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DR Congo yearns for end to long wait for new ID cards

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Congolese voters are hoping the government keeps its promise to produce new ID cards for the first time in decades after preparations for December elections finally offered them official documents.

National ID cards were last issued in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1990s, when the country was called Zaire and ruled by longtime dictator Mobutu Sese Seko

The vast Central African nation is home to around 100 million people, many of whom have no official documentation — apart from their freshly issued voter cards.

Between December 2022 and April, Congolese citizens of voting age registered on electoral lists in dedicated centers which gave them cards covered with a plastic film, a photograph and a QR code.

But as many Congolese have no passport, driving license or professional card, the small piece of cardboard is their only official ID document.
Elderly Congolese nostalgically remember their old “citizen’s identity card”, but they were cancelled in 1997 after Seko was overthrown by rebels led by former president Laurent-Desire Kabila.

Kabila gave the DRC its current name and governed the country until his assassination in 2001, when his son Joseph took over.

The younger Kabila tried to organize a census in 2015, creating the National Population Identification Office (ONIP).

But the opposition suspected the move was a stratagem to delay elections due the following year. Riots broke out and the census never took place.

– ‘Not logical’ –

The government under incumbent leader Felix Tshisekedi has revived the project in a bid to deliver basic documents to the population.

To save money and time, the government last year announced it would pool the activities of the ONIP, the electoral commission and the national statistics institute to register voters and identify the population.

As of April, it planned to issue ID cards from July. On June 8, a protocol was signed to transfer data and material from the electoral commission to the ONIP and the statistics institute.

But the exact start date and length of the campaign remain unknown.

Some think the authorities have mishandled the looming pile-up of paperwork by issuing voter cards first before identifying the population.

Dieudonne Mushagalusa, member of an expert panel from Congolese civil society, said the process was “not logical” as the electoral commission should refer to the ONIP and not the other way round.

Each of the commission’s registration files only contained 10 pieces of information, he said, arguing that more were needed for an ID card.

“We need to start from the bottom to the top, and not from the top to the bottom,” said Jean-Claude Likosi, a professor at the Congo Catholic University specializing in electoral and political communication.

– National identity questioned –

The financing of the scheme, the final cost of which has not been fixed, has also raised questions about the government’s ability to make good on its pledge.

Mushagalusa noted that government spending was mostly directed at organizing the elections and fighting armed groups, particularly rampant in the east.

The Francophonie Games, an international multi-sports and cultural event for countries of the French-speaking world to be held in the capital Kinshasa in July, will further drain government coffers.

The efforts to produce new ID cards also come as a fierce debate over national identity, or “Congolite”, grips the DRC ahead of the vote.

A proposed law would reserve certain senior posts, notably the presidency, for citizens born to Congolese parents.

That would rule out some politicians from running in December’s vote, including presidential candidate and leading opposition figure Moise Katumbi, whose father was foreign.

Civil society organizations and the country’s Catholic episcopacy have called for the “discriminatory” law to be abandoned amid rising tensions.

“This is a chance for the authorities to kill two birds with one stone, by clarifying once and for all the nationality of several figures,” said Likosi.

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©️ Agence France-Presse

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