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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 July 2006, 00:39 GMT 01:39 UK
Congo election reporters' log: Monday
Crowd at election rally

The Democratic Republic of Congo is getting ready for what should be the first free presidential elections since independence 45 years ago.

After years of conflict and misrule, this country some two-thirds the size of western Europe does not have a road or railway running from one side to the other.

A team of BBC reporters is covering the polls and journalists are sending their observations:

Noel Mwakugu, Kinshasa, Monday 24 July

It's my second day in Kinshasa, but just as hectic as the arrival.

My colleague Salim from the BBC Swahili Service and I almost got into a brawl with the porters at Ndjili International airport who were demanding what we thought was too much in fees for carrying bags that we had comfortably lifted back in Nairobi.

And that was not it, today there has been a serious language problem, the English and Swahili I speak and the few French words that ring a bell were of no impact to my Lingala and French-speaking brothers here.

Our host Lubunga Bya'ombe was busy filing news copy and therefore I had to sneak into town to make things work for me - first get accredited by the UN mission Monuc and then book the earliest flight to Kisangani.

When I asked the taxi man to drive me around, he did not make out a thing of what I said until I gestured for a plane and said Kisangani.

Supporters of Laurence Kabila in Kinshasa, 24 July 2006
The elections are seen as a turning point for Congo

At the airline offices it was easy - just a mention of my destination did the magic for me - but even after driving to and from three company offices located on opposite sides of this vast city no one could offer a confirmed ticket.

Meanwhile, other passengers sharing my taxi became impatient and I had to jump ship. Here a taxi is not yours alone you have to share with five other people along the route you take.

Monuc air services are now my only resort, so far I only have a little nice goody from the UN guys - their press card with a rather nice looking face of me, even despite my hectic day long experience.

I am crossing my fingers that by tonight, I will get the good news "a seat in the next flight to Kisangani" but maybe I am lucky and Kinshasa by night may have something in store!

Joseph Winter, Lubumbashi, Monday 24 July

The trip home of parliamentary candidate, Maguy Katuku Muzinga, just gets more and more difficult.

She is stranded in Kalemie, with no train back to her constituency in Nyuzu until after the elections. Even worse, her election material - posters, T-shirts and headscarves somehow got lost on the flight from Kinshasa.

She has the books she bought for her local school but no way of getting them to Nyuzu before polling day.

So she will travel the 200km by motorbike, unable to carry much and will arrive empty-handed - not a good way to start a Congolese election campaign.

I have also found it extremely difficult to get around such a huge country. Nobody uses credit cards here - it is a cash-only country.

Flight reservations must be made in person, with hard cash (dollars, please, not euros, even though it is a French-speaking former Belgian colony).

I was lucky to get on a flight to Lubumbashi, after my reservation was cancelled as I had not bought the ticket - difficult to pay cash from London.

Kabila supporter eating fire
Fire-eaters have been used to drum up support for Mr Kabila

Now I am trying to get back to Kinshasa before election day. The Thursday flight I wanted to take is full, so I hope I can hitch a lift with the UN mission in Congo, Monuc.

Monuc has built an enormous infrastructure since it was set up in Congo. Its air network, flying peacekeepers, UN personnel, aid workers, election material and journalists around this vast country, is reported to be one of the biggest in Africa.

But if I am bumped off the Monuc flight to make way for UN staff, I may end up with no choice but to stay here for election day.

That would not be the end of the world - it is much cooler here and the city has a far more laid back feel to it than hectic, sweltering Kinshasa.

The electoral temperature, however, is on the rise.

I noticed a lot of people wearing T-shirts with President Joseph Kabila's smiling face on them from early in the morning.

Now vans are driving around town, with huge loudspeakers strapped to their roofs, telling people that Mr Kabila is due to arrive on Wednesday to hold a huge campaign rally. Should be a big day in Lubumbashi.

Felin Gakwaya, Goma, Monday 24 July

When I arrived in the city of Goma, it was completely covered with election posters and pictures of those who are campaigning. They were driving around in cars and holding meetings, using microphones and big loudspeakers to try and attract voters.

Former DR Congo militiaman
The UN has been trying to disarm fighters across eastern DR Congo
People were wearing t-shirts with the face of President Joseph Kabila, and also of Vice-President Azaria Ruberwa, leader of the RCD Goma faction. These two candidates had the most visible campaigns, though there were also some posters from other candidates.

I couldn't find a hotel room at first. Then I found there was only one left in the town, so I got the last room. The hotels are full of people from outside: journalists and election observers.

The observers weren't yet out working in public though - they have just arrived and are still establishing themselves.

At the main stadium, known as the Peace Stadium, there was a gathering where officials were explaining the rules of the election to the voting public, and how they must vote. Close to the border with Rwanda, the Electoral Commission was holding another meeting, explaining to election officials how the polling would take place.

Joseph Winter, Lubumbashi, Monday 24 July

I have found it a challenge getting around DR Congo - but my problems were put into perspective by a prospective MP I met on the plane from Kinshasa to Lubumbashi.

Maguy Katuku Muzinga
Getting around is a challenge for candidate Maguy Katuku Muzinga
There is only one flight a week from Kinshasa, where Maguy Katuku Muzinga works as a teacher, to Kalemie, the nearest airport to her home in Nyuzu, on the other side of the country.

For the past two weeks, the flights have been full but she managed to get on the last flight before the elections.

However, when she arrives in Kalemie, she will have the choice to travel some 200km (125 miles) by motorbike on a dirt road or get the train.

As she is taking back lots of election material - posters, headscarves and 150 books for her local schools (for which she had to pay $400 excess baggage) - and says the motorbike journey is dreadful, she prefers to get the train.

But a bridge over a river between Kalemie and Nyuzu has collapsed, so she has to get a train as far as she can, get a boat across the river and then wait for another train to complete her journey.

She says that could take another two days but still manages to smile and laugh when telling her story.

Like other Congolese people, she is used to hardship.

But why bother with such a tiring and expensive business?

"Men have had their chance and failed, now it's the women's turn to develop our country," she says, confident that being the only female candidate, running against eight men, will deliver her the women's vote and therefore victory.

I just hope Ms Katuku gets there in time to campaign in person before election day, next Sunday.

Arnaud Zajtman, Kinshasa, Monday 24 July

When Nzanga Mobutu, 36, the son of former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, returned from exile to stand for the upcoming presidential elections after years in exile, thousands of people gathered and chanted "those who say that Mobutu has died are liars".

These elections are demonstrating how in DR Congo, politicians' sons - and sometimes daughters - walk in the steps of their fathers, and keep their names well alive.

President Joseph Kabila - the favourite in the current elections - is the son of Laurent Kabila, the rebel leader who toppled Mobutu in May 1997 and spent his short reign trying to fight off rebel groups until he was finally assassinated in January 2001, after which his son was appointed as his successor.

Poster of Joseph Kabila
Joseph Kabila is not the only politician to follow his father
Joseph Kabila has said of his father that "we had the same goal: the unity of the Congo. Only our means diverged".

Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former rebel leader, is the son of Bemba Saolona, a businessman who was one of the main funders of Mobutu's regime.

Justine Kasa-Vubu, an opposition figure and one of the leading female candidates in the upcoming presidential elections, is the daughter of Joseph Kasa-Vubu, the first President of the Congo.

Francois and Roland Lumumba, sons of Congo's first Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba who was killed shortly after independence, are candidates in the parliamentary elections while their brother Guy-Patrice is in the race for the presidential elections.

But though they have a name for themselves, their father was killed too early to make them any space in Congo's political arena, and they don't have important political parties to back them.

Mark Doyle, Lubumbashi, Monday 24 July

I find myself in a place that, at its urban centre, looks like a first world city planted in one of the poorest countries of the world.

Lubumbashi has well laid out, tree-lined boulevards, intact colonial architecture, and a fast food outlet called "Katanga Fried Chicken".

Miners examine find of copper stones
Katanga is one of the world's richest copper and cobalt producing areas

I meet a South African miner who explains where the money comes from. If you dig a ton of rock in the average mine around the world it yields $200 worth of minerals.

In the fabulously wealthy ground of Katanga Province, you get $1,000 worth of copper, cobalt, diamonds or gold for every ton.

I head for the border post with Zambia - a town called Kasumbalesa. There are hundreds of huge trucks lined upon the Congolese side, loaded with ore heading for processing plants in Zambia or South Africa.

There are also hundreds of truck drivers complaining about corruption - the kickbacks they or their bosses have to pay to get through.

I feel hungry so radio producer Dan McMillan and I wander into Zambia for lunch. No-one asks for passports as we cross the border, nor when we wander back.

A clearing agent working with the Congolese government is involved in a shouting match with a truck driver in the queue.

I interview the clearing agent. He tells me there is no corruption in Congo. None at all.


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