“Patronizing” an Opinion Poll: Congo Research Group Warning/Targeting Voters or Candidates?

My grandmother was sceptic on buying any narratives so long as she hasn’t yet touched it on her first hand. It was earlier 90s when she asked me how come so that eating a papaya or mango fruits could lead to malaria sickness? In the specific case, she was wondering if Malaria disease would come from a dysfunctional stomach used to eat “fufu” accompanied by bins-milk; and the time you start eating unfamiliar diet, it complicates the whole body to the level of being sick. Unconfidently, I replied that my uncle who taught me “Microbiology course” told me that malaria comes largely from Anopheles mosquito that mostly bites people during the late evening. I was was slightly confident due to the lengthy narratives around malaria sickness and the way people in the neighborhood thought it affects those who have eaten these fruits picked all around the streets mostly in Bujumbura and Uvira city, the nearby ones.

The debate was launched because she suspected that I might be displaying Malaria’s symptoms while she wasn’t aware over when I came across these fruits. Despite unclear information about the origin of malaria, my grandmother has had regularly witnessed its symptoms. The heating debate, as if we were approaching presidential elections, was turning around the narrative regarding papaya/mangoes fruits causing malaria so that she would tell me that these symptoms were looking like that of malaria. The time I reminded the story, I drew few lessons. On one hand, narratives can lead to “destruction” if people won’t behave as did my grandmother; questioning yourself and see if there is a possibility of finding the reality. Secondly, whatever narratives are, the state of symptoms will likely remain the same regardless that the entourage knows the origin of the disease. Thirdly, the lesser the root causes of Malaria are treated; the more additional sicknesses find an open door to attack.

This time, instead of debating over Malaria’s origins, the current hot debate is the public opinion poll ran by the Congo Research Group on several issues in the Congolese socio-political arena. The poll has drawn attention of journals’ Medias, Social Medias as well as public figures to the extent that it is being interpreted as politically motivated. Some of its proponents have marked the poll as rarely revealing the truth of Congolese’s ground viewpoint. On the other hand, it looks as “patronizing” when it comes to those feeling offended by its findings.  As do researches or polls, the poll contains “light and shades” to the extent that it hasn’t to be taken as perfect or simply as empty work. Based on the report, the contribution of the Eastern Congo Tribune Blog intends to analyze its shadow parts that would lead the reader to consider initiators as “dark-horses”.

Katumbi’s meeting

Though Medias and commentators have largely concentrated their attention on the “popularity of Presidential Candidates”, the poll’s report covers different aspects of the socio-political context in the DRC ranging from electoral process (trust and commission), constitutional revision, political dialogue-protestation and preferences, gender issues, justice, security, identity and nationalism as well as foreign involvement… Nevertheless, as the report coincided with the political crisis around elections, most readers got an interest by the “for whom would you vote if elections are to be held in 2016” question. Readers might have intentionally misled by the reporting that decided to begin with the popularity issue of presidential candidates at the front-page. However, nothing ascertains that this was the worthy question that laid the ground of the whole poll. If so, it might be that there was something working behind the scene. Few comments were drawn during my reading:

Poll’s Methodology

Even though the blogger tries to shoot into the dark for being slightly specialist in polling political opinion, it seems that, during “pre-election” campaigns, a methodology of face-to-face interviews must have been so expensive as well as time consuming. Additionally, when considering the DRC landscape, an interview conducted in all provinces; respondents dealing with 150 questions might have taken more resources and energy and it signals as approximately having complicated its monitoring/supervision schemes. However, depending on number of well-trained enumerators and supervisors, there is a possible that such poll can take few months as stated in the report (May to September 2016).

Secondly, the poll has been conducted during a sensitive period characterized by several debates around electoral process, political dialogues, “pre-campaigns” discourses… Therefore, the political climate requires to have well-trained enumerators whose intention and motivations were that of informing the public than pulling opinion in favor of any of the potential candidates.  Nevertheless, the report remains unlikely “silent” in terms of disclosing interviewers who were dismissed for having contravened to regulations. Furthermore, the Congo Research Group polling’s report has slightly elaborated on the sequential order of the 150 questions. The common sense would argue that questions such as political preferences—questions, as they can influence voting intentions, have to be asked before “vote question”.

In the same vein, assessing political opinion through a poll isn’t simply presenting voters’ intentions. From my standpoint, it’s about revealing the level of voters to express by themselves why they support any given candidates. Therefore, beyond determining the likelihood of voting, the public would need to link the candidate, her political agenda and the respondent wishes—preferences. Nevertheless, the poll’s report has slightly managed to connect these three features. It remains unclear if the respondent will possibly vote for a given candidate on what basis. The choice is based on any celebrity because the candidate is regularly reported on TV or radios? Thus, the polling report would have confronted key pre-campaign issues being debated, political party preference to the voting intention.

Practically, the poll has interviewed 55% male while the female constitutes a large share of the Congolese population. Nonetheless, it speculates in terms of convincing why female respondents were low as compared to male by covertly stating that male are likely to be found at home or willingly to talk to enumerators. It seemingly expresses that the sample was possibly drawn from the Households’ population. Consequently, anyone of the couple forming the household can respond though a notice would point out why female didn’t want to respond. Otherwise, it might be advisable that any other poll has to consider the gender weight during a survey where female and male are to take part because of the relevance of their respective views.

Respondents’ Socio-Economic & Demographic Characteristics

As shown into the report, the poll covered a quite range of respondents with diverse socio-economic characteristics. An important element is that the pool has interviewed around 74% (5583 persons) of respondents living in the rural areas against 26% living in cities. It reflects the picture of the distribution of population countrywide. However, the sample looks an evenly distributed across provinces. The figure 36 shows that there are some provinces where information has been collected to respondents as large as 14 times compared to others. This is the case, for instance, of Kwilu province having roughly 710 respondents interviewed compared to the Sankuru having almost 50. The report has nonetheless mentioned the reasons behind such discrepancies. There might be reasons that have led the Congo Research Group to unevenly collect the data. Otherwise, practitioners would unlikely disagree with such discrepancies as they can undermine the results. Moreover, the distribution displays generally a large gap between provinces. The same figure 36 shows that 14[1] provinces, from Kwilu to Equateur count for approximately 75% of the respondents; that is, 5,666 interviewees. Once again, the report has slightly stated what motivated such unequal distribution.

Most of respondents, 53% have the level of secondary education. In addition to the 20% who have accessed university education, it sounds that these were respondents who can widely have an independent opinion with regards to politics. Nevertheless, the sample contains 27% of individuals whose schooling level is less than primary school. The blogger keeps wondering how the percentage has been managed in terms of replying to the interview as well as their independence in terms of judging key issues in the Congolese politics. There is a possibility that the level of schooling cannot affect the ability to have an independent opinion. However, when the schooling feature is combined with the hard access to information that can be captured through lack of electricity (81%) as well as the share of respondents who don’t have radio devices (32%), it raises a question over how these respondents are getting informed on the political developments in DRC.

Additionally, the reader would remind that the report states that 54% of respondents live in an extreme poverty. Hence, an individual living in an extreme poverty, whose level of schooling is less than the primary school when she lives in rural DRC, she might unlikely be accessing an impartial information sources. Beyond narratives or hearsays, the blogger tries to capture how such respondents could have an idea on the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform & Consumer Protection Act or having an opinion on Edem Kodjo, a facilitator who went nominated in April 2016. This is possibly the reason of having 41.3% of respondents being uncomfortable in terms of influencing the decision taken by the government. Though there might be a number of readers who won’t share my viewpoint, I still feel that the report would help in clarifying such questions.

Political Preferences, Government Support & Voting Intentions

The report states that 44% are likely satisfied with the government interventions under Kabila’s presidency and Matata as the Prime Minister. By assuming that a large share of respondents can approve the government agenda, it would have consequently been reflected in the support towards any of the political figure running for forthcoming elections, on the PPRD’s ticket. Strikingly, the same respondents have approved the presidential majority potential candidates within the range of 0.7%-2.6%. Unless clearly stated, these respondents are confusing the reader or being confused by the interviewers to the extent that drawing a lesson becomes an odd task.

The blogger considers that the formulation of a question can disrupt the expected outcome during an interview. I would have been interested in the popularity of potential candidate or the satisfaction of respondents towards government’s actions than the combination of these two. Most of polls that the blogger has come across tend to express the level of voters’ satisfaction with regards to “leaders”. In this case, the popularity of potential presidential candidates would have been tested together as it gives an idea over who has the chances to win elections. At the same time, if needed, the poll would have tested the respondents’ level of satisfaction over the President Kabila’s achievements in a way that cannot undermine the outcome. My viewpoint is that an incumbent president, whose mandates are possibly to end in December 2016 wouldn’t have been mixed up with potential presidential candidates while the opinion fears any possible constitutional revision. Consequently, if these two aspects were separately captured, interested people in #CongoPolitics can easily comprehend what voters are looking for.

Presidential Majority Meeting in KInshasa 2016

   Mixing up potential candidates and the incumbent president, who until stated otherwise, can’t run for the third term, might have favored some candidates? The rose from the statement made into the report saying that “…. respondents in the north and the east.., switched their sympathies to Katumbi not due to a deep attachment to the candidate but because they think that the rich and successful former governor has the best chance at beating Kabila[2]. The report adds again “that could also explain why support for Tshisekedi has slipped in Nord-Kivu….. in Katumbi’s favor”. The statement sounds as an oversight that underestimates Congolese voters’ ability to judge an opinion. It restricts a political choice of voters on the only fact of “chasing President Kabila”. In case any candidate shows the possibility to “beat” Joseph Kabila, automatically, she/he will gain the support of voters! The blogger tends to likely espouse the “patronizing theory” of the report so long as it reduces choices of people interviewed to the simple “ouster of Kabila”. I guess that the poll failed in capturing why people would be willing to have any given candidate won the presidency; hence, it speculates on superficial judgement.

From my viewpoint, when going through the report, it obviously appears that respondents of the poll have an opinion over why they can vote for any candidate. They are not simply deemed to see someone leaving the office in order to get another entering; and that’s all. That is why 43.4% would prefer to see a candidate who’s not corrupted heading the state. They even want a president who cares on their livelihood (27.2%). These are respondents who consider at 35.5% that the criteria of voting for a president would include the fact she/he has to be a critical person characterized by charisma. In addition, these respondents feel that, at 46.7%, there is no exclusivity between development, security and elections. Hence, any elected candidate can handle all these issues at the same time. Moreover, these respondents have a take with regards to causes of conflict in Eastern Congo blaming corrupted institutions, weak army, minerals management as well as interferences of neighboring countries. Thus, finding an explanation of these intentions by bringing a candidate’s name that could beat another one as the only argument seems as unlikely underscoring their roles in politics or simply as an opportunity to pre-campaign for Katumbi.

Rassemblement Platform meeting in Kinshasa 2016

An independent observer of the Congo politics would also be interested by the details of 25% who would vote for other candidates (outside of the top 4) so long as it constitutes a quarter of intentions. When adding those who are yet undecided, it constitutes a large share of voters. The report (fig: 4) doesn’t clearly elaborate more on these others candidates. Moreover, while respondents who intend to vote for other candidates in the province of Equateur represent 5%, the figure 4 can be interpreted that Kengo wa Dondo would win, in the same Equateur, 12%. It seems as a minor mistake though it may shadow the interpretation of the report. Authors of the report didn’t explain where comes the 7% added to the potential candidate, the speaker of Senate. Furthermore, while approximately Kwango, Nord-Ubangi, Kwilu, Maniema and Kongo-Central provinces have respectively 55%, 52%, 49%, 33% and 25% of respondents who intend to vote for other candidates than the big 4; the poll has respectively reported on only 20%, 23%, 20%, 4%, leaving the Nord-Ubangi unreported.

Constitution, Security & Identities

There is a possible connection between security perceptions and the constitution revision as well as political acceptance of the ruling party. Respondents from provinces of Sankuru, Maniema, Nord-Ubangi, Kwango, Lualaba, Kongo-Central are likely to share some views with regards to security confidence and the way they perceive security services interventions from the police and the army. Moreover, respondents from these provinces are likely among those who could largely support a constitutional revision allowing President Kabila to run for the third term. The blogger would argue that there is an importance of having the point discussed by the initiator of the poll.

Subsequently, when trying to connect these three features, I thought that there is a possible link between feeling safer, approving the police and army capabilities and the acceptance of the ruling party or its candidates. Hence, the respondents might have been driven by political affiliation than objectivity during interviews. In case the latter hypothesis would be true, there is a necessity of reviewing how political affiliation interplays into responses. Therefore, if any probable poll is planned in the future, respondents would be analyzed with their potential political appurtenances and the poll would check how voter can switch from one candidate to another based on the latter’s political program. I am not sure if this falls in the opinion poll domain. My excuses!!

I was so skeptical to conceive a poll opposing three communities to the rest of hundreds of communities in DRC. From my viewpoint, its relevance would be subjected to debate. In addition, the conception narrows the socio-cultural diversities characterizing the DRC. Though not considered in the poll, there is a common feeling in Kinshasa and generally in West of the country that people from the Kivu are slightly Congolese. The fact has played an important role in favoring the Lingala and its hegemony among the four national languages; though Swahili is the large one. Ethnic identities can be found into the feelings of “superior Baluba” or the Katangese with regards to the rest of the provinces. It goes beyond with nowadays construction around the “Bantous” physiology versus “Soudanese” or “Nilotic”. The social construction went further in creating a resentment and exclusion based on physical characteristics.

In this case, I wish the poll wouldn’t have singled out Banyamulenge, Hutu and Tutsi when asking even people who wouldn’t have fair information of these communities. Astonishingly, I couldn’t capture how this fitted into the poll for someone willing to capture national identity and ethnic identities by disregarding the complexity of socio-cultural diversities. The report would have reminded a short background over why these three communities were likely “manipulated” or recruited into armed rebellions that were “allegedly” supported by Rwanda. Moreover, the poll confuses a reader like me when it comes to national identity versus ethnic identities. Both concepts are constitutional in determining nationality and are unlikely exclusive. That is, feeling a strong appurtenance to the state wouldn’t exclude the ethnic belonging. However, the worse attitude is wavering when it comes to have one choice between the national identity and the ethnic one.

I couldn’t judge the percentage of accepting these three communities though I feel that this wouldn’t constitute a huge concern in the future. Social construction in the context of DRC might have been accentuated the state decay during the thirty years of Mobutu’s regime. However, they remain “social construction” that can be de-constructed. My first time I went to Uvira city, I was simply interested in what is the vehicle, electricity, an asphalted road and mostly to see the sun rises in the morning over the Tanganyika lake; all these had remained mysterious during my secondary studies. I couldn’t get an authorization from my grand-mother as she couldn’t figure out such an interest of visiting Uvira. Through my initiation, I then found an opportunity to visit for two days her cattle, miles away of our village. This is was an excuse to visit the Uvira with one of the best friend.

During the one day visit in Uvira, it was easy to see young guys stoning people by chanting “Banyaruguru, Banyarwanda, Bords, Bungere be ngavu…” Just imagine such mood while the visitor was eager to touch everything he learnt mysteriously at the Institut Wanainchi. I am sure, in this case, a support from security services sounded as a dream. She couldn’t worsen the case when called for help. Two decades later, things have largely improved to the extent that the percentage may not reflect the reality. Hence, the reader would agree with me that social construction can be de-constructed; that is why we need to crosscheck our behaviors but also the polls. I am sure you have gotten what had caused my first malaria sickness that was being debated between my grandmother and me.

Find the link of the Congo Research Group’s Report here

NTANYOMA R. Delphin                              

Secrétaire Exécutif & Coordonnateur

Appui au Développement Intégré &

à la Gouvernance (ADIG)

Twitter : https://twitter.com/Delphino12

Blog: www.edrcrdf.wordpress.com

[1] The 14 provinces are: Kwilu, Nord-Kivu, Kinshasa, Sud-Kivu, Kasai-Oriental, Kwango, Haut-Katanga, Lomami, Kasai-Central, Ituri, Kongo-Central, Sud-Ubangi, Kasai, and Equateur.

[2] See page 8 of the report


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