Polling in the Congo

We are still a long way away from elections in the Congo (November 2011 is the chimerical date), but, as any Congo Siasa enthusiast will know, there are already a bunch of contenders. See here for two short Jeune Afrique interviews with Vital Kamerhe and Etienne Tshisekedi from last month – both are good speakers, Kamerhe more so than Tshisekedi, who looks a bit tired, but who also has a much longer track record of a serious political opponent, ready to sacrifice a lot. Kamerhe is an unknown in that regard – is he launching an opposition movement “pour aller jusqu’au bout,” or is this a negotiation tactic with Kabila?

In any case, Kamerhe implies (without saying it – “let Congolese speculate positively”) that he will be a candidate in 2011 and that he has met both Tshisekedi and Bemba recently.

So who is popular in the polls? “What polls?” would be the appropriate answer, I think. There is not much to go by in the Congo – BERCI, perhaps the most reputable pollster in the country, hasn’t been heard of much in recent years. Polls are usually commissioned by the press or political parties. The former are too poor in the Congo (circulation is probably no more than 10,000-15,000 for the most popular ones in Kinshasa, although statistics vary), and political parties have not yet adopted polling as a useful tactic. After all, a good polls is expensive, as you have to get a decent sample of the whole country and avoid selection bias by just selecting phone owners or city dwellers.

Nonetheless, the pollster Institut les Points published a poll in the newspaper “Le Soft” a few days ago that asked voters who they would vote for in a presidential election. It’s a classic “Le Soft” piece – the newspaper once commissioned a poll from the same institute asking who the most popular newspaper in the country was – surprise, surprise, it was “Le Soft,” which is owned by former Mobutist and RCD minister Kin Key Mulumba.

Anyway, for whatever it’s worth (it may not be much), the poll ranks Joseph Kabila first with 27% of the vote, Tshisekedi second with 22% and Kamerhe third with 5%. Say what? That totals up to 54% – who did the other 46% vote for? If my math is right, and no other candidate got more than 3rd placed Kamerhe, there must have been at least eleven other candidates or a large percentage voting for nobody.

The second poll that I would recommend looking at was conducted by the popular diaspora website Congo Mikili, who have a video here explaining the results. I like their emphasis on how “scientific” the poll is, and therefore the number cannot be contested (“others may tell you otherwise, but this is the scientific truth). Hmmm…it was a poll on a website, taken overwhelmingly by people outside of the Congo – most voters came from France, Canada, US, UK and Belgium. The words “selection bias” come to mind, especially as Congo Mikili has a pretty heavy anti-Kabila tone.

In any case, Tshisekedi was surprisingly popular for leader who boycotted the 2006 elections (to the dismay of many) and took the crown with 30%, JP Bemba is runner-up with 14%, Moise Katumbi got 12% and “No leader” got 11% – i.e. “I don’t like any of the above options” – and Joseph Kabila got 8%.