OTTAWA - A young Canadian man has been arrested in the Congo, caught up in the political powder keg that is the Central African country, his family says.
Ottawa resident Fabien Shambuyi Kalala is one of dozens of people picked up off the streets of Kinshasa in the wake of the country's presidential elections, now under scrutiny by global observers.
And Canada needs to step up its own condemnation of the November vote before arrests devolve into far more violent confrontations in a country that has already lost millions to war and disease, analysts say.
Kalala, 24, was supposed to fly back to Ottawa from the Democratic Republic of the Congo last week to spend Christmas with his family, but they became worried when he didn't call, his mother said in an interview.
Repeated calls to his cellphone were eventually answered, only for his family to hear him arguing with police officials, Marie-Therese Kapinga said.
"We're afraid, we're very afraid," she said.
A spokesman for Consular Affairs Minister Diane Abolonczy said officials are aware of a Canadian under arrest.
"Canadian officials in Kinshasa are providing consular assistance to a Canadian who was arrested in the Democratic Republic of Congo and officials in Ottawa are in contact with his family," John Babcock said in an e-mail.
Family members believe Kalala's arrest is directly connected to his relationship with Etienne Tshisekedi, who challenged current President Joseph Kabila for the presidency.
Kabila had taken over leadership of the Congo after his father was assassinated in 2001, and was elected president in the country's first elections in 2006.
Tshisekedi, a veteran of African politics, had boycotted those elections.
In the 2011 ballot, the Congolese election commission said Kabila won 49 per cent of the vote, with Tshisekedi capturing 32 per cent, but the U.S.-based Carter Centre said the results "lack credibility."
The centre said multiple polling locations reported turnout rates as high as 100 per cent with all votes going to Kabila, while in the country's capital, nearly 2,000 polling station results were lost.
Fourteen electoral officers have been arrested for alleged fraud and manipulation of vote counts, the electoral commission said Wednesday.
Kalala had travelled to Kinshasa to volunteer on Tshisekedi's campaign, as the two families are related, his brother Joelle Munumba said.
Munumba said his brother is facing trumped-up charges of insulting Kabila and the chief of police, and said while he's been told there is video evidence, it has yet to be produced.
"It's all political stuff," Munumba said.
"He is in danger. With all the stuff going on, Kabila is just killing everybody."
Human Rights Watch says more than two dozen people were killed in the weeks following the vote, and hundreds more injured, while Amnesty International reported dozens of arrests amid growing political tensions.
The vote results also sparked protests in Ottawa, Toronto and several U.S. cities over what many Congolese considered a fraudulent election.
Kabila was sworn-in as president on Dec. 20, but Tshisekedi insists he is the victor and declared himself president.
Tshisekedi's party said Tuesday that seven more of its supporters were killed by security forces on last Friday and 540 detained to prevent the opposition leader holding his inauguration.
"Tshisekedi is sitting on his militant young men and they are being picked off one by one at home with a knock on the door at 4 a.m., 5 a.m.," said Frank Chalk, director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies at Concordia University.
"He can't sit on them forever ... At a certain point, they are going to arrest him and the stack is going to blow. We have to head that off. "
Both the United States and the European Union have expressed alarm over the electoral results, with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling last week for a review of the process by Congolese and international officials.
A spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird wouldn't go that far.
"We continue to urge all parties to exercise calm and restraint, and for all political actors to avoid inciting violence or taking action that might lead to a further deterioration of the security situation," Rick Roth said in an e-mail.
"Free, fair and transparent elections are crucial for peace and stability in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the region."
But Canada needs to push harder, Chalk said.
The government needs to flatly reject the results and call for a recount in the same vein as the U.S., he said.
"This is something the government of Canada could do that would get a lot of attention because we're sort of the gold standard in this area," he said.
Canada contributed $9 million over five years to the UN to help fund the election and it's fair to ask tough questions of the process, Chalk said.
"We're footing the bill for a lot of this. It's not imperialist, it's not colonist to say 'We're paying the bill so there's some conditions you have to meet,'" he said.
The situation in the Congo deserves as much scrutiny as Canada has given elections in other emerging democracies, said Payam Akhavan, an international law professor at McGill University and a former UN legal adviser.
Since 2009, Canada has deployed more than 400 people as election observers around the globe, according to statistics from the Canadian International Development Agency — including some 200 alone for the Ukrainian elections in 2011.
For the elections in the Congo, six Canadians went as part of a larger E.U. contingent of 118 observers.
Minister of International Co-operation Bev Oda told the House of Commons earlier this month that was the largest delegation allowed.
"Africans deserve no less than Iranians or Egyptians or Russians when it comes to human rights and fair elections," said Akhavan.
"Economic interests should not blind us to the principles that we claim to uphold in our foreign policy."
While the Congolese are considered among the poorest people in the world, the country is rich in natural resources.
A fact sheet on the Foreign Affairs website says Canadian investments and assets in the country's mining sector were estimated at $1.73 billion in 2010.
Most of the Canadian-owned mines are in Kabila's home province of Katanga.
At the G8/G20 meetings in Toronto last year, Canada held up a deal to forgive the DRC's debt because of a dispute over a Canadian mining company's operations.