This time last year, it was obvious. The Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) had barely landed. Voter registration had not been organized or begun. Emotions were running high but everyone with whom I spoke anticipated the delay.
The transition government, put in place in 2003, was given two years to organize and hold elections. For nearly two years, nothing happened. Once efforts began, time was short.
So, as the June deadline approached, we noticed the value of the franc congolais increase as law enforcers were paid so that law enforcement efforts could be stepped up in Kinshasa. International agencies made plans to advance pay, sequester, protect, and potentially evacuate their employees if necessary. We shopped as if we were stocking an underground bunker, filtered water and preserved it in jerrycans, battened down the hatches. I moved with my cat up to The American School of Kinshasa (TASOK) and stayed with a colleague, working under a grant deadline, waiting impatiently for the anticipated Independence Day riots to be over.
They did happen, in some parts of the city. There were grim reports of kata-kata, spoken of by colleagues in hushed tones and made cutting motions with their fingers when I didn't understand. Of course, I understood the descriptions of bodies found with missing limbs. The riots followed, when it was announced on June 30 that the elections would be postponed, for months or a year. Read an extensive piece about this time frame from the perspective of Bryan Mealer, an acquaintance of mine while we lived in Kinshasa, appearing in the April issue of Harper's Magazine, called "Congo's Daily Blood."
Thus it was, that only at the last minute did anyone admit that it really wasn't going to happen.
And with time to take a breath and plunge back in, the CEI began its work in earnest. Donations came in, materials were designed and printed, trainings initiated, voters registered, constitution written and referendum approval process commenced.
Now, the maximum of two extensions for a total of 12 months (after June of 2005) have been taken.
And the elections are postponed.
The reasoning on the part of the head of the CEI is that the decision to push the elections back by a week follows the extension of the deadline for candidates to register to run for seats in Parliament, thus affecting the entire election schedule. The extension was necessary, because for a legislative body of 500, only 100 candidates had registered. Now, the count is up to 400, and I believe that there are now nine presidential candidates entered in the race.
Despite all the challenges, I maintain hope for the longterm implications of the process, naive though some find it.