Voter registration kicked off in Democratic Republic of Congo over the weekend, as the country prepares the for December 2023 general election.
President Felix Tshisekedi is expected to seek re-election after a first term marked by economic hardship and a resurge of rebel activity in the east.
Almost 50 million people across the central African nation’s 26 provinces are expected to register to vote over the next three months.
The logistical challenges of holding an election in a such vast country with limited resources were felt early on, however, as registration opened in the first 10 provinces on Saturday morning to long lines and undersupplied stations.
“There are no machines. They should have postponed instead of setting a date and then doing nothing when people arrive,” said medical student Mike Tshamala, waiting with a dozen others at a registration point in central Kinshasa.
Congo’s electoral commission (CENI) rolled out a new cellphone pre-registration system to speed up the process and prevent the long queues that formed during past polls.
Iris scans have also been added to limit fraud.
But most registration stations in the capital Kinshasa failed to open as scheduled due to lack of staff and material, Reuters reporters observed. Citizens in other provinces made similar observations.
An election observer who did not wish to be named told Reuters only 6,900 out of over 11,000 kits needed for the first phase of registration had arrived at the start of last week.
“It’s like a car, you start… in first gear, you don’t go directly to third gear,” CENI chairman Denis Kadima said after signing up in Kinshasa on Saturday.
Tshisekedi, 59, also registered on Saturday in the northwest city of Mbandaka, where an Ebola outbreak occurred earlier this year.
Martin Fayulu, the second-place finisher in the last presidential vote, has already announced his intention to run against Tshisekedi again.
Opposition leader Moise Katumbi, the powerful ex-governor of Congo’s copper-producing Katanga province, will also run.
Congo’s economy has been battered by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Ukraine war since he was first elected in 2019, hiking inflation and the cost of living in the mineral-rich country.
Insecurity has spiraled in Congo’s volatile east since the M23 rebel group, which Congo accuses Rwanda of backing, staged a major offensive in March this year.