Congo Casts Ballots in Historic Democratic Election Congolese go to the polls to cast ballots for president in the first democratic election in more than 50 years. The U.N.-organized vote follows brutal Belgian colonial rule, dictatorship, rebellions and a 1996-2002 conflict that sucked in armies from six countries bent on grabbing a share of Congo's mineral wealth.
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Congo Casts Ballots in Historic Democratic Election

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Congo Casts Ballots in Historic Democratic Election

Congo Casts Ballots in Historic Democratic Election

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Millions of people in the Democratic Republic of Congo are voting for their new leaders today in the first free elections there in more than 40 years. Since achieving independence from Belgium in 1960, Congo has lurched from political crisis to crisis into a long dictatorship and most recently, back-to-back civil wars. But a power sharing peace deal paved the way for today's long-awaited national vote. The biggest U.N. peacekeeping operation in the world helped to organize the polls which cost the international community 450 million dollars. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton joins us from the Congolese capital of Kinshasa. Ofeibea, explain what the elections are going to mean for Congo, as well as for the area around it, that turbulent great lakes region of Africa.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON reporting:

Stability in Congo means stability for Central Africa. This is a country surrounded by nine other neighbors and it has been to war with quite a few of them. So if Congo could hold successful, free, fair and the first democratic elections that they have had in 46 years of independence, it means that they can move forward. This is a potentially rich country, but desperately poor and all the Congolese I've spoken today on polling day say we want change, we want peace, we want stability in our country.

HANSEN: Explain the roster of candidates. Who are they and what are the main issues?

QUIST-ARCTON: There are 33 presidential candidates, including the incumbent President Joseph Kabila. He is a former rebel commander. There are other former warlords and then there are technocrats, women, it's a huge ballot paper for the presidential and even huger for the National Assembly, for the parliamentarians, 9,500 candidates for 500 National Assembly seats. So Congo is truly voting its new leaders.

But the question is will those who don't win accept defeat graciously and not go back to war? That's the concern of many Congolese here. But we see children, former presidents, former prime ministers, it's a whole range of candidates trying to become the new leaders of Congo.

HANSEN: Can you assess the mood today at the poll?

QUIST-ARCTON: It's pretty buoyant. There's been a little bit (unintelligible) and a little bit of shouting and a little bit of anger because there are long lines and people really want to vote. But you get the impression that Congolese feel this is literally D-Day for them. It is turning over a new leaf, a new page. They've got 17,500 U.N. peacekeepers here, the biggest U.N. operation in the world assisting in the election. They know the eyes of the world, the eyes of Africa, the eyes of the region are on Congo to get it right, and you get the impression that the Congolese want to get it right and really want to move forward so that their country becomes as prosperous, rich as it really should be.

HANSEN: When are the results expected?

QUIST-ARCTON: The results of the presidential elections, if no one gets more than 50 percent, there will be a runoff, and that won't be until October. We're told that the election results will be official not for at least ten days.

HANSEN: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton in Kinshasa. Ofeibea, thank you very much.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure.

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