Democratic Republic of Congo
Monday saw the first presidential and parliamentary elections since 2006 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Stakes were high in the single-round elections, with eight presidential and 18,000 parliamentary candidates on the ballots. The run-up towards election day was tense, with frequent clashes between security forces and supporters of UDPS candidate Étienne Tshisekedi in urban centers. On the final campaign weekend alone, up to 10 people died in the capital of Kinshasa.
Election day, which in some parts of the country was extended until Tuesday, was mainly calm. Widespread irregularities occurred, but were probably due to bad preparation and not systematic fraud. Violence did occur in some districts, though, with armed gangs opening fire on polling stations and angry voters setting polling stations and election material on fire.
It remains unclear if the relative peacefulness will hold. Already, four opposition candidates are calling for the elections to be annulled. Tshisekedi, the main opposition candidate, has said he wants the counting to continue, but only after publishing his own estimates which see him in the lead with 54.27 percent of the vote (a simple majority of the vote would be enough to win). The incumbent, Joseph Kabila, has not published any estimates, but as he is supporting the vote counting process, he clearly sees himself in the position of the front runner.
As only one of the candidates can win the official vote count, much depends on how the loser reacts. So far, both camps seem to be determined to push through their claim to power with force if need be. Kabila has a much better position should it come to this, as he more or less controls the security services in many parts of the country. Still, the UPDS could easily convert many of the urban centers into conflict zones if they search the confrontation with the current regime.
Former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo has arrived in Den Haag, where he will be the first head of state facing charges of crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The ICC indicted Gbagbo and other members of his regime, after he refused to step down following a defeat in the elections late 2010. The stand-off between him and challenger Alassane Ouattara reignited the civil war in the West African country and was ended when UN and French forces took the sides of the rebel army in April. Gbagbo was put under house arrest while the ICC and the new Ivorian government negotiated about his extradition to The Netherlands.
The northern part of Africa’s most populous nation faces increasingly sophisticated attacks by Islamist sect Boko Haram. Bombings and killings conducted by the group with alleged links to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) are an almost weekly occurrence now with most targets being either related to the Nigerian police or army or social gathering places.
The increasing capacity of the fundamentalist group to strike inside Nigeria seems to have alerted the Obama administration as well. In a move that critics see as an escalation, the U.S. Army has dispatched soldiers to support Nigerian security services in combating terrorism.
Two Frenchmen were abducted and a German tourist killed in the latest incidents in a string of violence against foreigners in the Sahel countries. This brings the total number of foreigners being held by kidnappers in the region to nine.
Perhaps inspired by these developments, the European Union has now decided to send a long-term police and security mission to the region to support states like Mali in guaranteeing the security of foreigners inside their borders.
Kenya continues its military operations inside Somalia. Kenyan newspapers report that the armed forces were able to blockade the land and sea entries into the port of Kismayu. If this is true, it may be an important victory for Kenya, as the port is the main source of income for the Al Shabab militia, whose frequent forays into Kenyan territory were the main reason for Kenya’s first military operation outside its borders since independence.
Al Shabab is retaliating in Kenya though, launching two grenade attacks in the east of the country, which claimed three lives and injured 27.
Seemingly emboldened by Kenya’s actions, Ethiopia has launched an offensive over the last week as well, with hundreds of troops and tanks reaching central Somalia to support Ugandan and Burundian troops in their operations against Al Shabab under the umbrella of the African Union AMISOM mission.
Ethiopia got last involved in Somalia in 2006, when they started a large-scale invasion to flush out the Islamic Court Union. While they ultimately succeeded in weakening the ICU, they also took heavy losses which prompted a complete withdrawal. Critics say that Ethiopia’s engagement paved the way for the more radical Al Shabab to take over power in many parts in southern Somalia. It remains to be seen if the coalition of African armies now active in Somalia really can manage what eluded better-prepared and -equipped nations like the U.S. in Afghanistan: to defeat an asymmetrical opponent in a largely hostile environment to lay the foundations for a long-term rebuilding of the state of Somalia