Democratic Republic of Congo’s electoral commission started registering voters this week in North Kivu province, where a rebel insurgency has raised concerns about the state’s ability to hold elections there in December.
Parts of North Kivu province are occupied by the M23 rebel group, a Tutsi-led militia that has been clashing with the Congolese army for almost a year. More than 500,000 people have been forced to flee their homes because of fighting.
“We are confident that even these Congolese will have the right to register,” said Paul Mohindo, deputy rapporteur of the Congolese electoral commission, who travelled from Kinshasa to organise the launch of registration on Thursday.
Congo is due to hold parliamentary and presidential elections on Dec. 20.
North Kivu is part of the final registration zone launched by the electoral commission along with six other provinces in the east of the country. Voter registration began in December in other places and is expected to last another month.
Equipment and agents are already on the ground in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, and will soon be deployed to other towns and displaced persons camps, he said. Nearly five million voters are expected to register in the province.
Some people said they would rather vote in their home towns.
“The best thing to do is for the government to take us back home and then enroll us,” said Odette Zaninga, who moved to a displacement camp near Goma four months ago with her eight children, after fleeing their home in the village of Rugari.
Negotiations are underway, notably at the level of the East African Community, to obtain the withdrawal of the M23 from occupied areas. But previous agreements to withdraw have not been respected.
“If the registration is not done, there will be a problem with the universal nature of the presidential election (and) the distribution of seats in the assembly,” said Patrick Ngoyi, national coordinator of the Synergy of Citizen Election Observation Missions (SYMOCEL), one of the main civil society platforms that monitors elections in Congo.