DR Congo vote: The dangers of democracy
There is a frenzy in the city of Goma in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
The crowds one evening this week surge along the dark, dirt roads towards the blare and roar of a slow procession of cars.
Even the pickpockets are grinning, as I pull one hand, then another, from my pockets.
The presidential election campaign has come to town, and the local favourite, Vital Kamerhe, is being borne on the back of a pickup, atop a makeshift throne, through the centre of Goma.
"We want roads, we want hospitals, we want jobs, we want our leaders to pay us attention," shouts a group of young men to me in near unison, as the procession surges round us and we cling to a police post for safety.
There is a ferocious desire for change, and peace, in DR Congo - coupled with a deep sense of humiliation that such a rich country has been brought so low for so long.
But the elections - 11 people are running for the presidency and a mere 19,000 for seats in parliament - have also inspired the sort of heated loyalties that could well trigger violence when the results come through.
"The incumbent will win, and the losers will create chaos - or try to create chaos. But we will sort it out here in Goma in a couple of days," says Bizima Karaha - an influential powerbroker and businessman, who invites me for dinner at his lakeside villa.
Mr Karaha, who has the ability to insert himself into every key moment in the country's tumultuous political journey, seems fairly confident that President Joseph Kabila will hold on to power, if only because the opposition is divided and there is only one round of voting.
But like many here, he warns of the deep Balkan-style ethnic tensions that still simmer in the DR Congo and compares the situation to Ivory Coast - "the only difference there is that the incumbent lost".
As if to prove the point, a tribal chief arrives at the villa from the mountains west of Lake Kivu, and tells Mr Karaha that forces linked to a presidential candidate are arming local men with automatic weapons, mortars and rocket propelled grenades.
Nothing better illustrates the enduring lawlessness and impunity here in eastern DR Congo than the case of Ntabo Ntaberi Cheka, a militia leader wanted for allegedly organising mass rapes, who is openly campaigning for election as a local MP.
A credible source tells me that he appeared in the centre of Walikale on Wednesday, under the protection of the Congolese army that has orders to arrest him.
"We are disappointed," says Hiroute Guebre Sellassie, who runs the UN's mission, Monusco, in the region. "But we hope that he will face justice in the future."
Elsewhere in the Kivus, other candidates have faced death threats and been forced to abandon their campaigns.
And yet, one well-placed Western official in Goma, speaking on condition of anonymity, told me that, despite massive logistical problems - and the lingering possibility of a short postponement - the election process had been going more smoothly than anticipated, and that most of the tensions were related to "parochial" issues that might create "flashpoints" but would not necessarily derail the country.
Perhaps DR Congo will manage to navigate a smooth path through the coming days.
The region will be watching this wounded giant and its latest election closely.
But it could be close, and tense - a dangerous ordeal rather than a celebration of democracy.