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November 30, 2011

Some in the western media have focused on what went wrong during Monday’s elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo. As they see it, the elections occurred in “chaos”, “violence”, “intimidation”, and – God forbid – if Joseph Kabila wins, the elections must have been “rigged”. Such accounts could not could not be farther from what really happened on Monday.

Monday’s elections in DR Congo were not perfect. But then again, few elections ever are.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is two-thirds the size of Western Europe, bigger than France and the United Kingdom combined. Yet elections are never perfect in those “developed” countries. There are always allegations of fraud, voter suppression, …

Some have pointed to the fact that the head of the electoral commission, Daniel Ngoy Mulunda, is a “friend of Joseph Kabila”. What they fail to mention is that the same electoral commission has 7 members, 4 named by the parties from the ruling majority and 3 named by opposition parties. Mr. Ngoy Mulunda, a friend of Mr. Kabila or not, is not, by himself, the electoral commission. Jacques Djoli, the vice-President of the commission, is from the opposition.

In a country like the United States, elections in each state are organized by people named by either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party. They are in most cases friends of one of the candidates contesting the elections. But, in Congo, it seems, elections officials should not have political affiliations, nor have friends.

And, who can forget Florida 2000? Now, that was in the most developed country in the world, a country with years of experience organizing elections. Certainly, with all the infrastructure needed to organize decent elections. But wait! How about those hanging chads? The state of Florida alone has an annual budget far bigger than that of DR Congo. If “chaos” can occur in rich Florida, full of good and well-intentioned people, it can certainly happen in “poor” DR Congo.

No one would deny that there were problems here and there. A few people tried to use violence in a couple of places.

Some already smell blood after the results of the elections are published next week. Africa pessimism? Perhaps. DR Congo pessimism at its best? Most certainly. Then again, DR Congo is not Ivory Coast, nor Kenya. The elections results will not be accepted by everyone. Whatever the results, very few will choose to resort to violence.

The focus on what went wrong in the elections will not change what did happen across DR Congo on Monday.

The fact is that most of the 32 million registered voters were able to cast their ballots. Every single candidate was invited to have observers at the polling stations, not only during the votes, but also as the votes are being counted.

Those trying to demonize Pastor Ngoy Mulunda and the Independent National Electoral Commission, even before all the facts come out, are simply wrong and irresponsible.

In fact, we can now say with confidence that the INEC got a lot of things right, before and after the elections. They have allowed people to vote in those polling stations where there were problems. The vast majority of the more than 60,000 polling stations around the country did receive their voting materials. The entire voting and counting process is being witnessed by elections observers, who also have to sign-off on the results being published.

Most Congolese who flocked to the polling stations on Monday to vote didn’t do it because they “expected the elections to be rigged” or thought that the “winner is known in advance”.

If the opposition does lose the elections, it will mostly be because of their own shortcomings and their failure to unite against a well-funded incumbent president.

If Mr. Kabila wins, it will mostly be because he used the democratic process to scrap a second round of voting in the presidential election, making him a favorite to win, even with less than 50% of the votes. Not because he somehow “rigged” the elections in advance or “stuffed” ballots. Looking at the way the elections were organized and the votes are being counted; Mr. Kabila would indeed need to be the greatest magician of all time to pull off such a “trick”.

In the end, the elections will not be decided in the media, national or international, by analysts, or activists.

The Congolese people, who showed a lot of enthusiasm during the campaign and went in mass to the polls to elect their leaders, know whether the elections were fair or not. Their voices are the only ones that count.