Mennonite volunteers assist voting process in Congo

By staff writers
November 8, 2006

Mennonite volunteers assist voting process in Congo

-0/11/06

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), the North American development and peace agency, organized 17 volunteers to observe the voting process in the Democratic Republic of Congo as the country held a presidential runoff on 29 October 2006 to complete its first national elections in more than 40 years ñ writes Tim Shank of MCC.

Ten Congolese Mennonites and seven international volunteers worked together to observe voting centres in Kinshasa, the capital city, on Election Day. Suzanne Lind, an MCC country representative in Congo, helped lead the group and reported that the voting process appeared to go smoothly in Kinshasa despite a rainstorm in the morning and a power outage in the evening.

"People were worried that perhaps not very many people would come out and vote because the rains stopped everything," Lind said. "But by 8 (a.m.) and then 10, the centres were opening and people did come out, probably not as many as the first round, but many, many people went to the polls."

Political violence was reported in at least one Congolese town, but most of the country was calm on Election Day, including Kinshasa, Lind said.

Mennonite Central Committee helped to organize the election observers at the request of Congolese Mennonites and Congo's national council of Protestant churches. During an earlier round of voting, held on 30 July 2006, MCC organized 22 international observers who worked alongside Congolese observers.

The people of Congo, formerly known as Zaire, have suffered greatly over the past four decades. The long, corrupt dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko impoverished the country, and two wars from 1996 to 2002 caused millions of deaths.

Lind said that many groups, including Congolese churches, have worked to educate the population about the need for a peaceful, democratic political process.

"People are learning that you don't have to fight when you lose an election," Lind said. "That's not how elections work. That's the way it used to work when a dictator came in."

The two candidates in the runoff election were Joseph Kabila, the interim president, and Jean-Pierre Bemba, a vice president. The provisional results are scheduled to be announced by 19 November 2006. Lind says that some Congolese fear that disappointed partisans will riot after the results are announced.

However, Lind said that some of her Congolese Mennonite friends are more optimistic, believing that tensions are not as high as they have been in the past.

"They say if there's anything bad that happens ... it won't last long, and it will not turn into a major pillage," she said.

Mennonites ñ along with the Church of the Brethren and Quakers ñ are one of the historic peace churches, who believe that nonviolence is central to the way of Jesus.

Mennonite volunteers assist voting process in Congo

-0/11/06

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), the North American development and peace agency, organized 17 volunteers to observe the voting process in the Democratic Republic of Congo as the country held a presidential runoff on 29 October 2006 to complete its first national elections in more than 40 years ñ writes Tim Shank of MCC.

Ten Congolese Mennonites and seven international volunteers worked together to observe voting centres in Kinshasa, the capital city, on Election Day. Suzanne Lind, an MCC country representative in Congo, helped lead the group and reported that the voting process appeared to go smoothly in Kinshasa despite a rainstorm in the morning and a power outage in the evening.

"People were worried that perhaps not very many people would come out and vote because the rains stopped everything," Lind said. "But by 8 (a.m.) and then 10, the centres were opening and people did come out, probably not as many as the first round, but many, many people went to the polls."

Political violence was reported in at least one Congolese town, but most of the country was calm on Election Day, including Kinshasa, Lind said.

Mennonite Central Committee helped to organize the election observers at the request of Congolese Mennonites and Congo's national council of Protestant churches. During an earlier round of voting, held on 30 July 2006, MCC organized 22 international observers who worked alongside Congolese observers.

The people of Congo, formerly known as Zaire, have suffered greatly over the past four decades. The long, corrupt dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko impoverished the country, and two wars from 1996 to 2002 caused millions of deaths.

Lind said that many groups, including Congolese churches, have worked to educate the population about the need for a peaceful, democratic political process.

"People are learning that you don't have to fight when you lose an election," Lind said. "That's not how elections work. That's the way it used to work when a dictator came in."

The two candidates in the runoff election were Joseph Kabila, the interim president, and Jean-Pierre Bemba, a vice president. The provisional results are scheduled to be announced by 19 November 2006. Lind says that some Congolese fear that disappointed partisans will riot after the results are announced.

However, Lind said that some of her Congolese Mennonite friends are more optimistic, believing that tensions are not as high as they have been in the past.

"They say if there's anything bad that happens ... it won't last long, and it will not turn into a major pillage," she said.

Mennonites ñ along with the Church of the Brethren and Quakers ñ are one of the historic peace churches, who believe that nonviolence is central to the way of Jesus.

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