African elections: DRC finally sets poll date, as Nigeria, Lesotho in uneasy count down

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President Joseph Kabila would next year become the youngest president to step down on the continent

THE Democratic Republic of Congo will hold a presidential poll in November next year, but under certain conditions, the election commission said Thursday, announcing the long-awaited voting calendar.

The issue of the next presidential election lies at the heart of political tensions in the country, with deadly protests erupting in January over opposition fears that the incumbent Joseph Kabila was trying to extend his stay in power.

The vote will take place on November 27, 2016, at the same time as legislative elections, Independent National Electoral Commission official Jean-Pierre Kalamba said.

Kalamba added, however, that the election depended on certain conditions, including the availability of funds to organise the polls, the updating of the electoral roll and issues surrounding parliamentary seat allocation.

Speaking anonymously, one minister swiftly cast doubt on the electoral programme, saying that the $1.1 billion sought by the electoral commission for the elections was “not tenable,” even with international aid.

Constitutionally, Kabila cannot stand in these elections after having served two terms in office.

In power since 2001, Kabila on Thursday enacted a new electoral law, adopted by parliament last month, dropping a contentious provision that would have extended his stay in power.

Modified law
The disputed clause had made any presidential poll in the troubled central African country contingent on a new voters’ roll being drawn up after a census—a process that had been expected to take years.

This would have allowed Kabila to stay on as president beyond December 2016 when his second mandate ends.

Violent anti-government protests erupted in January that left between 27 and 42 people dead, mainly in the capital Kinshasa, before parliament adopted the modified electoral law.

In Nigeria, which would have voted on February 14 before a change in calendar, at least 21 people were killed in two separate Boko Haram attacks on villages near the key city of Maiduguri in northeast Nigeria, a community leader and a witness said on Friday.

“They (Boko Haram) killed 12 people in Akida village and nine others in Mbuta village during a raid,” said community leader Mustapha Abbagini.

A witness to the attack in Mbuta gave the same death toll while both said that the insurgents destroyed shops and homes in the raids, which happened on Thursday morning.

The country’s army is together with regional countries in an offensive to root out Boko Haram, an alliance that is however causing diplomatic tensions.

Nigeria’s army caused the postponement of the election by saying it was too stretched by the operation to provide security for the election. 

Lesotho unease

In Lesotho, it appears to be a season of denials. In a country plagued by a long history of political violence, a February 1 shootout that claimed one life and wounded three other armed security forces is seen as keeping with the theme. 

The firefight, which saw two of prime minister Tom Thabane’s bodyguards and a solider injured, comes just week’s before the critical February?28 elections — which regional bloc SADC moved up two years earlier to restore “normalcy” to the mountain kingdom — it is causing concern.

“When we hear about soldiers shooting at each other, people dying, conflicting statements about why exactly soldiers were there, it causes confusion and fear for ordinary Basotho,” says Sofonea Shale, co-ordinator of Development for Peace Education, a leading voice of civil society. 

Indeed, this latest eruption of violence is a stark reminder for the Basotho and the international community that the election is a matter of life and death.

The SADC managed to convince Basotho lawmakers to reopen their Parliament in October — four months after Thabane suspended it to dodge a motion of no confidence — and to agree on early snap elections. But there is concern that little has been done to improve relations between the army and police.

In August a reported coup attempt saw soldiers raid Thabane’s official residence and the national police headquarters, killing one police officer and injuring nine.

During its half-century of independence, Lesotho has now endured six putsches, several assassinations, alleged torture of political opponents and election-related violence.

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