November 29, 2011 — There are two significant elections happening simultaneously right now, one in North Africa and one in Central Africa.
In Egypt, elections were held on Monday and Egyptians are saying it’s the first one that’s mattered to them in 30 years. They lined up for hours to show their support, even if in some instances they weren’t entirely sure who they were voting for. Some were just excited to have their choice count.
Egypt’s former ruler, President Hosni Mubarak, was ousted a few months ago after three decades in power. He did have elections during his rule, but because he was an autocrat, it meant he held most of the power. Elections under him were neither fair nor did they represent Egyptians wishes in many cases. President Mubarak was largely and increasingly unpopular with Egyptians who felt they didn’t have enough freedoms, jobs, and opportunities because of him.
This election is a result of protests that grew out of that sense of unfairness. Over many months beginning last January, people gathered, mainly in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, where at its peak, many thousands gathered to say they’d had enough of Mubarak. The protests turned violent when Mubarak’s police attacked protestors, but Egyptians were inspired by neighboring Tunisia, which underwent the same kind of revolution, with a large degree of success.
Though changing from an autocracy to a democracy is a long and problematic process, decades of oppressive rule, many months of protest, and much personal sacrifice has finally led to this day for Egyptians.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in Central Africa began its most recent elections on Sunday. There were international observers* on hand to help ensure it was done properly, but it wasn’t straightforward by any means. The list of candidates was as thick as a phone book with 19,000 people running for just 500 seats, according to reports from Congo’s capital, Kinshasa. And there have been numerous claims of fraud, for example ballots arriving to polling stations already filled out. There were reports of violence as well.
Of the nearly dozen candidates for president, Mr. Etienne Tshiskedi has already declared himself the winner over the other candidates and current president, Mr. Joseph Kabila. Whether Mr. Tshiskedi has truly won remains to be seen. Other candidates are calling for the election to be annulled (or thrown out). This is only the second general election in the country, formerly known as Zaire, in 40 years, according to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a country with so much potential for the future but with such a heartbreaking past. It’s the 12th largest country in the world, but because of its historically weak government and long-running civil wars, it has frequently been invaded by some of its much smaller neighbors. The DRC also has the horrific distinction of experiencing the deadliest war since World War II — killing an estimated 5.4 million people since 1996, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
The DRC is incredibly rich in natural resources such as oil and minerals (some estimate as much as $24 trillion worth of a mineral called coltan, about 80% of the world’s supply, which is used in all sorts of electronics) but very little of that country’s natural wealth has flowed back to its citizens, many of them living in poverty. It’s infrastructure, such as roads and schools, remain badly underdeveloped. There are so few paved roads that getting voting materials where they needed was a major challenge for this election.
The hope for this election is that in time the Democratic Republic of the Congo can turn itself around and create a peaceful democracy, responsive to its own people’s needs, and help create peace and stability in the region around it. But the Congolese have a long road ahead of them.
*HTE Foreign and Politics Editor Lukas Haynes once served as an international election observer in Bosnia-Herzegovina and is happy to take your questions about that experience.