The Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s always a bit suspect when countries feel the need to declare their democracy in their name. I’ll save the history lesson on Congolese elective government for another post. But here I was, in Lubumbashi, the capital of the mining province—Katanga—which flirted with independence in the early sixties.
A last minute assignment had brought me here, solo, instead of up in the Kivus with a good friend & colleague, as I’d planned. Cue some very last minute—and frenetic—reading about this city that I hitherto knew nothing about. (“Lubum’-where?” I seem to remember replying, on the phone.) Copper, Belgians and Moise Tshombe seemed to sum it up. And the odd spot of strife several weeks previously, as supporters for, and against, the incumbent president, Joseph Kabila, clashed in the streets, choosing violence over votes.
My arrival proved less, expensive, than I expected. Most of what I heard about working in the Congo was bureaucracy and bribes, the latter causing my wallet to overflow with small denominations of US dollars. (Most other places don’t like anything but crisp 100’s to change.) Despite a small disagreement about the validity of my Nairobi-issued visa (I’m not a resident of Kenya), the reams of official, stamped paperwork I poured over the immigration official seemed to satisfy him, rather than kito kidogo greasing his palm.
Campaigning for the elections ends tomorrow, and the streets are a-blast with speakers mounted on trucks blaring out slogans in Kiswahili and French. Lubumbashi has over 500 parliamentary hopefuls, vying for just 13 seats; André Kalonzo was one of them, and stood on a side-street in the city centre handing out photocopies of his campaign poster.
Every wall in the city seems to be smothered in posters for men and women like André, complete with the page number of their name on the ballot. (I dread to think how much the printing of ballot papers cost, with over 32 million voters registered. So far, I’ve seen posters going up to “page 19”.)
Under a small arcade leading from the main square, men huddle around newsboys hawking photocopies of news articles printed off the internet. Headlines from international publications such as Jeune Afrique all talk of Kabila or Tshesekedi, the main opposition candidate. Who said print media was dead?
Now all I need is Kenya Airways to find my bag. Batteries are running low, and I am without power-cord and pyjamas.