The ballots were due to open at 7am. At the polling stations, an hour or so beforehand, the queues were already forming, but it would prove to be far too optimistic. Huddled under umbrellas, voters waited for what would be only the second democratic elections in four decades, and the first one to be organised by the Congolese; the previous elections were largely organised by the international community and the United Nations.
Officials at a school-cum-polling station said that they were still awaiting election materials: not only the ballot papers themselves, but voting booths and urns.
This was not the case throughout the city. At the largest voting station in the Lubumbashi—DR Congo’s second city—voting opened as small queues trickled into the many classrooms that had been transformed into voting offices. The maze of striped plastic tape marking out queuing lines for each office seemed a little optimistic.
Then came news of the first of the day’s incidents. In the early hours of the morning, a convoy of pick-up trucks delivering voting materials had been attacked, leaving two burning by the side of the road, their ballot papers smouldering.
We raced over there, and found a crowd of people. Cautiously, I approached as my colleagues from the BBC and RFI spoke to people standing around; I hoped the mob would not turn angry.
I was accosted by people showing me burned ballot papers, amidst cries in French of fraud. Every now and then, a “pre-marked” ballot paper would be held out, but after several minutes of photographing them, I began to question their veracity. Different pens, some crosses, some ticks, a few with thumb prints on them. And none of the papers still burning in the trucks showed evidence of tampering. The local populace, who had rushed the scene, had done this themselves I concluded, after conferring with the radio folk.
It was 9am, and already, there were several angles to cover in the day’s voting. This was going to be a long day.