"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)

8.22.2006

politics are politics

Things are getting a little scary in Kinshasa. Check out the pictures of smoke rising from Bemba's (the runner-up in the first round of elections) compound yesterday. Western diplomats who were visiting Bemba were trapped there for several hours before being rescued.

I really thought it would be later in the year before this happened. I still get the warden alerts from the U.S. embassy in Kinshasa. Here is what Monday's alert says:

"The embassy is advising all American citizens to remain indoors at home after dark until the situation stabilizes. In the event of gunfire in the vicinity of home, the Regional Security Officer (RSO) advises staying away from windows in an internal room."

That was written by someone I know from my intern days. She's not prone to exaggeration. This is because Sunday night there was gunfire in Gombe, the Kinshasa neighborhood where diplomats, the president, and basically everyone who's an expatriate lives. It's where I stayed when I was in Kinshasa in March.

Kasonga says "We're all members of the same army." That's the problem. Technically, yes. Really, not so much. Have you ever thought about what it would mean to live in a place where different battalions and units of the army are loyal to different political factions? When that's the case, everything you know about how a military works and how a state stays secure goes out the window. Add that to the fact that Bemba (and others) have private security forces and you've got a recipe for disaster. Or coalition-building, if you're more inclined to take the optimistic view.
Check out the electoral results map - you think we've got problems in red and blue America, where vote totals are close to 50/50 in many states. There's a regional divide - Kabila, who speaks Kiswahili and comes from the Kiswahili-speaking east, won the east. Bemba, who speaks Lingala, won the west, where Lingala is the lingua franca. Gizenga won in some western provinces, but only got 13% of the national vote, so he's out of the running for the presidency.

In Bukavu in the eastern DRC, 97% of the population voted for Kabila. If you're living there, you probably don't know anyone who voted for Bemba. There are likely to be people in Kinshasa who won't believe that 44% of the electorate nationwide voted for Kabila. So they're going to be more likely to see it as fraud. It's exactly like the U.S. in 2000 - my friends up north found it incomprehensible that anyone had voted for George W. Bush, and were convinced that there were serious electoral code violations in Florida that year. My friends in Texas couldn't understand what the fuss was about. Politics are more-or-less the same everywhere.

Only in America, we theoretically abide by the rule of law. And no one gets to have a private army. Unless of course you're starting an amateur border-patrol. So you take what seems like unbelievable election results and add it to the existence of private armies and a national army that has little to no cohesion nationally and there could be really serious trouble.

In other Africa news, my friend Eddie has a story on preparations for Senator Barak Obama's upcoming visit to Kenya. He does a great job putting the visit into cultural context - you just don't go back home to western Kenya without bringing the benefits of your success along in material form.

Map from the BBC

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