Yesterday the Carter Center announced that the run-off Presidential election held on October 29, 2006, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was “extremely orderly and peaceful” and “very well executed.” This is a remarkable piece of good news for the inhabitants of this war torn country and those of the entire region, which has been destabilized for more than a decade due to almost non-stop cross-border clashes. And it is an example of one of the myriad ways in which the United Nations is fostering peace and prosperity around the world.The run-off on Monday was the third successful election held this year in the Congo, which had not, prior to July, had a free election in over 46 years and has been embroiled for over a decade in a conflict that may have killed up to 4 million people. While there have been a number of factors that have made these elections possible, there can be no question that the United Nations played a central role. The Congolese have received massive amounts of support from the UN’s peacekeeping mission in the DRC (MONUC) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
MONUC and UNDP have helped register 26 million Congolese to vote at 9,000 registration sites. Voter registration kits were distributed to every village by light aircraft, by truck, by canoe, and by hand to overcome infrastructural difficulties in this massive country. Despite being the size of Western Europe, the Congo has only 300 miles of paved roads. And, it has one of the absolute lowest per capita GDPs in the world.
The UNDP Electoral Assistance Program undertook a widespread civic education program, which included plays, musical performances, classes, and films, to educate the 23rd largest electorate in the world, which is predominately illiterate and had never participated in an election. UNDP also delivered over 30 million ballots and other technical equipment to over 50,000 polling stations.
There is no doubt that the road to lasting peace in this complex nation is long and uncertain. But the Carter Center’s stamp of approval certainly bodes well for the possibility of forward movement and makes a strong argument for the power of the UN as a stabilizing factor in some of the world’s most hostile and complicated situations.