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 Democratic Republic of Congo awaits the official results of 30 December 2018 elections, amid hints that unofficial numbers show an opposition presidential candidate winning. Conflicting tallies could spark violence. Outside powers should stand together in urging calm and careful verification of the electoral outcome.
After rise in election-related violence and one-week additional postponement, general elections took place largely peacefully 30 Dec, disrupted in several places by logistical problems; opposition claims of fraud raise risk of violence when results are published in coming weeks. In run-up to vote, violent incidents occurred between opposition supporters and security forces or ruling coalition supporters in Mbuji-Mayi 1 Dec and Tshikapa 9 Dec (both Kasai province), in Kindu (Maniema) 9 Dec, in Lubumbashi (Haut-Katanga) 11 Dec and Kalemie (Tanganyika) 12 Dec, leaving up to eight people dead. Some violence was triggered by govt attempts to block rallies and movement of opposition presidential candidate Martin Fayulu; in other instances ruling coalition supporters were targeted. EU 10 Dec extended sanctions on ruling coalition’s presidential candidate Emmanuel Shadary and others until Dec 2019. Opposition Lamuka coalition 16 Dec reversed position saying it would accept use of voting machine, but insisted that electoral commission only take into account results from manual counting. Fire at electoral commission warehouse in capital Kinshasa 12-13 Dec destroyed much of election material for city, opposed politicians blamed each other. Electoral commission 26 Dec announced election would be delayed till March 2019 in four constituencies (Beni, Beni ville, Butembo ville, all in North Kivu province in east and Yumbi in Mai-Ndombe province in west) citing security problems and Ebola. After days of protests, citizens in Beni and Butembo organised mock elections 30 Dec to demonstrate decision unjustified. Several voting stations opened late 30 Dec due to lack of equipment or voter rolls and some voting machines encountered problems. Four people killed in dispute over alleged fraud in Walungu, South Kivu province in east 30 Dec. Main opposition candidates claimed widespread irregularities and some instances of fraud favouring Shadary. Armed group violence continued in North and South Kivu and Mai-Ndombe province. Most serious incidents included fighting between army and Mai Mai Yakutumba militia in Fizi territory, South Kivu that left four soldiers and fourteen rebels dead; Mai Mai Mazembe militia attacked Mbelu, North Kivu, at least one militant killed; Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) militia 9 Dec attacked Nalu in Beni, North Kivu killing at least ten civilians and 16 Dec attacked army in Beni. In Mai-Ndombe, clashes between Banunu and Batende communities 16-18 Dec left at least 45 dead.
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.
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.