Today is very special to the African continent with two major election days taking place in Egypt and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In these two big African countries, WITNESS has two very active campaigns. In Egypt, WITNESS works with the Egyptian Democratic Academy (EDA) to empower youth to effectively advocate for protection of human rights, justice and accountability. And in the DRC, WITNESS works with the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice and five women’s rights organizations based in Eastern DRC to advocate for justice and accountability for sexual and gender crimes committed against women and girls, where rape is used as a weapon of war.
For both our partners, and their constituents, allies, and audiences, these elections could be a turning point.
Youth in Egypt Are Working Towards Democracy
Today, Egypt is holding its historical parliamentary election as part of a process that would lead to the establishment of new and democratic institutions after the fall of Mubarak in February.
Last June, I went to Cairo to conduct a training with EDA. At this training and several follow up trips I have since made, most of the people I met were expecting real change to happen in their beloved country. The young people I trained were hoping to use video to advocate for economic and social change, and were dreaming of seeing a democratic Egypt. They were sure that the rulers were going to listen to their aspirations including their desire to participate in the political process, as they thought that the removal of Mubarak from power was the toughest challenge.
The following video (in Arabic) is one of six videos produced by EDA and includes the voices of youth talking about their hopes for democracy, justice and their involvement in the first ever democratic process.
The massive participation of youth in the country’s democratic process is partly motivated by the ultimate desire to live in a country where human rights values are fully respected and enforced by the authorities who are being elected.
As the situation worsens, especially at the time of this election, youth activists are determined to getting rid of the military rule that has proven to be ineffective and unwilling to deliver the change that the youth have fought for. Tahrir Square is more than ever the headquarters of the protesters.
Women Go to the Polls in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Meanwhile, also today, the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are going to the polls to elect their president and the members of the parliament. This is the second election in 40 years, held in the country where war has been ongoing since 1996, and where thousands of women and girls are enduring rape, sexual and gender-based violence every year.
In Congo’s election, women and girls over 18-years-old are expected to make the majority of the voters; they want to ensure their voices are heard, and that justice and accountability for gender crimes remain top priorities of the new elected authorities. They women remain vigilant against any violence related to the election.
The International Criminal Court has cautioned Congolese politicians against any escalation of violence before, during and after the elections:
It’s amazing to see these elections taking place despite the challenges. As an African and a human rights advocate, these two elections, in Egypt and in the DRC, represent for me a dream that has come true since I didn’t think this would be possible. I believe all people in Egypt and the DRC hope for security, justice and accountability, and a better future in the days ahead.