A decade of relative stability is at risk from rising polarisation over the delayed organisation of elections and President Joseph Kabila’s determination to stay in power beyond his constitutional time limit in December 2016. Crisis Group is alerting policymakers to the threat of popular violence, harsh crackdowns by the security forces and the continued threats posed by existing and emerging armed groups. Through advocacy based on field-researched analysis of national and local political dynamics and regional diplomacy, we seek to persuade domestic rivals to compromise in their disputes, to create a consensus among stakeholders on a transition to credible elections, and to persuade African and Western powers to coordinate their efforts to end the Congolese crisis.
In 2019, the African Union faces many challenges, with conflicts old and new simmering across the continent. To help resolve these crises – our annual survey lists seven particularly pressing ones – the regional organisation should also push ahead with institutional reforms.
Opposition candidate in late Dec polls, Félix Tshisekedi, installed as president 24 Jan in first peaceful transfer of power in country’s history amid strong concerns of vote rigging; and UN reported at least 535 people killed in ethnic violence in west mid-Dec. Electoral commission (CENI) published provisional results 10 Jan declaring Tshisekedi winner with small margin ahead of opposition Lamuka alliance’s candidate Martin Fayulu and ruling coalition’s candidate Ramani Shadary in third place. Amid strong concerns of vote rigging constitutional court 19 Jan confirmed Tshisekedi winner; Fayulu declared himself president. Southern African Development Community (SADC) and other African countries including Egypt, incoming AU chair, took lead in welcoming decision; others, including EU, took note. Former President Kabila’s coalition, Common Front for Congo (FCC), won majorities in national assembly (335 of 485 seats) and in most of 26 provincial assemblies. While security situation remained largely calm, results triggered protests in Kikwit, Kwilu province, Fayulu stronghold, and less so in Kisangani, Mbandaka, Goma and Kinshasa. Police 21 Jan dispersed small Fayulu-led rally in Kinshasa. Govt shut down SMS and mobile internet services 31 Dec-19 Jan, until just before confirmation of results. UN late Jan said at least 535 people were killed in clashes between Banunu and Batende communities in four villages in Yumbi territory, Mai-Ndombe province in west 16-18 Dec; some 465 houses and buildings reportedly burned down or pillaged, estimated 16,000 fled across border into Republic of Congo. UN 29 Jan said violence appeared to have been started by dispute over burial of local chief. In South Kivu, Burundian army backed by Burundian ruling party’s Imbonerakure youth wing and local Mai-Mai militants 16 Jan launched operations in Kaberagure, Uvira territory against Burundian rebels including from RED-TABARA and National Liberation Forces (FNL) groups backed by local Mai-Mai militants; seventeen people reportedly killed. In North Kivu, army 19 Jan clashed with splinter group of Rwandan Hutu rebels Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) near Katale, Masisi territory; army clashed with Allied Democratic Forces rebels in Mapobu, near Beni 21 Jan. In Ituri province, army 22 Jan reported killing of leader and six members of Simba armed group and ethnic Lendu militia attacked army position. Govt 28 Jan said it had extradited to Rwanda two FDLR members.
The ICC’s acquittal of Jean-Pierre Bemba comes at a critical point in DR Congo elections. President Kabila and his opponents will have to recalibrate strategies ahead of Bemba’s likely return. Outside powers should keep pressing Kabila to stand down and allow opposition candidates to participate.
A moment of waning international attention has led some in President Kabila’s camp to revisit the idea of an internationally-opposed third presidential term. African and Western leaders must maintain unity, redouble efforts to dissuade Kabila from pursuing this course and ensure preparations for elections in 2018 continue apace.
Elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been postponed since December 2016, but now seem to be slated for the end of the year. All parties should work to ensure credible polls, the best hope for a peaceful transfer of power.
In 2018, the African Union (AU) and its new Assembly Chairperson President Paul Kagame of Rwanda have the chance to push ahead with much-needed institutional reforms. But the AU must not lose focus on dire conflicts and defusing potential electoral violence.
President Kabila’s delaying tactics are holding hostage DR Congo’s political transition, while internal strife and government repression are weakening the opposition. Western and African actors need to coordinate their approach to the deepening crisis, support the advancement of democratic elections and encourage the opening of political space.
Angry demonstrations hit Kinshasa in September as President Kabila’s aim to stay in power beyond a 19 December constitutional deadline became clearer. Regional and international actors must use diplomatic and financial levers to bring about credible democratic elections and to reverse the DRC's worsening spiral of violence.
[President of DR Congo] Tshisekedi's swearing-in is often sold as selling out democracy in favor of stability. But it’s pragmatic and based on developments on the ground.
The [DR Congo] regime wants to hold on to power, but does not have the legitimacy or the strength to push this through.
We have a date [for DR Congo's presidential election], and it is technically feasible to organise [them] for the end of next year. Whether it is politically realistic is another question.
There is evident concern of growing instability and a frustration [in DR Congo] at the political blockage that is fueling popular frustration and the spread of violence in the country.
[A statement by former African leaders could bridge] the gap between sitting African leaders, who are putting little pressure on Kabila, and the west, who are imposing sanctions and demanding an election.
We should not see [MONUSCO] as the force that can go in and stabilise the Kasai [in DR Congo]. It can, at least, stop government and militia forces committing human rights violations in impunity.
The DR Congo is facing a major political crisis over the 30 December election’s result. A recount would allow subsequent negotiations to take place on the basis of a clear understanding of who won.