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.
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.
Govt and opposition continued to wrangle over preparations for Dec elections, as armed group violence persisted in east. International Organisation of La Francophonie 6-25 May audited voter register, identified multiple issues, including that 16.6% of voters had been registered without digital recording of their fingerprints; recommended how electoral commission could improve register. Govt 18 May said that list of authorised political parties and coalitions – contested by opposition parties and NGOs – would be revised based on recommendations of committee for follow-up of Dec 2016 Saint Sylvester agreement. Catholic Church 15 and 24 May expressed concern with stalled implementation of Saint Sylvester agreement and with various aspects of election preparations and repeated call for independent audit of voting machines. Kabila 14 May appointed three new judges to Constitutional Court, including two close allies. Police disrupted meetings of opposition leader Moïse Katumbi’s Together for Change movement in Lubumbashi, Haut-Katanga province 3 May and in Bunia, Ituri province 19 May. Three MPs, including two Katumbi allies, banned from parliament 11 May, officially for absenteeism. Katumbi and opposition leader Félix Tshisekedi 25 May confirmed intention to put forward single presidential candidate. Violence continued, especially in east. Unidentified assailants killed park ranger and kidnapped two British tourists and their driver in Virunga national park, North Kivu province 11 May, releasing driver almost immediately and tourists two days later. Mai Mai militia attacked convoy of UN mission (MONUSCO) in Tanganyika province 11 May. Mai Mai militia attacked Namoya gold mine in Maniema province causing multiple casualties 24 May, reportedly tried to take foreign workers hostage but repelled by guards. Suspected Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) militia attacked Mangboko village, Beni territory, North Kivu 20 May killing ten civilians. ADF militants clashed with army on Mbau-Kamango axis, North Kivu 24 May, fourteen ADF and five soldiers killed. Ebola outbreak in Equateur province began early April, reported 8 May; 35 cases confirmed and 25 deaths recorded as of 28 May, World Health Organization began using experimental vaccine.
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.
Political uncertainty and increasing polarisation between government and opposition, combined with escalating violence in many provinces, have set the DRC on a dangerous trajectory. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2017 – Third Update early warning report for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to denounce attempts by the DRC government to further delay the polls and offer technical electoral support to the Electoral Commission.