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.
President Tshisekedi struck deal with former President Kabila’s coalition on govt formation and took steps to open political space, as senatorial elections sparked protests and violence persisted in east and centre. Tshisekedi’s coalition and Kabila’s Common Front for Congo (FCC) alliance 6 March agreed Kabila will name “formateur” to appoint new govt. Tshisekedi 13 March pardoned some 700 political prisoners, released some and same day opposition leader Moïse Katumbi received passport, previously denied by Kabila govt. In 15 March senatorial election, FCC won 84 of 100 seats, triggering opposition protests in capital Kinshasa, Goma, Mbuji-Mayi and Lubumbashi. Consequently, electoral commission, national assembly, outgoing senate, prosecuting authority and presidency 17 March suspended senate’s appointment and postponed provincial governor elections sine die; FCC contested decision. Tshisekedi 29 March lifted suspension following investigation by court of cassation. Opposition electoral coalition Lamuka 24 March in Brussels said it would study possible transformation into political platform. Parliamentary and municipal polls, due Dec but delayed due to Ebola and insecurity, held 31 March in Beni and Butembo in North Kivu in east and Yumbi in Mai-Ndombe province in west. U.S. Assistant Sec State for African Affairs Tibor Nagy 13 and 15 March relayed U.S. support for Tshisekedi presidency; U.S. treasury 21 March imposed new sanctions on electoral commission leadership, constitutional court president and former national assembly speaker for reported involvement in corruption. After Belgium and DR Congo agreed late Feb to revive ties, including to increase flights between Kinshasa and Brussels, visa facility for Schengen area reopened 6 March after over a year. Violence persisted in east and centre, especially in Ituri, Tshopo, North Kivu, South Kivu, former Katanga provinces and Kasais. In Ituri, North and South Kivu, army clashed with Mai-Mai groups. In North Kivu, attacks continued to hamper Ebola response: militants 10 March attacked treatment centre in Butembo for second time, killing police officer. UN Security Council 29 March renewed mandate of UN stabilisation mission in Congo until 20 Dec.
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.