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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Congolese Citizens Need a Miracle to Get to the Polls

BUNIA, Democratic Republic of Congo -- Getting the vote out to this eastern Congo town means conquering inaccessible jungle, without access to telephone networks or banks to pay poll workers. And then there are the militiamen running rampant across this lawless corner of a vast nation just emerging from civil war.

"In many countries you have logistic, security or communication problems," said Ali Diabacte, chief of the UN's electoral division in the Democratic Republic of Congo. "But in Congo we have to deal with all of these problems at once."

Over 25 million voters have registered for a vote many hope will usher in peace and democracy in a country ravaged by brutal Belgian colonial rule then crippled by dictatorship and rebellions. Since the end of back-to-back wars from 1996 to 2002, Congo has been led by a transitional government that has paved the way for the vote. It was to be the first democratic vote for leaders since Patrice Lumumba, who led Congo to independence from Belgium, was elected prime minister in 1960.

The UN has launched Africa's largest air operation -- over 100 aircraft and helicopters that crisscross Congo dozens of times daily -- to deploy thousands of ballot boxes, electoral agents and salaries across forests and lakes spread over land the size of Western Europe.

With only 500 kilometers of paved roads in all of Congo, the electoral commission is relying on ballots tied to the back of bicycles, rocking on shaky canoes or atop villagers' heads to reach the most remote villages. Some 50,000 voting stations are embedded deep within tropical forests or in river towns. On July 30, voters will face multipage ballot sheets listing hundreds of candidates -- over 9,000 candidates have registered to fight for 500 seats in the parliament, and an additional 10,500 will compete for seats in the 26 provincial assemblies.

"This is the first vote; of course there will be imperfections," said Diabacte. "But it will be the beginning of democracy in Congo."