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Time for a (multi) party

"Time for a (multi) party" Continued...

Issue: "Mayberry no more," July 29, 2006

If that seems like politics as usual, other candidates tried to be more outlandish. A Mobutu aide popularly known as "Mr. Cash," former minister of finance and economics Pierre wa Syakassighe Pay-Pay, arrived in Beni July 16 and gave away $3,000 to supporters to "quench their thirst," in other words, to buy beer. "The politicians are just learning democracy, too," Kasali said.

Kasali is more encouraged by evening walks to chat with residents than by campaign stopovers. Buying corn from a roadside vendor, he listened as the vendor criticized politicians for handing out money to locals. "We don't want their money," said the woman. "They should build schools for us. I didn't go to school. I want my children to go to school."

On another evening Kasali ran into an old university friend, a conservationist who had spent the war trying to protect a rare species of forest zebra, called the okapi, in a national park. Whether fighting for schoolchildren or zebras, Kasali said, these are the frail beginnings of a move from civil war to civil society.

Another town showing hesitant progress is Bunia in Ituri Province, which was a hotbed of rebel violence, including an attack on a Christian hospital during fighting four years ago (see "On the road to genocide," Nov. 16, 2002). Toni Stenger, missionary team leader for the Africa Inland Mission, told WORLD the town now enjoys trading and open movement during the day. Nights, however, bring deserted streets. Old rebels and some locals have taken to banditry, stealing and attacking residents both in town and in surrounding areas. With dangerous roads, not as many food supplies as needed are making it to Bunia.

Stenger also grapples with hard-to-heal war wounds. Local Christians continue to work to reunite street kids who disappeared in the war with their families. Educating and integrating former child soldiers is another pressing need. The election brings expectations, Stenger said, but "if the changes do not come as fast as they hope, some people may rise again."

Congo's volatility and its restive eastern region are why a 17,000-member UN peacekeeping operation is necessary. Though tarnished by recent reports of sexual abuse elsewhere in Africa, peacekeepers in this region are helping to bring calm, locals say. One challenge is to rehabilitate poorly paid Congolese soldiers who have resorted to harassing locals at checkpoints for bribes or food.

"They do not have ammunition, boots, or clothing and they are not given their daily meal," said commander of the UN mission's Ituri brigade, Brig. Gen. Mohammad Mahboob, in July. "If the troops do not have their daily meal guaranteed, then what options are available?"

This month, if elections proceed as planned, one option will be to vote without fear.

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