I’ve been here for a little over a year and my memory is constantly jogged by cyclical events that seemed so strange a year ago but now seem perfectly mundane and sane.
I arrived in mid-March 2005 and, between trying to sort out my living situation in overpriced Kinshasa and settling in at work, the three first months melted together to mid-June 2005–a date when the elections were first set to take place.
At the time, we were listening obsessively to the radio and scoping out rumors and ruminations of troubles that might arise in the country. It created a heavy atmosphere of paranoia and unease… waiting… waiting with anticipation for the date of the 30th of June. The country had never held a proper election since 1960 so the buzz and the energy were palpable.
Kabila had warned the population early: there would be no election this year due to the logisitical challenge of getting the whole country registered in the span of a few months. Instead, the election would take place on the 30th of June 2006.
Today, almost a year later, formidable advances have been made: a large majority of people of voting age now detain a voter’s registration card. This has been a particularly amazing feat when you consider that there are no roads in the majority of the country. Both helicopters and computers (with cameras, fingerprint scanners and lamination machines) had to be brought into the numerous large villages (those living in extremely hard-to-reach villages made the 2 or 3 days walk to get registered). And those few literate people were trained in how to use the equipment. A large majority of those villages had not seen helicopters or computers ever. A large majority of that population had never had any contact with the central level government. MONUC and the CEI (Comité Electorale Indépendente) deployed all their efforts to get people registered.
The elections have been pushed back again to July 2006 and, in a climate of distrust of the government and presidents for life, it’s no wonder people are anxious to put in their votes.
These are some of my thoughts from last year. Many of them are still relevant today: