On, July 30, 2006, many people in the Democratic Republic of Congo woke up at 5AM to meet their rendez-vous with history. Forty-six years after independence, there was joy and excitement as people queued to elect their leaders in the first free and democratic elections. “My wife woke me up at 4AM to go and vote,” said Rev. Itheny, but I resisted and told her, “it’s still too dark and elections will not start till 6AM.” At 5AM, Itheny and his wife were on the queue, waiting for what would be their first experience of democratic elections. Old people, pregnant and nursing women, and crippled people were given priority to elect.
Each polling station had 5 to six voting rooms. Each voting room had several electorate agents helping people know how to vote; each room also had about 10 national observers from different parties to ensure there was no fraud. Foreign observers were moving around with their vehicles. Monuc was always present, showing a force of military strength that, fortunately, was not needed. There were women carrying children on their back, old people being led, crippled being guided, and many young adults who were experiencing elections for the first time. “I’ll be 49 years old and I’ve waiting for this day all my life” said Kasereka.
As an observer, I visited nine polling stations in the city of Beni. All were full by the early hours of the morning. In one station, after talking to the police, taking pictures, and observing people vote, I was approached by a man in his forties who said, “do you remember me.” No, I don’t,” I said, “My name is Amabange; you taught me geography in high school in 1982 to 84.” I remembered Amabange. As a student, he was young and confident. Today, he’s a pharmacist working with “Doctors without Borders” in the city Goma, about 400 km south of Beni. He had enrolled for election in Beni and had retuned to vote.” His dream was the elections will usher a time of peace, economic and social stability and the rebuilding of the nation. Most people I talked to want peace, good governance, education and jobs. At another station I met Patrick, Paluku and Mbale, three young men who just finished high school. They were at the polling station as observers for their different political parties. “We each support our parties, but we really don’t mind who is elected as president, as long as it is someone who will work for peace, education, jobs and equality of all before the law,” said Patrick. “We do not have any hope of going to University far from home because our parents cannot afford it.” I asked them if they knew about the Christian Bilingual University of Congo. “Yes,” they said, “it will be built near Chief Gregoire.” When I told them that I was leading the project, they were speechless, “Will it start next year? What departments will it have? Can you give us your address.” That has been the talk and the expectations everywhere I mentioned Congo Initiative and the Christian Bilingual University of Congo. This is a country waiting for something many of them don’t know.
“These elections will not change our country in a day, but at least they will set us on a road to recovery,” said Kambale.