Congo Elections

Bud Kroeker in Kinshasa Report N° 5

Kinshasa, Tuesday evening, November 29

Dear Friends,

It is time to send off news of what is taking place before I get caught up in the work tomorrow. I didn’t write Sunday because my Vodaphone subscription ended on Nov. 27, one month after I purchased it. So I had no connection to internet but I will pick up there.

Sunday morning November 27: I visit the Protestant Cathedral of Kinshasa, attended by least 5000 people. The Churches of Congo are all filled. While choirs sing the well known hymns, the audience picks up the tune and repeats it after them. The personto me explains that it is especially meaningful today because the people are afraid and anxious concerning tomorrow’s election. The Pastor preaches on Psalm 91:1-12 and Matt. 28:18-20: “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust. He who calls Himself I am is with you always.” Then he repeats the great commission: “Go, baptize, teach, and surely I will be with you always,” he says, adding “Jesus assures us that He has all power to save, deliver, protect, heal…” The Africans are vibrantly expressive, but this morning I get the impression that they are breathing in and hanging onto every word being preached. The atmosphere is charged with emotion, and tears well up in my own eyes. We end by singing the old hymn: “No never alone” though, of course, in French Non jamais tout seul.

Sending out the Observers

In the afternoon we meet with all the observers from the Protestant Churches in one of the large halls of the Protestant University. The badges and materials are passed out. We wait for Bertin who has gone to to get the forms that the observers will need to fill out during the voting. Time passes without any sign of him so I begin to go get jittery, and send a fellow to go and make 100 photocopies. Finally a car arrives with 400 guides and 750 of the necessary forms. This material is what we should have had a month ago, and since it’s so late arriving, the observers in the provinces of Congo won’t be getting theirs in time. The people who have done the training seminars go out to the various centers with the observers and distribute the forms. You might remember that I mentioned in my last letter that the UN Development Project fund would be sending money for the observers, and now we learn that it won’t be available until midweek.  This means we won’t have it tomorrow to offer a snack or drink to the observers, so some of the younger observers decide to back out. I return about 6 p.m. to the Guest House where I’m staying. There a friend from Kikwit who is standing by the gate says, Mono kele na mawa mingi, “I’m very sad. He explains that his friend, who was on the road to the airport, had run into the spot where shooting was going on when a random bullet shot by a policeman stuck his heart and killed him instantly!”

Monday morning November 28 Election Day

The Streets on election day

Standing in line early in the morning

By 3 a.m. people responsible for preparing the polling stations are already busy at work laying out ballots and posting lists on the walls. At 7:30 they meet with all the international observers. Then we all head off to the various polling stations. Nick Frey drives us in his 4×4 Toyota Prado. What comfort compared to the rickety taxis. He is a pilot with MAF (Missionary Aviation Fellowship) but is very competent on the muddy roads of Kinshasa as well. A former Swiss missionary, Meieli Stettler, is also with us as an international observer, and her experience is a blessing. Both of these people speak French. Our guide, Jules Lweso, takes us to various schools that are being used as polling stations. The first is a new, nicely arranged school belonging to the Kimbanguistes. Immediately, we’re confronted by witnesses of the political part, who complain that they were not permitted to do their work properly at the polling station. It appears that at first they had stuck to the rules with 6 witnesses and observers at each polling station, but since there are 18,000 candidates for parliament, and each needs his witness, they soon ended up with 30 squeezed into a polling station. As I stand back and watch, one man in particular catches my eye. He stands tall, strong and confident as he waits in line, and even raises his hand as though expressing triumph. But once inside his expression changes dramatically. He now holds before him a huge newspaper-size ballot and appears totally lost. Obviously he can’t figure out what to do.

In the polling stations

We pass several schools in poorer parts of the city where there are problems for people who are trying to find their names listed so they will know which polling station to go to. The print is small and the lists aree usually nailed on a tree, or tacked on a wall. So some of them never even find their poling stations. It would take pages to tell of all the experiences.

The sky is heavy and threatening all morning, but around 10 a.m. the heavens let loose. A tropical downpour now pounds against the gutters and rapidly fill them up to overflowing so in no time rivelets collect on the playgrounds and flood the whole area. I soon find my shoes below the water-level. Usually everything comes to a standstill during a rain storm. But today the voting must continue in the dark polling stations where the only light is from a few battery-powered lamps or the light of cell phones. I try to visit all the classes of the school either by jumping from bench to bench or by walking in water.

Around 3 p.m. I am interrupted by a phone call from the Abbot Malumalu, the leader who had arranged to get funds from the UN for the observers. He asks me to come help him with his computer as it is not displaying the lists properly. His own computer technician looks tired. “I haven’t slept for two days,” he tells me. So while the others continue their rounds I help the Abot and when the problem is solved he tells his chauffeur to drive me back to the Guest House.

I can still get a hot meal and take time for a nap before the next episode. My own internet is not working and I have no radio, but from time to time my cell phone rings with messages from Kikwit, Kananga, Goma, and Lumumbashi. I learn that in the Western Kasai (Kananga) and in Lubumbashi (Katanga) troubles have broken out and caused several deaths. This is the news picked up by the media, but when you consider the huge size of the Congo, the rumors of fraud, the nervous temperament of people, all the difficulty in supplying the necessary materials, the way they just naturally express their passion, etc., the problems seem very small.We are grateful to God for his hand in all of this, giving a calm, peaceful spirit to those in charge, to the observers, and to the population on the whole.

Finally we manage to get our team out and continue on to the next place. Thankfully Nick and his young wife Jocelyn have their apartment nearby where we can go to dry off,  get something to drink, and chat for a few minutes in a nice clean place. The rain finally stops.

Erik Kumedisa

Tuesday morning, November 29   Erik Kumedisa comes to my room. “God has given him great peace in reading Psalm 80,” he says. He expresses the hope he hangs onto for his country as to the acceptance of the election results, and for the country to resume a degree of order. The average man on the street is fed up with the administration. “The new roads and buildings don’t put food on our tables,” they say, “and prices rise by the day.” This morning the roads are practically deserted as most people have been up all night. At breakfast I meet an American representing a Foundation for Democracy who is also lodging at the Guest House. He explains that his office in Washington is worried about security and has forbidden all workers to go out of the house or hotel. We exchange thoughts that probably the streets of New York are more dangerous than here. The chauffeur of Pastor Milenge comes to get me to go to Vodacom where I spend $60 to get Internet for the next month, and to send this letter.

I have the big meeting with the international observers at the Grand Hotel at 10 a.m. and then at 2 p.m. a meeting of our observers of the ECC (Protestant observers). During these meetings I learn a lot about how the day went in the other polling stations. Each observer has a story to tell. One man who was out in the outlying district was knocked down and beaten by some men just because he was examining a ballot he thought was false—and finding other problems. The police had to come in and rescue him.

On the whole, the voting was finished before midnight, though in some cases, not before noon today. What one can conclude already is that the Congolese were determined to vote and they they did make the effort. Overall they conducted themselves as good citizens in spite of the obstacles, fears and difficulties. I want to thank all of you for your prayers for me, for the team here, and for this country. The Congo still has a rough road ahead and we all need to pray that the people not lose patience. He who called Himself the “I am” is always with us. He doesn’t have past, present or future.

Bud

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