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Congolese head to the polls to elect their next president

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, millions of people head to the polls today to elect their next president. The incumbent, Felix Tshisekedi, is seeking a second term. The country is rich in minerals but also faces a lot of challenges. One of them is the violence being perpetuated by more than a hundred armed groups in the east vying for control of large deposits of oil, gold and cobalt. That's a metal used in smartphones. And this comes after decades of conflict that has killed millions of people and led to an ongoing humanitarian crisis in the huge country, which is the second largest in Africa. Many Congolese may not even be able to get to a voting station to cast a ballot.

NPR's Emmanuel Akinwotu is with us now from Lagos to tell us more. Good morning, Emmanuel.

EMMANUEL AKINWOTU, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: It just seems that so much is at stake for the Democratic Republic of Congo in this election. So just what are the most pressing issues?

AKINWOTU: Yeah. You know, President Felix Tshisekedi, he's the incumbent seeking a second term. And he's seen as the favorite even though his popularity has really waned since he took office four years ago. Many of the pretty brutal challenges that have gripped this country are now even more entrenched. You know, it's one of the most mineral-rich nations on Earth. But since independence from the Belgian colonial regime, it's never really thrived. Millions of people live in poverty, and that's gotten worse since COVID. Insecurity has worsened in the east. The humanitarian crisis, where more than 6 million people are displaced - and it really doesn't get the focus it deserves.

I spoke to Fred Bauma - he's a civil society figure in Goma, which is one of the most affected regions by the violence - just to get a sense of how people like him are feeling ahead of the vote.

FRED BAUMA: The reality is that despite billions of dollars invested in the region the last 20 or 30 years, today we have more people displaced than ever. Usually, what I hear a lot when I talk to international actors is the sort of Congo fatigue - you know, forgetting that it's about human lives.

MARTIN: So you've been telling us about just how widespread the violence still is. So given that, can elections even take place in the east of the country?

AKINWOTU: Yes. There's really profound challenges. It's really been a kind of logistical nightmare for the Electoral Commission because of security threats and also because of challenges with millions of people getting their voters' cards. You know, about a million people, apparently, who wanted to vote will not be able to. Over 40 million people have registered. The Electoral Commission has actually been heavily criticized by civil society groups. But we'll see how this plays out.

MARTIN: I understand that the U.N. Security Council has agreed to withdraw U.N. peacekeepers from the region early, in response to demands from the president. Why withdraw them when the violence is still going on?

AKINWOTU: Frankly, it's because the peacekeeping missions have failed. You know, they're deeply unpopular. There's no confidence in them on the ground anymore. And there have been very high-profile scandals, sexual abuse scandals, too, and things have really gotten worse. You know, the U.S. recently said it brokered a cease-fire between the DRC and the M23 rebel group, probably the main rebel group in the country, which is widely seen as being backed by Rwanda, the neighboring country. But the cease-fire - we can only really see it as a temporary measure because a lasting resolution still seems really far away.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Emmanuel Akinwotu in Lagos. Emmanuel, thank you so much.

AKINWOTU: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Emmanuel Akinwotu
Emmanuel Akinwotu is an international correspondent for NPR. He joined NPR in 2022 from The Guardian, where he was West Africa correspondent.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
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