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Congo Election Is a Step Toward Democracy

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Votes are being counted in the Democratic Republic of Congo after the first direct nationwide elections in more than 40 years. Congolese and UN officials and foreign observers said turnout was high and voting was mostly orderly and peaceful at the landmark polls.

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton covered the vote from the capital, Kinshasa. Here's her report.

(Soundbite of music)

Choir: (Singing in foreign language)

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON reporting:

A choir singing ahead of Sunday mass at St. Anne's Church here in Kinshasa, which served as one of 50,000 polling stations nationwide. Twenty-five million Congolese were eligible to vote in yesterday's historic election, hoping to turn the page on years of dictatorship and conflict.

Decades of misrule have brought this mineral-rich African giant, located at the heart of the continent, to its knees. But there were long lines of enthusiastic voters hoping to make history and shed that into legacy.

Many like this young choir singer were casting their ballots for the first time.

Mr. MICHELE SAKIRI(ph): My name is Michele Sakiri. I'm 27 old.

QUIST-ARCTON: Michele?

Mr. SAKIRI: Yes?

QUIST-ARCTON: How do you feel today?

Mr. SAKIRI: I feel very great. I'm very, very happy. Very happy because it's an important step for our country to come to election. This is my first time I vote. Even my mother, my mothers, she's 54, she (unintelligible). She never vote. I'm very, very glad to vote today. Yes. I think it really bring us something better in the future.

Unidentified Man: (Speaking foreign language)

QUIST-ARCTON: Vote counting continued deep into the night, by lamplight in some places. Voting around Congo was generally peaceful, though there was some reports of disorder.

The list of 33 presidential candidates including former rebel leaders and warlords. Some are already mumbling about being cheated at the polls. But Ross Mountain, the deputy head of the United Nations mission in Congo, the biggest UN operation in the world, said he was pleased about how the vote had gone.

Mr. ROSS MOUNTAIN (Deputy Head, United Nations Mission in Congo): There are minor incidents. We never thought this would be an incident-less process. We're delighted it's a triumph for the Congolese people and an extraordinary achievement for the Independent Electoral Commission, who, after all, have never ran an election before. This is the first election here in over 40 years. Remarkable. The population is now expressing itself massively. Let's see what they have said.

QUIST-ARCTON: These elections are just the first step for Congo. Over the next six months, polls will be held to choose new senators as well as provincial and local governments. The final result of the presidential election aren't expected for several weeks yet.

And if no one candidate wins the first round outright, a presidential runoff is scheduled at the end of October. Congo's newly elected president is scheduled to be sworn in either at the beginning of September or in December, marking a new beginning for this war-weary central African nation.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Kinshasa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.