The United States has deployed troops to Central Africa amid rising fears of violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo as the country prepares to declare the result of last week’s presidential election.
Donald Trump confirmed he was forward-deploying “appropriate combat equipment” and some 80 soldiers to neighbouring Gabon to be on standby to protect US citizens and diplomatic missions.
The DR Congo voted on November 30 in a long-delayed election to replace President Joseph Kabila who has ruled the vast, conflict-ridden country for almost 18 years.
The contest pitted Mr Kabila’s handpicked successor Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary against two opposition candidates: veteran heavyweight Felix Tshisekedi and newcomer Martin Fayulu.
Although election day itself was relatively peaceful, tensions have mounted over the lengthy counting process, with many fearing the result could be manipulated in Shadary’s favour and with any delay likely to further exacerbate the situation.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) had said it would release preliminary results today, followed by a definitive count on January 15, but by last Thursday only 20 per cent of result has been collected, raising fears of delays.
The last two elections in 2006 and 2011, both of which were won by Kabila, were marred by bloodshed, and many fear a repeat of the violence if the results are put in doubt.
With international concerns growing over the transfer of power in sub-Saharan Africa’s largest nation of 80 million people, Western powers have upped pressure on Kinshasa to ensure the vote count is accurate and transparent.
“The Democratic Republic of Congo is at a historic moment toward a democratic transition,” the European Union said, urging the authorities “to ensure the upcoming results conform with the Congolese people’s vote”.
Washington has also urged Kinshasa to release “accurate” results and warned of sanctions against anyone seeking to “undermine the democratic process” in the former Belgian colony.
The African Union, which deployed an 80-member team to monitor the vote, also said that respect for voters’ wishes was “crucial”.
Although the UN Security Council met late on Friday to discuss the election, it did not issue a concluding statement. It will hold another meeting on the issue on Tuesday.
The DR Congo’s powerful Catholic Church, which deployed more than 40,000 observers to monitor the elections, on Thursday said it knew who had won the vote urging the electoral commission to publish the results “in keeping with truth and justice”.
But the ruling coalition, the FCC, angrily rebuffed the church’s statement, accusing CENCO of “seriously breaching” the constitution and electoral law by “illegally declaring voting trends” in favour of a given candidate.