Congo’s elections were not a good idea. Reports out of Kinshasa, the capital, suggest that those Congolese with enough spare money are getting out of the city, expecting violence. Airlines are canceling flights into the city, stores are emptying of food and supplies, cell phone service has been shut down, and eighteen people have been killed in political violence so far. More violence is expected.After the 2006 elections, Congo’s only “democratic” elections since the 60s, gun battles tore through the streets of Kinshasa. Hundreds were killed.Hopefully things won’t get so bad this time, but Congolese citizens are certainly preparing for the worst. How did it come to this? Why did the election experience such long delays, such terrible organization, such lax oversight? Poor infrastructure is not an excuse: election monitors knew before the election that only 2 percent of Congo’s roads are paved and that some polling stations would be deep in the jungle. Helicopters were used to ferry ballots out into the bush, but confusion and chaos reigned at many polling stations, throwing the vote itself into doubt. Indeed, Etienne Tshisekedi, the main opposition candidate for president, claimed victory before the vote had even been counted, and he and his allies continue to consider Tshisekedi the winner.As the FT reports:
Chaotic polling, which included complaints of ballots not turning up and some voters unable to find their correct voting stations, has been followed by concern over the count. Observers noted ballots tipped on to the ground, while the commission said some results from opposition areas would be invalidated. Diplomats told the Financial Times that large numbers of ballots may have been delivered by aircraft to some towns after polls were meant to close.
Now that the election is over, the UN, the EU, and various NGOs are urging Congo’s leaders to accept the vote and move on. In the interest of keeping the peace, say the election do-gooders in the West, quit calling the election a fraud and your president a fake, and accept that your government is neither democratic nor open. Rein in the violence and all will be well — another election accomplished, more democracy in new places! Tomorrow, Congo will be another democratic feather in the cap of Western election monitors.Could it be that the diplomats and the UN bureaucrats and development do-gooders who pushed Congo into an election they knew would be fraudulent and poorly run were not only wasting time and money — but ushering in violence and civil war?No, that’s impossible. Western civil society is smart and knows what it is doing. In the Congo, elections are hard because roads aren’t paved, people can’t read, “monitors” are thugs, and all politicians are corrupt. That’s why the election failed this time, of course. It can’t be our fault — the fault of bureaucrats and NGO execs who want Results and Democracy and Votes. No — the Congo election was botched because polling stations were too far away.In the Congo, where rebel factions prowl lucrative mines and the government stashes vast sums of money offshore to avoid appearing “corrupt”, Western donor nations and their representative organizations wanted a democratic election to make the country appear to be on the development path. Forcing this through a huge and poor country torn by ethnic and political violence is a way to satisfy our need to bring democracy to the furthest corners of the world and to justify six-figure salaries for bureaucrats and NGO executives.The west is rich enough and powerful enough that it can make Congolese officials pretend to hold an election. Dance, peasants, dance! But nothing can make the DRC an actual democracy at this point in time. It is not clear to Via Meadia what constructive purpose is served by wasting money and political clout forcing the DRC to build an unconvincing facsimile of a democratic process that serves as a focal point for violence.This “election” was an obscene waste of resources, and from the moral standpoint the insistence of the NGO and development lobbies on holding it was a putrid mix of self-righteousness and self deception. Next time, use the helicopters to ferry sick children to a hospital and leave the pathetic and ridiculous paper ballots in the compost heap where they belong.