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DRC's Election Results Make Its Neighbour Nervous

Monuc/IRIN - November 3, 2006 7:07 PM

Lusaka, Nov 03, 2006 (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks/All Africa Global Media via COMTEX) --The Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) anxious wait for the outcome of the presidential election run-off is putting its neighbour Zambia on edge where currency dealers are stocking up on kwacha, the local currency, and dumping the DRC's Congolese franc.

Jonas Lembo, a DRC national and currency dealer in Zambia's Copperbelt Province, is only selling and not buying the DRC's currency, and in a few days since the 29 October second round of the presidential vote, the Congolese franc has weakened from 500 to 520 against the US dollar.

"Our country is unpredictable, anything can happen anytime," said Lembo. "I won't go to Lubumbashi [the regional capital of the DRC's Katanga province] until this election period is over, I don't want to be caught up there. With these [kwachas and dollars], it is easy to find a way if fighting begins in my country."

The DRC had a second round of voting late last month after the first round of voting in July failed to produce a presidential winner with a 50 percent plus one of the vote. Presidential incumbent Joseph Kabila captured 45 percent in the first round while his rival Jean-Pierre Bemba managed to secure 20 percent of the vote.

Three days of heavy fighting between Kabila's and Bemba's security guards after the announcement of the provisional results of the first round of the presidential elections left at least 23 people dead in Kinshasa and there were isolated incidents of violence in the mineral-rich country in the immediate aftermath of the presidential run-offs.

Although both candidates have publicly stated that they will respect the result of the first democratic poll since independence from Belgium in 1960, analysts still fear that the 226,7050 square kilometre country could slide back into its warring ways, a worse case scenario that cross border traders have been preparing for.

"I have been saving something everyday since July this year and now I have almost 1 million kwacha [$250] in my house," said a cross-border trader, Joanna Kabamba. "I hope to make more kwachas after selling my last Chitenge materials, then I can relax and wait for anything."

Zambia has been used as a safe haven by Congolese traders during times of conflict in their home country, but should the election not solve the DRC's cycles of violence, the effect, analysts forecast, will be the destabilisation of the sub-continent.

"If by any means the DRC elections fail to bring peace, then all central and southern Africa will be headed for an economic, political and humanitarian turmoil because there will be a lot of spill-over effects," Lee Habasonda said, executive director of the regional good governance watchdog, the Southern African Centre for Constructive Resolution of Disputes.

"There will be a cross-over of refugees into Zambia and other neighbouring countries, which will force host countries to stretch their budgets in looking for more food and financial resources to provide shelter for such refugees. A sharp increase in criminal activities would be another consequence because some of the fleeing refugees would be armed and have to survive using the same guns that they will carry."

Habasonda said an increase in the incidence of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases might also be triggered in the region because "rape cases are high in times of humanitarian crisis. Fleeing rebels abuse women by force and there are many cases of human trafficking as some people start benefiting from the disaster."

Copperbelt, which abutts the Kabila strongold of Katanga province, is Zambia's economic heartland accounting for over 80 percent of the country's export earnings. The DRC's Katanga region also has large mineral reserves including copper, cobalt, diamond, uranium, cadmium, tin, gold and silver. In the three years that relative peace has prevailed in the DRC, Copperbelt mining activities have more than trebled, driven by a heavy investment from the private sector.

Economic Association of Zambia vice-president, Ernest Mwape, said both copper production and general investment levels could be affected if the election results are disputed and spark another conflict.

"Much of the investment in Copperbelt is private sector-driven which thrives on long-term planning and business opportunities. Many business opportunities would be washed away in Zambia if a full-scale war broke out in the Congo. Our businesses have so far managed to put up with petty corruption and thefts from Congolese traders but a war would definitely be a big blow to our economy," Mwape said.

Besides the booming mining activities, Zambia has also increased its trade with its neighbour, according to Richard Salivaji, permanent secretary of Zambia's North-Western Province - home of two major copper mines, Kansanshi and Lumwana, and the newly-discovered oil reserves.

"DRC is increasingly becoming significant to our economy. Our people are now selling their goods, especially agricultural products, to DRC and we are getting a lot of earnings as a country from this sound bilateral trade. People deal in mealie meal [ground maize meal], goats, maize and vegetables while DRC traders bring in clothes and Chitenge materials," Salivaji said.

Katanga's mineral wealth has been the source of its restive reputation. Soon after independence, Katanga seceded under the leadership of Moise Tshombe with the support of Belgian mining interests. Katanga's secccession was only resolved a few years later with the assistance of United Nations troops.

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]


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