A fire has destroyed much of an election commission warehouse in Kinshasa as tensions rise in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with just 10 days to go before historic presidential elections which could see the country’s first-ever democratic transition of power or bring further instability and violence. The fire damaged thousands of controversial new voting machines and has stoked fears the poll will be undermined by logistic challenges and fraud. Barnabé Kikaya bin Karubi, a presidential adviser, blamed unidentified “criminals“ for the blaze, which destroyed about 7,000 of the 10,000 voting machines due to be used in the capital, Kinshasa, but said preparations for the 23 December election were continuing. Kikaya said police guarding the warehouse – located in the upscale and usually secure Gombe riverside area of Kinshasa – had been arrested but made no further comment on what or who might have caused the blaze. Opposition supporters claimed the fire was the result of arson and accused Joseph Kabila, in power since 2001, of seeking an excuse to postpone the poll.
“We are dealing with a criminal regime. This is not a fire that is accidental. The prime suspect must be the regime itself,” said Valentin Mubake, a former secretary general of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UPDS), the principal opposition party.
One man was shot dead and another injured in clashes between UPDS supporters and local security forces in the southern town of Mbuji Mayi on Thursday.
The violence came hours before Felix Tshisekedi, leader of the UPDS and one of the two leading opposition candidates, was due to fly in to the city for a campaign rally.