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DRC: Donations multiply as the election approaches 0

The 2011 electoral campaign has already started in the Equateur province (DRC). Several personalities have suddenly taken an interest in the local population – until now ignored- and have made multiple donations to gain people support.

Ten radio stations for the town of Mbandaka! Two new radio stations have been launched in the main town of the Equateur province, in Nortern DRC, where eight already exist.

Six out of ten are owned by politicians. The two newly born Radio Télé Sarah and Radio Vérité are owned by the current provincial Governor Jean Claude Baende and Gabriel Bolenge, one of his opponents during the 2009 elections.

A journalist (who prefers to remain anonymous) working at one of these stations speaks frankly. “Each owner wants his own propaganda machine to sell the best images of himself when the right moment arrives,” he says.

In this province – as they are doing all over DRC – politicians have already started campaigning for the 2011 presidential and legislative elections.

They speak of liberality to attract voters’ support and as the campaign is still a ways off, some of them present themselves as politically disinterested when doing certain actions and making certain donations.

“I am not a politician, and I don’t want to become one. I only care about helping to eradicate poverty,” explains Paul Wabi, who works as manager for a Kinshasa NGO. However, he recently offered new jackets to three of the most popular football teams of Mbandaka, also promising buses for the players’ transportation.

“Uninterested philanthropists”

But this parade of “uninterested philanthropists” is not misleading voters in the province.

Both in Mbandaka and in the rest of the province, the majority of the inhabitants know very well their real aim when they see signs proclaiming support to politicians.

Commenting on this wave of activism, Willy Katuka, an official at the General Direction of Migrations, makes it no secret. If it is not all about political propaganda, “why make donations to the most famous football teams? The only reason would be to gain their support,” he says.

The 2011 electoral stakes are huge in the Equateur. This province is the stronghold of the main opposition party in DRC, the MLC (Mouvement de libération du Congo) of Jean-Pierre Bemba. Currently detained in the Hague, he has been accused of war crimes, by the International Criminal Court, committed between 2002 and 2003 by his troops in the Central African Republic.

His party still holds the majority in the provincial assembly won during the 2006 elections, and boasts the only opposition party Governor in the eleven provinces of the country. However, it was overthrown in 2009, after an incredible reversal of alliances.

A lot at stake

The battle will be hard won in 2011, so candidates take advantage of every opportunity, hiding poorly their true ambitions. When the state school exams were being held, a province authority paid from his pocket the registration fees for candidates at a Mbandaka high school.

In Igende, along the Ruki, 120 km upriver from the provincial capital, a local representative paid catering and study fees for primary school students.

Local populations are submerged by poverty and these actions are often received without notice of ulterior motives.

“God bless them, we hope they will continue acting in this way,” applauds Paul Eongo, a father of family who sends his three children to school with great difficulty.

Financial attention is also given to mutual or cultural associations, often with tribal or ethnic origins. Some of them wear their political sponsor’s name in turn they are endowed with donations, bonuses and grants.

Small rail projects and the construction of small bridges – often paid for with public or cooperative funds – are openly attributed to political actors who benefit from the public gratitude they evoke.

“Known or unknown, everyone has already joined the fight to gain or maintain their place under the sun,” comments Colon Ekolo, a public official who observes with interest the coming election in the Equateur province.

By Matthieu MokoloSyfia International/DRC

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Direttore Responsabile Giuseppe Frangi