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Last Updated: Saturday, 29 July 2006, 17:47 GMT 18:47 UK
Congo election reporters' log: Saturday
People in Mbuji Mayi

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:

Joseph Winter, Kinshasa, Saturday 29 July: 1830 local time

Election officials are getting ready to spend the night in the polling stations. Voting starts at 0600 local time (0500 GMT in western DR Congo, 0400 in the east) and they have to start setting up an hour before.

One teacher told us there was no way of getting from his home, about 30km away, to the polling station by 0500, so he is staying overnight.

We visited one school which hosts 16 separate polling stations, so about 80 people will sleep there, watched over by the security forces.

There are no beds, mattresses or even tents. The lucky ones will get the armchairs, while the rest will sleep on the concrete floor, covered in sheets.

Luckily, it is not too cold even at night but the mosquitoes will no doubt feed well.

Just another reminder of the size of the task in organising these elections - and the dedication of those involved.

In one polling station, they have already set up the voting booths, made from ingenious cardboard flat-packs. Amazing what you can find in Ikea these days.

Karen Allen, Bunia, Saturday 29 July: 1130 local time

With less than 24 hours to go until the polls open, official campaigning has now stopped and final preparations are under way to ensure the elections run as smoothly as possible in a country which has not seen multi-party elections for more than 40 years.

Where I'm standing people are already flocking to polling stations. Many have come from miles all around.

Once the votes have been cast and the initial counting complete, a fleet of nearly 100 UN aircraft will help transport the ballot boxes to a central point.

It's the biggest election the international community has had to help oversee, not just because of the size of the electorate, but the sheer scale of this vast country.

Joseph Winter, Kinshasa, Saturday 29 July: 0900 local time

The loud speakers have gone quiet in Kinshasa.

Well, at least those blasting out campaign songs and slogans from vehicles driving around the town.

And the many TV channels have gone back to normal programming - the non-stop stream of election broadcasts has been replaced by adverts for more mundane things such as powdered milk and competitions run by mobile phone companies - send an SMS for a chance to win a car.

Saturday is a day of rest ahead of Sunday's landmark elections.

One newspaper has the headline: Day of truth.

Noel Mwakugu, Kisangani, Saturday 29 July: 0900 local time

Kisangani has experienced the most hectic time during this whole month of campaigns.

There has been a lot of hooting and chanting as candidates, both parliamentary and presidential, rushed to beat the Friday night deadline for campaigns to end.

Nzanga Mobutu, the son of the Mobutu Sese Seko, former ruler of this massive country, has pitched camp here and so has his rival Zahidi Artur Ngoma. This is good for the poor jobless youth who are having a fun fair shouting their voices hoarse and riding their bicycles silly, at times daring the UN mission (Monuc) drivers to knock them over.

I hear its big business - if you're knocked over by a UN car, the dollars that come with the pain are appealing. At least no one was knocked.

Yesterday I took a 45-minute flight to Buta Division north of Kisangani, I have never seen an election mean so much to people in the DR Congo as it did here.

The place is a typical example of how DR Congo has been neglected. Most of the "modern" buildings were constructed by the Belgians in colonial times, and so were the roads.

The colonialists loved the women here I am told, and built the first university. But not many of the women are literate - how sad.

People here are going to the poll on Sunday with only two real choices: Joseph Kabila and his close rival Jean-Pierre Bemba.

The rest of the 31 candidate are just pictures on the ballot paper they could not afford flight tickets probably since the roads do not exist.

Buta was Mr Bemba's stronghold during the war and many people were also killed here when Ugandan forces and the Rwandans clashed in foreign land where in the name of securing their borders they ended up looting the resources.

A woman I met here made my day - she forgot all her pains to express pity for the men here, who can not even afford a Kitenge (dyed fabric) for their wives.

She hopes that if a new government comes in her husband and many others will benefit from the massive gold and diamond deposits here.

People who try to dig them out at the moment get arrested by angry and unpaid police officers who in turn sell the cargo to brokers at ridiculously low prices.


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