Standing on a chair in a shabby classroom, a technician peels the plastic off the end of a cable with his teeth and attaches it to some exposed wires that dangle around a light bulb. “Soon the machine will work again,” he says cheerfully to a queue of voters, most of whom have waited for more than five hours. Across Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital, hundreds of voting machines did not work on polling day, December 30th. The electronic tablets, nicknamed machines à voler (stealing machines), did little to redeem their dodgy reputation. A lot of voters, unfamiliar with touchscreen technology, struggled to use them. Officials from the electoral commission, widely believed to be in President Joseph Kabila’s pocket, offered unsolicited help. Observers feared they were nudging people to vote for the president’s chosen successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.
The following day, as tallies (some fake and some real) circulated, Congolese authorities switched off the internet to “maintain public order”. It may not be reconnected much before January 6th, when provisional results are due.
Opinion polls in such a vast and disorderly place as Congo must be treated sceptically. Nonetheless, the ones before the election showed that the main opposition candidates were far more popular than Mr Shadary. Martin Fayulu, a successful former oil executive, promised better governance and less corruption. Félix Tshisekedi, the son of a dead democracy activist, vowed rather improbably to raise average incomes nearly tenfold.