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.
On 20 May prominent opposition leader and businessman Moïse Katumbi returned to the Democratic Republic of Congo from exile. In this Q&A, Crisis Group’s Deputy Project Director for Central Africa Nelleke van de Walle discusses the possible impact on Congolese politics, five months after Felix Tshisekedi’s controversial election as president.
Ethnic violence erupted in Ituri province in north east and could escalate in July, insecurity and Ebola epidemic persisted in east, and opposition protested against constitutional court’s invalidation of over twenty of its legislative victories. In Ituri province in north east, longstanding enmity between ethnic Hema and Lendu erupted in clashes early June; by 18 June attacks and fighting in Djugu territory had left at least 170 dead. In North Kivu and Ituri provinces, by 23 June Ebola had killed over 1,500 since epidemic began in Aug 2018, and armed groups and communities continued to disrupt response. Two cases identified in neighbouring Uganda. Tshisekedi’s alliance Heading for Change (CACH) and Kabila’s coalition Common Front for Congo (FCC) 22 June agreed that of 45 ministries CACH members would head fifteen and FCC members 30; CACH would hold defence, foreign affairs and justice and FCC interior ministry, but Tshisekedi would choose interior minister. FCC contested Tshisekedi’s “unilateral” 3 June presidential orders to appoint new heads of national railways and mining company, which have yet to enter into force. In response, supporters of Tshisekedi’s party 10-11 June protested in capital Kinshasa, Lubumbashi and Goma, clashing with security forces in Kinshasa. Constitutional court 11 June invalidated election of 33 MPs in Dec polls, 23 of them from opposition Lamuka platform, in each case benefitting FCC. U.S., UK, Switzerland and Canada 14 June criticised decisions for “undermin[ing] a peaceful political climate”. Tshisekedi 17 June met constitutional court’s president, who promised to review decisions. Lamuka supporters defied govt ban and protested on independence day 30 June in Kinshasa and Goma, North Kivu; police violently dispersed protests, one killed in Goma. Several political exiles returned including former VP Jean-Pierre Bemba 23 June, who signalled his opposition to Tshisekedi. Tshisekedi 8 June submitted DRC’s application to join East African Community and 13 June visited Burundian President Nkurunziza.
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.
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.