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.
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.
President Kabila 19 July reaffirmed his commitment to respect the constitution, but remained vague on whether he intended to stand in Dec elections; according to electoral timetable, presidential candidates must register by 8 Aug. Major opposition parties 23 July jointly called for cleaning of voter list, cancellation of plans to use voting machines, confidence-building measures as outlined in Dec 2016 Saint Sylvester agreement and replacement of representative from opposition party Union for Democracy and Social Progress in electoral commission council. Opposition and ruling majority began talks on voter list. Opposition party Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) 13 July said it had chosen party leader Jean-Pierre Bemba, acquitted by International Criminal Court in June, as presidential candidate. MLC extended Bemba’s presidency of party for five years. Bemba returned to DR Congo 1 Aug. Ruling majority expressed doubt that Bemba was legally allowed run for presidency. Platform of opposition leader Moïse Katumbi 30 July said Katumbi would return to DR Congo 3 Aug. Electoral commission 24 June-13 July registered candidates for provincial elections and 26 July published provisional list of over 18,000 candidates for 715 seats. Govt reshuffled command positions in army 14 and 24 July. In first reshuffle, Gen John Numbi was appointed inspector general of armed forces and Lt Gen Amisi Kumba Gabriel was appointed deputy chief of staff; both have been sanctioned by international partners for involvement in human rights violations. Govt cancelled visits by UN sec-gen and U.S. ambassador to UN scheduled for July. Kabila reportedly also cancelled his visit to Angola planned for late July. Navies of DR Congo and Uganda 7 July exchanged fire on Lake Edward, which straddles disputed border, one Ugandan soldier killed. DR Congo 11 July accused Ugandan military of shooting dead twelve Congolese fishermen and arresting about 100 others. Congolese delegation visited Uganda late month to discuss issues over lake. Uganda 28 July said it had sentenced 35 Congolese to up to three years for illegal fishing. Govt 24 July declared over Ebola outbreak that killed 33 people.
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.
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 ball is very much in [President] Kabila’s court now. The president [of DR Congo] has been more or less silent for the last three months so this would be a good time for him to speak out.
Delayed elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where the stalled transition risks provoking a major crisis, are one of three critical African polls: the DRC crisis, the recent vote in Kenya and Zimbabwe’s election next year all have important implications for democracy and stability on the continent.
In an interview with ARD Africa Correspondant Alexander Göbel, Crisis Group’s Central Africa Project Director Richard Moncrieff discusses DR Congo’s many crises and how the international community can deal with the country’s ongoing political blockage.
Originally published in Tagesschau
With no chance that DR Congo will hold elections as planned before the end of 2017, Richard Moncrieff, Crisis Group’s Central Africa Project Director, describes the political blockage that is fuelling popular frustration with politicians, the spread of violence, and a sense that the vast country is fraying at the edges. He argues that even if there is slippage in the election timetable, all sides must remain engaged over the long term to coordinate the preparation of both technical needs like ballot boxes and registration lists and also keep up pressure for the opening up of political space for free campaigning.