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.
On 20 May prominent opposition leader and businessman Moïse Katumbi returned to the Democratic Republic of Congo from exile. In this Q&A, Crisis Group’s Deputy Project Director for Central Africa Nelleke van de Walle discusses the possible impact on Congolese politics, five months after Felix Tshisekedi’s controversial election as president.
President Tshisekedi took further steps to open political space and improve regional and international relations, but insecurity persisted, especially in east. Moïse Katumbi, coordinator of opposition platform Lamuka and former Katanga governor, 20 May returned from three-year exile after court overturned conviction and prosecutors dropped investigation against him initiated by govt of former President Kabila. Ne Muanda Nsemi, leader of politico-religious movement Bundu Dia Mayala whom Kabila govt imprisoned but who escaped and disappeared in 2017, reappeared in Kinshasa 6 May, arrested 9 May but released next day at Tshisekedi’s request. Body of Tshisekedi’s father Etienne, opposition leader who died in Belgium in Feb 2017, repatriated 30 May, move previously blocked by Kabila. After months of negotiations between Tshisekedi and Kabila camps, Tshisekedi 20 May appointed Sylvestre Ilunga Ilunkamba, member of Kabila’s party, as PM. Martin Fayulu, Lamuka’s losing presidential candidate, continued to contest results and 15 May threatened to mobilise protests if Tshisekedi did not resign within weeks. Kabila’s Common Front for Congo (FCC) coalition took four of five posts in North Kivu province’s parliamentary bureau 14 May and won with significant margins in delayed senatorial elections in North Kivu and Mai-Ndombe provinces 18 May; FCC now has 86 of 109 senate seats. Tshisekedi continued to strengthen relations with regional and international partners: notably he received Rwandan army chief 10 May; Belgian political and security delegation 12 May; Ethiopian President Sahle-Work 18 May; and French FM 20 May, who promised €300mn for education, health and security sectors. In North Kivu, clashes between army and militia Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) caused displacement in Rutshuru territory, 2 May left eight dead; in Masisi territory, Nduma Defence of Congo-Renovated (NDC-R) militia continued to take ground from rival groups Alliance of Patriots for a Free and Sovereign Congo (APCLS) and Force for the Defence of Human Rights/Nyatura; in Beni territory, attack attributed to Allied Democratic Forces militia 17 May left at least five civilians and one soldier dead. In Ituri province, assailants attacked market on Lake Albert killing nineteen.
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.
As election preparations in the Democratic Republic of Congo proceed, President Joseph Kabila has announced he will not run for re-election. He may hope this important move will relieve outside pressure for free and fair elections. International actors should keep up the scrutiny.