.- The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and its international development arm, Development and Peace, sent a five-member delegation to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to observe the central African country’s first presidential democratic elections in 46 years.
There were almost 50,000 polling stations opened Sunday evening. About 25 million people were eligible to vote. There were 32 candidates for the presidency, and more than 9,000 candidates for the National Assembly.
Despite some violence, including seven polling stations set ablaze, the international community has declared the elections a success.
"When you talk about where the Congo was three years ago, what happened in the Congo yesterday was remarkable," Jean-Marie Guehenno, the U.N. under-secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, told reporters Monday at U.N. World Headquarters in New York.
"This is a county, if it consolidates peace that would make a difference not only for the Congo, but also for the rest of Africa. It would change the perception of Africa," he said according to a UPI report.
The Canadian Catholic observation team has been working with other international organizations since July 21st. Their mission in helping to ensure that the elections were fairly conducted and that results are accurately reported continues until Aug. 5th.
The delegation includes Bishop Luc Cyr of Valleyfield, Québec, Claude Berthiaume, a city councilor from the municipality of Greater Sudbury, Ontario, and three Development and Peace staff.
The delegation began its work in Lubumbashi, in Katanga Province, a region devastated by war and inhabited by tens of thousands of internally displaced people. The area is also an important mining zone; several Canadian companies have operations there.
During a visit to Canada last April, Bishop Fulgence Muteba of the Congolese Diocese of Kilwa-Kasenga said the Congolese people believe the presence of Canadian election observers will help to provide additional guarantees for a democratic vote.
Development and Peace and its Congolese partners have been supporting the democratization process in Congo since 2001 through a program financed by the government’s Canadian International Development Agency. The program includes nation-wide civic education and electoral education projects.
The most ambitious of these civic education programs is run by Congo’s National Episcopal Conference. Called CARTEC (Coordination for a Successful Transition), it has trained 50,000 volunteers across the country in techniques to increase public awareness about the electoral process.
In recent years, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has also supported requests by Congo’s National Episcopal Conference that the Canadian government support the democratization process in the African country.