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A look at the Democratic Republic of Congo's chaotic presidential vote

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Polls have closed in the Democratic Republic of Congo today. It was the second day of voting, made necessary after several polling stations opened hours late or failed to open at all yesterday, which left millions of people unable to cast their ballots. Opposition figures have condemned the polls and even called for the vote to be scrapped and rerun. All of this has raised tensions even further in this vast, mineral-rich country, wracked by decades of intense violence by rebel groups and one of the world's worst humanitarian crises. President Felix Tshisekedi is seeking a second term in office and has been tipped as the favorite, despite a turbulent first term in office. NPR's Emmanuel Akinwotu joins us now from Lagos. Hi, Emmanuel.

EMMANUEL AKINWOTU, BYLINE: Hi.

CHANG: So tell us more about these pretty chaotic two days of voting in the DRC.

AKINWOTU: Yes. You know, a spokesperson for President Tshisekedi actually praised the elections as being inclusive, peaceful and transparent. But obviously the elections unfolded very differently. You know, it was described by one opposition figure as chaotic. You know, most polling stations opened late. Election materials didn't arrive everywhere, so some polling stations couldn't even open yesterday. The voting was extended in those stations, so people were allowed to then vote today. But that extension really focused criticism on this whole process. And five opposition figures have called this extension illegal and for the vote to be rerun entirely.

It's clear that for millions of people in the country, they had to show just incredible amounts of endurance and patience just to vote. And even then, so many of them were disappointed. We heard from one man, Kembo Toko Kole. He's been in hospital recently, but he left against his doctor's wishes just because he wanted to cast his ballot.

CHANG: Wow.

KEMBO TOKO KOLE: (Non-English language spoken).

AKINWOTU: He said he was on a drip but left to vote for his chosen candidate, Martin Fayulu. But his name wasn't on the voter register when he got there, so he had to leave. And he said, how can you call these elections credible? And he said he felt his vote was stolen from him.

CHANG: Well, we know that violence has been raging in the east of Congo and that the U.N. peacekeeping force is pulling out of the country right now. So what impact has all of that had on voting?

AKINWOTU: Well, it's had a big impact, you know, not least on people there, but also on the electoral commission. You know, their preparation was definitely hampered. There's actually been a temporary lull in the fighting recently, but clearly that's not given any relief to the humanitarian crisis. You know, more than 6 million people are displaced in east DRC, mainly. And that's where most of the violence has been intense by rebel groups trying to control this very mineral-rich region.

CHANG: Well, given all the extremely profound challenges this country is going through right now, what are you hearing from voters about all of this during this campaign?

AKINWOTU: Just immense frustration. DRC is incredibly blessed with biodiversity, mineral riches. But after independence from a pretty brutal colonial regime, it's never really thrived. You know, it's scandalous that most of its 90-plus million people live in poverty. It's cobalt, you know, that's vital for green energy programs around the world, for our smartphones. You know, international companies, you know, are deeply invested in mining there. But millions of people in DRC don't seem to benefit. The president actually says he's renegotiating a number of mining contracts, and he promised to tackle corruption when he was elected in 2018. But corruption has continued to thrive.

And the most pressing issue is insecurity. And that's gotten worse over the last five years. The neighboring country, Rwanda, has been accused of backing one of the largest rebel groups, M23, and that's led to rising tensions and the threat of war between these countries. So these are really some agelong challenges that are evolving and growing more complicated and entrenched. And that's what so many people in DRC are desperate to change.

CHANG: That is NPR's Emmanuel Akinwotu in Lagos. Thank you so much, Emmanuel.

AKINWOTU: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Emmanuel Akinwotu
Emmanuel Akinwotu is an international correspondent for NPR. He joined NPR in 2022 from The Guardian, where he was West Africa correspondent.