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from issue no. 02 - 2007


We ask not to be abandoned

An interview with Father Apollinaire Muholongu, President of the Independent Electoral Commission which monitored the presidential elections, the first free elections after years of wars and dictatorship. The role of the international community remains essential

Interview with Apollinaire Malu Malu Muholongu by Davide Malacaria

A conflict that seemed would never finish. One of the many in Africa. Unleashed for the usual reason: to get hold of the extraordinary natural resources of the country. With one variation: the boom in cellular telephones... indeed, because it seems that the Democratic Republic of the Congo, one of the largest countries in Africa, is very rich in a kind of dark sand, coltan, used on massive scale for the electronic components of cellular telephones, digital cameras, portable computers. So, once again, the African continent has had to pour out the umpteenth tribute of blood to the development of the West. A slaughter-house in the heart of Africa where Conrad set – the tragic circularity of history – his Heart of Darkness. Now, so it seems, the slaughter is over. Because on 29 October last, after years of dictatorships and wars, the first free elections in the recent and troubled history of the Democratic Republic of Congo took place. And they went well, in the sense that one side won and the other lost without subsequent bloodshed. A page without screaming headlines, as usual, doesn’t make news, which must however take into account the geopolitical precariousness of Africa itself. Let’s try to go into it with the help of Father Apollinaire Malu Malu Muholongu, President of the IEC, which is not the Italian Episcopal Conference, but the Independent Electoral Commission, the body that monitored the election. From 2001 to 2004 Father Apollinaire was rector of the Catholic University of Graben, in Butembo, in the region of North-Kivu, the eastern area of the country that, along with Ituri, was the main theater of the clashes of past years.

It looks as if your country has finally emerged from the bloody civil war...
APOLLINAIRE MALU MALU MUHOLONGU: In fact there were two distinct wars that have ravaged a long period of transition. In 1996 the first civil war began, which ended in the following year with the fall of Mobutu – in power since 1965 – through the agency of Laurent-Désiré Kabila (father of the actual president), then assassinated in 2001. After that conflict it was thought that a period of calm might open up for the country, instead it plummeted into the chaos of another war, more tragic than the first. A conflict that involved six African Countries: Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi supported the rebellious militias, while Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe joined in on the side of the militias loyal to Kabila (first the father and then the son). This second conflict, much bloodier than the first, lasted from August 1998 to 2003. In the meantime, however, in 1999, there was a first agreement among the parties in Lusaka (in Zambia). A very important agreement because thanks to it there was a first ceasefire that, though broken many times by all the parties, created the conditions for a real and just peace agreement, and because it allowed the beginning of political negotiation among the varied factions in the struggle.
What role did the international community have in this peace process?
MUHOLONGU: Decisive. Beginning with SADC (Southern African Development Community), a joint body of the countries of southern Africa. But the role of some African politicians who did their utmost without reserve was also important for the successful outcome of the peace process. I’m thinking particularly of the former president of Zambia, Frederick Chiluba, who effectively filled the role of “ peace facilitator”, of the former president of Botswana, Ketumile Masire, who was decisive in the political negotiations, and of the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, who mediated between the parties. Without forgetting the great support of the UN, of the African Union and of the European Union. That support took the concrete form of legal, political and economic help. The latter, in particular, was notable: the cost of implementing the peace process and elections came to 560 million euros. An enormous sum, 90% of which was underwritten by the European Union.
Supporters of President Joseph Kabila celebrating his victory in Kinshasa, 
16 November 2006

Supporters of President Joseph Kabila celebrating his victory in Kinshasa, 16 November 2006

They also sent soldiers with peacekeeping functions...
MUHOLONGU: ... the Artemis mission, stationed in Bunia, the capital of Ituri, one of the more tormented regions of the war. Troops that reinforced those of the UN (MONUC), stationed in different areas of the country. Without forgetting the EUROFOR and EUPOL missions, which enabled the elections to take place without incidents of any consequence. The EUPOL mission, in particular, saw to creating a small nucleus of Congolese police that collaborated with the foreign security forces in this difficult situation, and showed notable efficiency. In particular, maybe for the first time, the population saw a police force capable of guaranteeing safety without having recourse to repressive measures. And that is very important for the future of the country...
You’re speaking of the elections of 29 October last...
MUHOLONGU: Not only those. On 29 October there was the presidential election won by Joseph Kabila over Jean Pierre Bemba. But then other elections took place: the political ones, that saw the victory of the coalition centering on Kabila, and the provincial ones in the various regions of the country. Now two other polls are to go ahead: the provincial assemblies have to elect the provincial governments – using a form of indirect election – and then there will be the municipal ones throughout the country... the successful outcome of the elections so far have shown that what happened on 29 October was not an exception, but can become a rule of normal democratic confrontation in the country.
Were the parties that faced each other in the elections an expression of the various armed factions that signed the peace agreements?
MUHOLONGU: In fact not only did the leading actors in the conflict take part in the peace agreements but also exponents of Congolese civic society and representatives of a political party contrary to the use of force... Even if the main antagonists in the conflict were contending for the office of president, parties that had no role in the war also took part in the elections. The Prime Minister of the country is now the octogenarian Antoine Gizenga, formerly vice premier of the government led by national independent leader Patrice Lumumba, in power before Mobutu’s coup d’etat. In this case history seems to have followed a virtuous circle...
You are a priest: what was the Church’s role in the peace process?
MUHOLONGU: In all these years the Church, just like all the religious communities present in the country, was close to the people who suffered, demanding an end to the hostilities and respect for human dignity.
What are the possible difficulties facing your country?
MUHOLONGU: Our country is emerging exhausted from a long and bloody conflict the number of whose victims is not even precisely known. Kofi Annan has said that, from a reading of the various UN reports, it emerges that the approximate number of the dead in the last war, either killed directly in the fighting or because of lack of medical care or nourishment, comes to about 4 million... An enormous number, that apart from anything else doesn’t take account of the victims of the first conflict. The farmers couldn’t cultivate the fields or, even when they were able to do so, they were raided by starving soldiers... It’s a matter of reconstructing a whole country, giving credible institutions to the people, the possibility of dignified work. We still count on outside help for this: foreign investments are needed to develop our fragile economy. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is going through a decisive and delicate moment of its history, a moment in which the role of the international community remains fundamental: we hope and ask not to be abandoned.

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