In the east of the DRC, where armed groups reign, the Congolese fear being excluded from the presidential election

There are several dozen of them huddled together under the courtyard to protect themselves from the rain

In the east of the DRC, where armed groups reign, the Congolese fear being excluded from the presidential election

There are several dozen of them huddled together under the courtyard to protect themselves from the rain. Some have been waiting for hours in front of the office of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), to leave with a voting card. new voter. But the Congolese who managed to obtain their identity document, essential to be able to vote, are not at the end of their troubles: the quality of the document is lacking. The name and photo are erased, notes a majority of users, which has forced the authorities to redo the documents. The countdown has started. The single-round presidential election, coupled with legislative, provincial and part of the municipal elections, was set for December 20.

“What if the duplicates promised by the CENI did not arrive on time? Will these voters be disenfranchised? ", worries Stewart Muhindo, member of the Fight for Change (Lucha), a citizen movement which campaigned for the departure of the former head of state, Joseph Kabila, during the last presidential election in 2018. "This problem is just one technical failure among others,” adds the activist.

The opposition is already fuming over a “chaotic election.” In an October 27 press release, six of the twenty-four candidates – including the former governor of the wealthy Katanga province Moïse Katumbi, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning gynecologist Denis Mukwege and the unsuccessful 2018 presidential candidate Martin Fayulu – continue to contest the reliability of the electoral register, demand the complete publication of the mapping of polling stations and are concerned about imperfect “registration”.


According to an estimate from the International Crisis Group (ICG) research institute, more than a million people of voting age had not been registered in April when voter identification closed. In North Kivu, which is the second province in number of voters after Kinshasa, registration took place in only four of the six territories: 3,026,907 future voters are registered there, which is 800,000 less than in 2018.

Most of the inhabitants of Masisi and Rutshuru did not in fact participate in electoral registration. These territories are partly under occupation of the March 23 Movement (M23), an armed group which took up arms again at the end of 2021, supported by Rwanda, according to Kinshasa and a report by United Nations experts. The presence of Congolese insurgents in eastern DRC is not new since the region, plagued by conflict for nearly thirty years, has more than a hundred active militias. But this is the first time that a rebellion has controlled and administered an area of ​​North Kivu in the run-up to a major electoral event, the fourth in the country considered free.

To date, all CENI activities are blocked in the region held by the M23. Among the million people who fled the rebels, not all were able to be “enrolled”, despite the installation of a few identification offices in the displaced persons camps on the outskirts of Goma. Concerns about their participation in the elections are great, especially since the fighting resumed on October 1 after six months of calm and despite the ceasefire imposed in March by Angola and Kenya, involved for try to resolve the crisis.

The authorities in Kinshasa, however, seemed to have believed for a moment in a reconquest of lost territories and in the organization of elections throughout the country. In the council of ministers on October 20, President Félix Tshisekedi, a candidate for re-election, called on the government and the electoral commission “to do everything possible” to allow all Congolese to vote “taking into account the progressive liberation of the territories of Masisi and Rutshuru”.

Hopes dashed

Pro-government armed groups called wazalendos (“patriots” in Kiswahili, the common language in eastern DRC) had in fact recaptured, in mid-October, the strategic town of Kitshanga, the crossroads of Masisi and Rutshuru. These wazalendos had also invited the CENI to begin “enlistment” there before the area was occupied again by the M23 rebels, thus dashing the residents’ hopes of being included in future elections.

But, in Goma, local officials of the electoral institution say they are confident. The training of 57 provincial instructors – who will in turn train all territorial electoral agents – started on Monday “in accordance with the planned schedule”, reassures one of them, who however requested anonymity. “The equipment is there and we are acting as if everything was going to go normally,” adds a supervisor who says he is waiting for “political decisions to organize the rest.”

Will the DRC go to elections despite the presence of the M23? In Kinshasa, no one seems to have yet decided the question. On March 4, the head of state raised the possibility of an electoral “slippage”, that is to say a postponement of the date of the polls because of the situation in the East. “Already, during the last presidential election in 2018, certain territories were not able to vote,” regrets Juvénal Munubo, deputy of the Union for the Congolese Nation, a party member of the presidential majority which is not in favor of “ slip”. “We waited for the situation to stabilize and a delayed vote was organized,” specifies this elected official from North Kivu without minimizing the risk of institutional paralysis of the Provincial and National Assemblies and the Senate. Without elections across the entire territory, these institutions cannot be fully constituted.

In the law on the distribution of seats adopted in June, the CENI's proposal to reserve the same number of seats for the constituencies of Masisi and Rutshuru as in 2018 and to postpone the allocation of new ones was adopted by Parliament. “But in an area where the armed groups present are often linked to political leaders, this blockage could maintain, or even amplify, the conflicts,” concludes Stewart Muhindo of Lucha.