The Democratic Republic of Congo’s leading Opposition party says it is unconvinced by recent assurances that President Joseph Kabila will abide by the Constitution ahead of the presidential election.
Kabila is due to leave office when his second and final term expires in December 2016. But critics continue to accuse him of plotting to stay in power longer, and the United Nations has warned of renewed violence and instability in a country that has never had a peaceful transfer of power.
Henri Mova Sakanyi, secretary-general of the ruling party, declared this week that Kabila would not try to change the Constitution and seek a third term.
But main Opposition party spokesperson Bruno Tshibala said on 12th July that party leaders still “have the distinct impression that Kabila does not want to respect the Constitution.”
The head of the United Nations mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Maman Sidokou, says he does not believe the country will be able to hold its presidential election as scheduled in November. He told a press conference on 14th July in Kinshasa that even a partial revision of the electoral register, in preparation for the vote, would take at least another nine months, meaning the election could not be held until 2017.
Tension though has been mounting in Congo amid Opposition claims that President Joseph Kabila wants to delay the vote so he can stay in power past his mandate, which expires at the end of 2016, and under the DRC Constitution, Kabila is barred from running for a third term.
DRC Opposition leader Moise Katumbi again warned on 14th July that President Joseph Kabila risked plunging the country into an “even worse crisis” by letting doubt linger over when he will step down.
Kabila, in power since 2001, is widely believed to be considering throwing aside the Constitution to take a third term in office after his tenure expires at the end of the year.
In a speech to mark DR Congo’s Independence Day this week, the president gave no hint that he would depart on December 19, declaring only that “nothing can stop the passage of future elections.”
“This missed opportunity, and the uncertainty sustained by [Kabila’s] speech risk instead plunging the country into even deeper crisis,” said Katumbi, who came second to the president in 2011 polls that were marred by fraud.
DR Congo has been in political crisis since then, but tensions have bubbled over into deadly unrest in recent months as fears continue to grow that the President would try to hold onto power.
Tensions rose further when the country’s Constitutional Court ruled in May that Kabila could remain in a caretaker capacity beyond December 2016, until elections are finally held.
Kabila’s supporters want elections, due later this year, to be delayed for two to four years. No exact date has yet been set for the polls.
In May, Opposition parties forged an alliance to demand Kabila quit his post in December, warning that staying on would be tantamount to a “constitutional coup d’état”.
Katumbi was an ally of Kabila for a decade but quit the ruling party in September 2015 over the president’s plans to split several provinces into four separate entities. Katumbi then left the country on May 20, a day after the government announced he would be tried for “endangering state security”.
On 22nd June in Kinshasa, Katumbi was sentenced (in absentia) to three years in jail over a real estate dispute, effectively making him ineligible to stand in any elections held this year, though Katumbi subsequently released a statement saying any charges against him were trumped up, and created to “prevent me standing for president. Neither the sentences, nor the harassment to which I have been subject, or the physical violence, can shake our determination. On December 20 2016, Joseph Kabila will no longer lead the DRC.”
Katumbi remains in South Africa receiving medical treatment but has declared that despite the recent sentencing, he is determined to return to the Congo to ensure that Kabila does not cling to power. He stated that he is intending returning to Kinshasa by 31st July, to attend a meeting of the unified Opposition under the current leadership of UDPS’s veteran politician Etienne Tshisekedi.
Katumbi holds the belief that if Kabila does not set a date for the Presidential elections by September, or if Kabila attempts to remain in office beyond December 2016, peaceful protests by ordinary Congolese citizens would force him out.
In the face of this, the US Govt is also trying to bring some pressure to bear on Kabila’s regime. This month, the US Govt placed Kinshasa police chief Celestine Kanyama, a staunch ally of Kabila, on the sanctions “black list” meaning US citizens are now no longer permitted to conduct any business with him, while any assets Kanyama may have in the US have been frozen. According to the US Treasury, this should send “a clear message that the US condemned the regime’s violence and repressive actions, especially those of Celestin Kanyama”.
As Kinshasa’s chief of police, Kanyama was responsible for police actions during which around 40 people were killed during an anti-Kabila demonstration. But the sanctions also contain a message to Kabila, in that he is no longer considered a potential “model” African leader, and that he and his Government have failed (in the eyes of the US Govt at least) to fulfil the expectations that were placed on them.
Despite the mounting tensions in Congo, the international community is unlikely to be willing to intervene in yet another African election, in marked contrast to 2006 when Joseph Kabila became President in Congo’s first free elections after decades of military strongman rule (firstly under Mobutu, then under Joseph Kabila’s own father, Laurent, until his assassination in office). During the 2006 elections, around 2,000 EU troops were in the country to guarantee that the poll, which was funded by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), would be free and fair.
Amongst European Governments, the German Government, for example, supports DRC with around 260 million Euros (USD290 million) in development aid annually, and this is unlikely to change, on the basis of the Europeans’ belief in diplomacy and dialogue to effect change, rather than punishments which have proven ineffective in Africa, with Governments turning to China (and most recently Russia), neither of which place conditions on the aid they provide.
Western influence in Congo at any rate is diminishing, with Kabila indicating recently that while he cherishes cooperation with the West, he rejects external interference in Congo politics. With China having huge investment in Congo’s mineral resources, Kabila will not be inclined to bow to any Western pressure. The mood in Western capitals should be to leave African matters to African Union mediation, and to leave the Congolese and their neighbours to find their own solution to their problems