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The Reluctance of Joseph Kabila to Cede Power Could Push Congo to the Brink
The Reluctance of Joseph Kabila to Cede Power Could Push Congo to the Brink
Briefing 107 / Africa

Congo: Ending the Status Quo

A new consensus and strategy are urgently needed to tackle the numerous, brutal armed groups in eastern Congo and to save the February 2013 Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework (PSCF) in the Great Lakes region.

I. Overview

The November 2013 defeat of the M23 armed group raised the hope that, after almost two decades of conflict, fundamental change and stabilisation were possible in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the region. This was the result of a rare convergence of interests between Kinshasa and major international and regional actors. However, the unity of vision and action that materialised in the February 2013 signing of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework (PSCF) agreement has now dissolved. It needs to be restored, if necessary through the UN Security Council (UNSC) convening a high-level meeting of DRC government, other key regional players and international actors to develop a shared and comprehensive strategy to deal with the armed groups still operating in eastern DRC. Failure to do so will prolong the tragic status quo of attacks and pillaging by armed groups against an already brutalised civilian population.

The dismantling of armed groups, the raison d’être of the UN mission’s Intervention Brigade (FIB), as well as the DRC government’s national reform agenda, have both stalled. The handling of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) has become the PSCF’s symbolic stumbling block. As the region’s 2 January 2015 deadline for their demobilisation nears, views between some of the regional stakeholders (including the main troop contributors to the UN’s Intervention Brigade, South Africa and Tanzania), the DRC and the UN on what to do next clearly diverge. The failure to complete the demobilisation of the M23, which remains cantoned in Uganda and Rwanda, also demonstrates the disagreement and distrust among the PSCF signatories, and partly results from Rwanda’s irritation that the Congolese army and UN are not putting military pressure on the FDLR. Initiatives to tackle other armed groups are piecemeal and opportunities for disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) lost because Kinshasa and donors disagree. The entire stabilisation agenda for the eastern provinces is at risk.

The failure to deal with armed groups means continued, unacceptable exactions against the civilian population, in particular in large parts of eastern DRC (Ituri, North and South Kivu and Northern Katanga Province). It also contributes to regional tensions and undermines the credibility of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), in particular regarding civilian protection.

To end the present stalemate and drift to the 2 January 2015 deadline, as well as to revive PSCF implementation, MONUSCO, the UN’s envoy to the Great Lakes region and the UN Security Council (UNSC) should urgently:

  • build consensus around a clear and comprehensive strategy to deal with the armed groups, based on lessons learned from earlier operations, with effective military pressure, built on intelligence-led operations including deployments of troops to disrupt the capacity of armed groups to collect revenue, as well as contingency plans to avoid civilian casualties; DDR; agreement about judicial treatment of groups’ leaders; police action against local and international support networks; and third-country settlement options.

The governments of Rwanda and the DRC should:

  • send a clear signal to returning former combatants that they will receive a fair and transparent treatment, while there should be full understanding that there cannot be political dialogue with “genocidaires”. A monitoring mechanism, such as that established by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for returnees, could be established to build confidence among returning former combatants.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) and International Confer-ence on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) should:

  • make a thorough and fair assessment of the progress in the voluntary disarmament process of the FDLR in January and abstain from a further extension.

The UN Security Council and the main funders of MONUSCO should:

  • press the FIB troop contributors, in particular South Africa and Tanzania to make good on their commitment to carry out targeted operations against armed groups;
     
  • if no action is taken against the FDLR in January, convene a special high-level meeting bringing together the DRC government, other key regional players – Angola, Burundi, Malawi, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda – and international actors including the World Bank, SADC, ICGLR, European Union (EU), U.S., UK, Belgium and France to forge a new way forward. The meeting should focus on the causes of the present stalemate and outline the humanitarian, political and economic cost of the status quo and the risk of compromising future investment in the region as long as instability prevails; and
     
  • consider ending the mandate of the FIB if the Congolese government and the troop contributors remain unwilling to take action, based on the measures outlined above, to help demobilise armed groups, particularly the FDLR.

Nairobi /Brussels, 17 December 2014

Op-Ed / Africa

The Reluctance of Joseph Kabila to Cede Power Could Push Congo to the Brink

Originally published in The Guardian

The actions of President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) make clear his intention to stay in power beyond his second term. But with the people set against it, and a strong and unambiguous two-term limit in the constitution, his ambitions are leading his country to a dangerous impasse.

Since 2010, Kabila has deployed various tactics to delay the elections, hoping that this will allow him to stay on in a transitional arrangement. He has already achieved one of his goals: the timetable for presidential elections this year is no longer feasible.

This is a hazardous strategy. Riots in January 2015 killed dozens of people. Since then, the government has locked up leaders of civil society movements fighting to protect the country’s hard-won constitution. Given the scale of the organisational task and the lack of progress, the country will not be able to hold elections until well into next year.

Presidents clinging to power can destabilise countries. In neighbouring Burundi, breaking a post-civil war promise not to extend a presidential mandate has quickly undermined the trust, social cohesion and political accord needed to avoid conflict.

Congo-Brazzaville is plagued by unrest after President Sassou Nguesso changed the constitution and then went on to win a controversial election in March. Where governments remain highly centralised and institutions weak, the guarantee that power will change hands is vital to ensure that grievances are expressed peacefully.

DRC suffers from overly centralised government and a patronage system in the hands of the incumbent. The deal that ended the civil war in 2002 shared the spoils of peace among former warring parties and other political hopefuls in the form of a government of national union, and then through a broad-based governing majority.

The limit on presidential terms gave a guarantee that power would eventually be rotated, even if, at the time, short-term gains were at the forefront of most minds. Unless Kabila moves on, prominent and popular politicians, many his former allies, could be out in the cold for good. Facing a stubborn regime with less and less legitimacy, some may decide that violence is the only way to force change.

Activists see term limits as a weathervane of democratic progress. Term limits are now in place across southern Africa, although in countries dominated by strong liberation parties, the presidency has passed to someone from within the ruling party: Tanzania, Namibia and Mozambique. In Nigeria, Zambia and Senegal, presidential ambitions to stay on have been thwarted by rival elites or strong institutions, such as parliament and civil society. The president of Niger’s bid to cling to power was thwarted by his own army.

Central Africa has a particularly bad record. Weak institutions and centralised power have handed incumbents a huge advantage, not only in winning elections, but also in changing constitutions. International partners, including some aid donors, have not voiced concern often enough, worried that too much democracy could upset fragile stability. Since the democratic advances of the early 1990s, Central African Republic is the only state to have had a proper democratic handover of power, in 1993. That’s a very troubling record.

In DRC, the peace agreements of 2002 that introduced the presidential term limit brought welcome stability. But the deal kicked justice issues into the long grass and did not address centralised and corrupt governance. Kabila, like his counterpart in Burundi, is almost certainly worried that justice for violence committed in the civil war may catch up with him if he leaves office. 

Trust, stability and the cohesion of the political system therefore lie at the heart of the “third term” question. African leaders considering these issues, in the African Union (AU) and elsewhere, face complex dilemmas. Some don’t believe in the principle of regularly handing over power. Others don’t want to interfere in the internal affairs of a neighbour, unless the instability threatens their borders.

Western powers promoting term limits therefore have no common African position to rally behind. They have also been frustratingly inconsistent, playing down Rwandan president Paul Kagame’s machinations to serve another term, while condemning the decision of the Burundian president, Pierre Nkurunziza, to run for re-election, peddling more softly on Kagame than Nkurunziza.

Pressure needs to be put on those unwilling to leave, but there comes a point when leaders are so entrenched that there seems little point in challenging their right to hold office. Calling it early is therefore vital. That is what the international community failed to do when Kabila removed the second round of the presidential elections in 2011 and went on to win a fraudulent election in November of that year.

A political system is based on trust that everyone will abide by the rules to at least a minimum extent; without that, stability will be short-lived. The international community should speak out at the right moment against leaders overturning constitutional provisions to suit their own agenda. This is especially true when previous conflict means trust is in short supply or faith in elections as a means of transferring power has been undermined.

Failure to speak out sends a message to opposition leaders that the only way to power is through violence – a conclusion that would spell disaster for DRC and other countries in the region.