Elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo) are currently scheduled for December 2018. Those elections are nearly two years overdue, as President Joseph Kabila’s mandate officially expired in December 2016. On August 8, Congo’s Minister of Communications and Media Lambert Mende announced that Kabila will not seek another term, and named former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary as the official candidate of Congo’s ruling coalition. While the ruling coalition’s recent announcement is an important one, numerous red flags remain in both the technical and political aspects of the electoral process. Electoral credibility in Congo – and in turn that of the government – will be determined by much more than who runs for office.
To date, election preparations in Congo have been characterized by delays, lack of transparency and allegations of corruption, ethical violations and potentially inappropriate government interference in technical aspects of the process. This report explores a number of alarming developments throughout the electoral process, including allegations of corruption in the allocation of voter registration contracts, lack of transparency in the National Independent Electoral Commission’s (CENI) finances and unresolved questions regarding the integrity of voter rolls and security vulnerabilities in electronic voting machines. Taken together, these factors raise serious questions regarding the credibility of the electoral process, and the possibility that technical aspects of the election cycle have been and may continue to be manipulated.
To date, election preparations in Congo have been characterized by delays, lack of transparency and allegations of corruption, ethical violations and potentially inappropriate government interference in technical aspects of the process.
According to media reports, CENI officials may have intentionally favored certain companies during election preparation to benefit their own personal financial interests. Representatives of a private company involved in the voter registration process also allege that the CENI may have deliberately sought an expensive and technically complex voter registration procedure in order to delay the electoral calendar. In addition, corporate correspondence reviewed by The Sentry indicates that Léonard She Okitundu, Minister of Foreign Affairs, met with representatives of the multinational software company Gemalto SA prior to the official opening of the bidding process for biometric voter registration kits – a contract that was ultimately awarded to Gemalto.
Correspondence between the CENI and several commercial actors as well as commercial dispute rulings by a Congolese regulatory authority also raise questions as to whether the CENI pressured Gemalto to discontinue working with its originally-identified subcontractor. Representatives of a company involved in the dispute allege that this swap was motivated at least in part by the personal financial interests of CENI officials and may have granted the CENI more direct control over the voter registration process due to its relationship with the new subcontractor. While the CENI initially projected that voter registration could be accomplished in the space of two months, the process ultimately lasted approximately 18 months, following the CENI’s decision to pursue a complex and costly method of biometric voter registration. Observers, including private commercial actors involved in the electoral process, allege that these factors delayed the electoral calendar.
The electoral process remains characterized by a significant lack of transparency. Whistleblowers and local civil society groups raise concerns regarding the opacity of CENI financing, including CENI budget formulations, the disbursement of funds and suspicious transactions at CENI-held bank accounts. CENI President Corneille Nangaa has rebuffed calls for an independent audit of voter rolls, despite the inclusion of nearly 17 percent of voters without any discernible fingerprints – a percentage technical experts flagged as abnormally high. The CENI has also resisted calls for a technical review of electronic voting machines proposed for use in the upcoming electoral cycle, despite popular distrust in the technology and serious security vulnerabilities in the machines, as The Sentry has recently reported. According to United Nations documents reviewed by The Sentry, the CENI is also refusing to share information with U.N. officials poised to provide logistical support to distribute electoral materials, potentially complicating the U.N. Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (MONUSCO) ability to support the deployment of electoral materials in a timely manner.
These red flags raise serious questions regarding continued threats to the integrity of the electoral process and underscore the need for increased financial pressure against the Kabila government and its international facilitators in order to ensure a credible and peaceful democratic transition of power in 2018, and in turn, lay the foundations for a transparent, accountable government.