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As Congo Campaigning Outlawed, Plea to UN Answered by Stale Statement

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, November 27 -- With even campaign rallies outlawed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo before the elections slated for November 28, on November 25 the UN sent out a statement by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

  The statement did not call for an end to restrictions on campaigning, and said that it was under embargo and couldn't be published until Sunday, November 27 (without saying if this referred to New York or Kinshasa time).

  If the UN was trying to use its bully pulpit to improve the anti-democratic mood in the eve of the election, it seemed strange to speak so far in advance, and under embargo.

  In fact after Ban's statement in advance, which some called a "mind-reading" statement, was circulated a crisis occurred at the Kinshasa airport.

  The main rival to Joseph Kabila Etienne Tshisekedi was blocked at the airport from going to campaign. Some of his supporters assembled; it was reported that an entreaty was made to the UN to intervene in favor of democracy, in this case, campaigning.

  Another Kabila rival Vital Kamerhe, blamed the violence on pro-Kabila security forces. "The republican guard are in Kinshasa’s streets," he said. "That’s like how things started in Cote d’Ivoire, with the armed forces of the elite."

  Whatever one thinks of the erratic Tshisekedi, with whom Ban met in June, one might have expected the UN to at least verbally side with democracy and campaigning. But on the ground, while Ban's statement remained under embargo, all the UN did was offer to escort Tshisekedi home, not to campaign.

(c) UN Photo
Ban &
Tshisekedi, response to plea to campaign not shown, except under embargo

  Back on November 23, Inner City Press asked Ban's associate spokesman Farhan Haq about the election and Mr. Tshisekedi:

Inner City Press: I wanted to ask you about the Democratic Republic of the Congo elections. Now a candidate has been killed, Marius Gangale, and a lot of people are saying that foreign missions in Kinshasa are saying that there may be a delay past the 28th. I know that Mr. [Roger] Meese briefed the Council, but I am not sure what he said. Does the UN believe, should there be a delay to get the logistics in place, and what can they say about this killing of one of the candidates?

Associate Spokesperson: Well, as you know, we have supported a number of consecutive elections in the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo] and are hopeful that this one will go ahead on schedule. Mr. Meese did in fact brief the Security Council about the arrangements, and we continue to provide the support we can, including, of course, the security presence in the country. At the same time, of course, we are concerned about any violence against any side or by any side. And we are encouraging all sides to remain calm and pave the way for peaceful and smooth elections.

Inner City Press: Is he speaking with this opposition figure, Mr. [Etienne] Tshisekedi, because I went back and looked at the video where he had met with Ban Ki-moon, Tshisekedi... Is there some attempt by the UN to get Mr. Tshisekedi to sign on to these principles for the election, and do you think he will sign by the 28th?

Associate Spokesperson: It is hard to predict what any particular individual will do. We have been encouraging all sides to maintain calm and maintain a peaceful atmosphere that would be conducive to holding credible and free elections.

  Nothing more was heard from Ban Ki-moon's Office in response to this until November 25: a statement that said it couldn't be reported until November 27. And when the last possible moment of the embargo arrived, at 12:01 midnight New York time, Ban's superseded, almost ludicrous statement could be and was released:

From: UN Spokesperson - Do Not Reply
Date: 2011/11/25
Subject: UNDER EMBARGO UNTIL SUNDAY, 27 NOVEMBER 2011 - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on DRC elections


Statement of the Secretary-General on the Presidential and National Assembly elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

New York – 27 November 2011

As the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are preparing to vote, I would like to reiterate the support of the United Nations to this historical process. These elections are crucial for the country’s progress towards stabilization and development.

I call on all political leaders and the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to exercise restraint throughout the process to ensure that the elections are held in a peaceful and secure environment. I appeal to them to conform to the relevant provisions of the Constitution and the electoral law; to promote democratic debate; to respect the results of the ballots; and to address any disputes that may arise, through the established mediation and legal channels.

I hope that many Congolese and international observers, as well as witnesses of political parties will be present at all levels of the electoral process, in particular at the polling stations and centres.

The Independent National Electoral Commission, supported by the Governmnt of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and international partners, has done notable work to organize the elections in a timely manner. I am grateful to my Special Representative and the staff from MONUSCO and UNDP for their support in assisting Congolese authorities throughout the electoral process.

I stress the primary responsibility of the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo for maintaining a secure environment for the elections.

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