some voters are pleased with the efficiency of the new electronic voting system, others say it is vulnerable to electoral fraud.
In view of the fragile elections environment, the DRC yesterday shut all three border points that it shares with Zambia.
“Our immigration department received information from the Congo that tomorrow (yesterday) the three borders would be closed on the Congolese side, that is Kasumbalesa, Mokambo and Sakania,” Minister of Home Affairs Steven Kampyongo said.
Mr Kampyongo advised Zambians travelling to and from the DRC to use alternative routes
While Zambians who wish to travel to and from the DRC have an option of using alternative routes besides the three borders affected, the best is to stay away until safety is assured.
It is more prudent for Zambians, especially the business community, to take precaution and suspend all pending trips to that country until the elections are over and the situation is back to normal to avoid being caught up in any eventualities.
Not that the worst is being anticipated, but it is a known fact that elections have been a major source of conflict in Africa and beyond.
This is why Zambia is considered a beacon of peace because of its peaceful election transitions over five decades. It is no mean achievement.
On the other hand, we have so many examples on the continent that have plunged into chaos after elections.
Even in a country like ours where peace has been assured for many decades, during elections, people and those from other countries take precaution by avoiding unnecessary travels.
What more with a country that has been troubled for many years?
Zambians should not risk their lives and financial resources by travelling at such a delicate time.
While some individuals can easily suspend their trips, there are those, like truck drivers, who are bound by duty to keep on the move. It would be best to park the vehicles, for now.
We urge employers, especially transporters, to safeguard the lives of their employees by halting trips into the DRC until the elections are over.
According to the Electoral Commission, the official results will only be released on January 15, 2019, while the inauguration will take place three days later.
Until then we urge all citizens to join Government in monitoring the situation in DRC and at the three border posts.
It is better to be safe than to be sorry.
The collective prayer is that the people of the DRC will find a common ground on which to hold the elections and accept the outcome for the good of the country, its neighbours like Zambia, the region, the continent and indeed the rest of the world.