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.
Govt formation remained stalled as coalitions led by President Tshisekedi and former President Kabila failed to agree on PM and cabinet appointments; insecurity continued in centre and east. Officials from Tshisekedi’s Heading for Change (CACH) alliance and Kabila’s Common Front for Congo (FCC) met in Kisantu, Kongo Central province 6-7 April to negotiate PM and cabinet, but failed to reach agreement; Tshisekedi refused to appoint FCC’s proposed PM Albert Mulimbi, chairman of state-owned mining company Gecamines. In 31 March legislative elections in Beni, Butembo and Yumbi (postponed from Dec due to Ebola and violence), Lamuka opposition platform won ten of fourteen parliamentary seats and Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC) of Tshisekedi’s Chief of Staff Vital Kamerhe and FCC won one seat each. In governorship elections, FCC won in sixteen of 22 provinces 10 April; governor elections postponed in North Kivu, Mai-Ndombe, South Ubangi and Sankuru. In document made public 30 April, prosecutors dropped investigation into allegations opposition leader in exile Moise Katumbi hired mercenaries, opening way for his return. Tshisekedi made first domestic tour as president 12-16 April to Lubumbashi in south east, and Goma and Beni in east. In U.S. 3-5 April, Tshisekedi met International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde who promised resumption of cooperation, suspended since 2012, and Belgian Deputy PM Reynders who pledged to revive ties. In east and centre, over 2,600 Mai-Mai militiamen surrendered 25 March-9 April. In South Kivu in east, army 2 April arrested leader of Raia Mutomboki armed group; 29 more Raia Mutomboki units surrendered 8 April. In North Kivu in east, clashes between three rival armed groups – Nduma Defence of the Congo/Rénové de Guidon, Alliance of Patriots for a Free and Sovereign Congo (APCLS) and Mai-Mai Nyatura – caused escalation in killings, rapes and robberies. Army 11 April said it had killed 36 members of Burundian rebel groups, National Liberation Forces (FNL) and Burundian Republican Forces (FOREBU), 6-8 April in Uvira territory, South Kivu. In Ituri province in north east, unidentified attackers killed eight people in Kalo 5-7 April.
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.