Voting in Democratic Republic of Congo’s long-anticipated presidential election got off to a rocky start on Sunday due to torrential rain in the capital, long delays at some polling stations and broken-down machines.
Three opposition strongholds will see no casting of ballots at all after the authorities cancelled the vote there, citing health risks from an ongoing Ebola outbreak and ethnic violence.
Elections are a rare event in Congo, which has been plagued by authoritarian rule, assassinations, coups and civil wars since independence from Belgium in 1960.
If President Joseph Kabila, in power since his father’s assassination in 2001, steps down after the vote it will be the country’s first ever democratic transition.
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Kabila voted early in the morning in the capital Kinshasa at the same school as the candidate he is backing, former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, whom the latest opinion polls showed trailing two opposition candidates.
“My only concern is that we have this very heavy rain and probably voter turnout might be low, but hopefully the skies will clear, and the voters will turn out in numbers,” Kabila, wearing a dark blue suit, told reporters.
The Catholic bishops conference (CENCO) said voting had not started on time at 830 polling stations, equivalent to about one-fifth of the stations across the country where it had deployed observers. It also said 846 polling stations were installed in “prohibited places” like military and police posts.
In the eastern city of Goma, where the weather was clear, a Reuters witness saw residents casting their votes, but another polling station in the city was still closed 90 minutes after polls opened at 6 a.m (0400 GMT).
“Some (voters) do not even know how to use the voting machine,” said Kayembe Mvita Dido, who was waiting in line at a polling station in the shadows of the towering Nyiragongo volcano. He was referring to the new electronic voting system, criticised by the opposition as vulnerable to fraud.
Several machines broke down in Kinshasa, Goma and Bukavu, bringing voting in some places to a halt, witnesses said. Some voters complained they could not find their names on the rolls, and flooded streets in Kinshasa prevented others from reaching their polling stations.
“We have some issues and we are handling them all,” electoral commission (CENI) spokesman Jean-Pierre Kalamba said on state television. “When a problem arises … the solution won’t be perfect … We’re choosing the lesser evil.”
Despite repeated delays to the election, which was originally meant to take place in 2016, diplomats and poll observers have said authorities are ill-prepared, raising fears of a repeat of the violence that followed elections in 2006 and 2011.
Kabila’s agreement to stick to constitutional term limits should represent progress for the mineral-rich central African country.
Critics, however, say they doubt the vote will be untarnished by fraud, and that Kabila could continue to rule from the sidelines. He has not ruled out running again for president in 2023.
Violent protests erupted this week after authorities announced that voting had been cancelled in the Ebola-hit eastern cities of Beni and Butembo, their surrounding areas and the western city of Yumbi. Together, they account for more than 1.2 million out of 40 million voters nationwide.
In Beni, dozens of voters lined up on Sunday morning to write their choices on sheets of paper, residents said.
Opponents of Kabila say the government is trying to tip the election in favour of Shadary.
The most recent poll released by New York University’s Congo Research Group on Friday showed former Exxon Mobil manager and opposition lawmaker Martin Fayulu leading the race on 47 percent, buoyed by discontent with Kabila’s 18-year tenure.
Under Kabila, Congo has seen strong economic growth from surging copper and cobalt output but only meagre improvements to average people’s quality of life.
Another opposition leader, Felix Tshisekedi, trailed in the poll with 24 percent, while Shadary got 19 percent.
“I will vote for Martin Fayulu,” said Mama Wivine, 40 and unemployed, as she waited for the machine to arrive at her polling place in Kinshasa’s Camp Luka neighbourhood. “We hope he can bring jobs and better conditions for us Congolese. We are fed up with the regime of Kabila.”
After voting in Kinshasa, Fayulu said: “Today, we mark the end of Mr. Kabila, the end of the misery of the Congolese people.”
But Shadary has big institutional advantages, including round-the-clock coverage on state media. Kabila appointees also dominate national institutions.
“I think victory is on my side and that tonight I will be president,” Shadary said after casting his ballot.
The CENI has tried to reassure the opposition about the voting machines by saying that only print-outs from the machines counted by hand will be factored into the official results.
But any disputed outcome could lead to a wider security breakdown across Congo, particularly along its eastern borders with Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, where dozens of armed militia are active.
The last polls close at 5 p.m. (1600 GMT), although voting will continue for those still in line. Voters are also choosing representatives for the national and provincial assemblies.
Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard
Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.
However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
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Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
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Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard
President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
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Drastic life changes affecting mental health
Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.
Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.
Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.
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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.
In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020. It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.
A study by Dr. Habil Otanga, a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.
KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.
Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.
As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.
“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”
Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.
“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.
Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.
“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”
Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.
“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.
Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.
Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.
She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.
Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.
“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added
Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.
“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and also engage in reading that would help expand their knowledge.