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Waiting for the democratic dividend: DR Congo's first democratic election for more than 40 years must be judged a success. The result has been widely accepted and the conflagration that many expected has failed to materialise. Will this central African country now settle down to reap the economic benefits of democratisation? Report by Neil Ford.

When the polls closed, the result of the second round ballot was fairly clear. The incumbent, Joseph Kabila, had won with 58.05% of the vote to Jean-Pierre Bemba's 41.95%.

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The result was also geographically clear. Bemba dominated in the western half of the country, including in Kinshasa, while Kabila secured the lion's share of the vote in the north-east and south-east of the country. This has been portrayed as a clear split between the Swahili-speaking east and the Lingala west, although DR Congo's cultural and linguistic divisions are a little more complicated than that.

The table below shows Kabila's position was particularly strong in resource-rich Katanga in the southeast; Maniema, North Kivu, South Kivu and Oriental, while Bemba went almost unchallenged in Equator Province. Although Kabila lost in Kinshasa, he did attract around a third of the vote, so he is not without support in the capital.

It could be argued that the east-west split will solidify opposing factions and make the possibility of renewed fighting somewhere down the line more likely. However, DR Congo has never been a cohesive country and the links between the south-east, north-east and west are tenuous in the extreme. Local or regional divisions are generally more profound and here rival factions may find some common ground in having backed the same candidate.

In the immediate aftermath of the October election, during the drawn-out period of counting, there were indications that the peace and election processes could break down. Fighting broke out on the streets of Kinshasa--and also in the east--between heavily-armed supporters of Kabila and Bemba. The period of uncertainty looked set to be sustained even after the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) released the results on 15 November.

Bemba claimed that there had been widespread electoral fraud and challenged the results at the Supreme Court. A mixture of Bemba's supporters and other Kabila opponents attacked the court building and set it on fire. However, following an ultimatum from Kabila and pressure from foreign diplomats, hundreds of Bemba's 'bodyguards' began to leave the city.

Bemba accepted results

Somewhat surprisingly, the situation began to improve after the Supreme Court confirmed the results on 27 November. The Court rejected fraud allegations by Bemba's Movement for the Liberation of Congo party as "unfounded". It concluded that the poll had been generally free and fair and that the result should stand.

It had been feared that Bemba's forces in the capital would resume hostilities following the Supreme Court announcement but the former rebel leader accepted his electoral defeat. Although he stood by his complaints, he said that he would form "a strong republican opposition in the interests of the nation".

Another breakthrough came in the east of the country where fighting has continued even after rebel groups in other regions had laid down their arms. The Ituri Patriotic Resistance Front (FPRI) had previously refused to sign the regional peace agreement but finally put pen to paper days after the court announcement.

The causes of the Ituri conflict were partly local ethnic differences but were mainly driven by the region's gold wealth and so have no direct link with the national presidential election.

Yet the timing of the FPRI's decision can be no coincidence: the group's leadership must have felt that the general move towards peace would have left them isolated without their participation in the political process. The various rebel groups in Ituri are now expected to be disarmed.

The local UN leader, Brigadier General Christian Houdet, commented: "It's the beginning of the end. We have meetings, we have discussions, day and night with all these militias and right now, tonight, it is the accomplishment of all this process. And we are very, very happy with that."

The election was also something of a triumph for the United Nations. Although there have been doubts over the conduct of some UN troops, the 17,600 UN peacekeepers that are in the country to support the peace process played a key role in ensuring a relatively peaceful election. The presence of the world's biggest UN operation is likely to be sustained for three more years when its mandate comes up for renewal on 15 February.

International support from the UN and elsewhere will be vital in ensuring that the peace process remains on course. The role of neighbouring states will be vital: many were directly involved in the descent into chaos during the civil war but they can equally play a role in ensuring that conflict does not re-emerge. DR Congo still has many problems. National cohesion will take decades rather than merely years to develop. Living standards are still appallingly low, the scars of war are all too fresh and many people still have no vested interest in preserving the peace. The election was just one step on the road to recovery but it was an important step and a remarkable success.

RELATED ARTICLE: ENVIRONMENT

Sustainable forestry

When the whole of DR Congo is brought under government control, the economy will be heavily reliant on different types of mining, just as the economy of neighbouring Congo-Brazzaville is almost entirely driven by the oil sector.

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Yet both countries could also make a great deal more of their forestry resources. Both countries are very heavily forested but although there is environmental concern over illegal logging, much more effort could be put into establishing a sustainable timber industry that helps to protect the natural environment and provide much more employment.

Some progress on the issue was made in 2005 when a forest conservation treaty was signed by the governments of Congo-Brazzaville and DR Congo, as well as Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Rwanda and Sao Tome and Principe. Under the agreement, the Central African Forests Commission (COMIFAC) has been set up to coordinate forestry exploitation and conservation across the whole of Central Africa.

Under the new framework, Congo-Brazzaville, Cameroon and Gabon have already agreed to protect the Dja, Minkebe and Odzala national parks, which jointly cover some 14.6m hectares of forest. In addition, the Sangha Tri-National Conservation Area has been set up in the borderlands of Cameroon, the CAR and Congo-Brazzaville. The EU has agreed to provide [euro]40m in funding for the various initiatives but much more will be needed in order to train anti-poaching officers. Environmental group WWF is already working on a new certification process for timber from the Congo Basin to ensure that it meets sustainable production standards.

A German company, the Danzer Group, is hoping to secure Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification for 3.2m hectares of land by 2008. Certification of the company's 1.9m hectares in DR Congo is scheduled to begin in 2010. The chief executive of the Danzer Group, Hans-Joachim Danzer, says that he hopes the process will result in "long term efforts to effectively promote prudent and responsible forestry in the Central African forests. Illegal logging is a threat to serious producer companies and fair competition on world markets, and must be stopped."

He continued: "Through our joint efforts, WWF and Danzer Group can make a significant contribution to rectifying this situation. We also hope that our joint activities will lead to a better mutual understanding of ecological demands and private economic interests in conjunction with sustainable forest management."

It has long been hoped that a sizeable tourist industry can be developed in the Congo Basin, based on forest safaris and eco-tourism. This remains some way off but at least increased regulation of the region's forest resources will help to preserve the valuable natural environment that makes the Congo attractive for tourists in the first place.
DR Congo presidential election results by province

Province No. of registered voters No. voted % voted No. invalid

Kinshasa 2,950,884 1,685,250 57.11 27,082
Lower-Congo 1,227,775 633,463 51.59 19,438
Bandundu 2,925,126 1,480,921 50.63 26,580
Equator 2,923,680 2,468,917 84.45 20,961
Oriental 3,241,423 2,069,325 63.84 66,909
North Kivu 2,451,475 1,888,975 77.05 33,842
South Kivu 1,651,262 1,388,001 84.06 20,487
Maniema 626,327 502,487 80.23 4,525
Katanga 3,473,936 2,625,458 75.58 31,380
East Kasai 1,975,430 842,926 42.67 14,219
West Kasai 2,010,405 1,033,756 51.42 20,746
Total 25,420,199 16,615,479 65.36 286,369

Province No. empty No. counting Bemba Kabila

Kinshasa 23,492 1,650,276 1,122,231 528,045
Lower-Congo 3,807 610,218 452,409 157,809
Bandundu 4,541 1,449,400 877,560 571,840
Equator 6,067 2,441,889 2,372,326 69,563
Oriental 21,332 1,981,084 406,532 1,574,552
North Kivu 13,100 1,842,033 65,373 1,776,660
South Kivu 3,545 1,363,969 23,115 1,340,854
Maniema 1,256 496,706 8,296 488,410
Katanga 7,725 2,586,353 161,378 2,424,975
East Kasai 3,823 824,884 556,088 268,796
West Kasai 3,221 1,009,789 774,514 235,275
Total 72,509 16,256,601 6,819,822 9,436,779
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Title Annotation:DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
Author:Ford, Neil
Publication:African Business
Geographic Code:6CONG
Date:Jan 1, 2007
Words:1561
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