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DR Congo: What Next for the Political Process?
DR Congo: What Next for the Political Process?
Kamuina Nsapu Insurgency Adds to Dangers in DR Congo
Kamuina Nsapu Insurgency Adds to Dangers in DR Congo
Congolese Catholic Church (CENCO) Bishops arrive to mediate talks between the opposition and the government of President Joseph Kabila in Kinshasa, DR Congo, on 21 December 2016. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya
Commentary / Africa

DR Congo: What Next for the Political Process?

The Catholic bishops of DR Congo have ended their mediation efforts between President Kabila and a deeply divided opposition. Amid a backdrop of worsening insecurity in the Kasai provinces, Kabila’s agreement to appoint a new prime minister could merely mark the beginning of more protracted in-fighting.

The last ten days have seen important developments in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): the end of the DR Congo Catholic Church’s attempts to implement its 31 December agreement, more violence in the Kasai provinces, a new UN Security Council resolution, and a speech by President Kabila announcing the imminent appointment of a new prime minister. How are all these connected?

On 31 December an inclusive political agreement, mediated by the Catholic bishops of DRC (CENCO) was signed between the government and opposition. The agreement stipulates that elections must be held by the end of 2017, and that a national union government should be formed and tasked with getting there. It is the current framework for all domestic and international deliberations and was strongly supported in UN Security Council Resolution 2348 of 31 March.

But three months in, the new government has not been named. The main stumbling block is how to name a prime minister – the opposition want to present one name for the president to approve, while he wants him to select from a three-name shortlist. When the CENCO ended its mediation and left the initiative to President Kabila, the latter organised consultations with the signatories of the agreement. The Rassemblement, the main group in the opposition, refused to participate in these talks.

The political standstill has been feeding into already growing unrest throughout the country.

On 5 April, a week following the CENCO’s exit, Kabila addressed a joint session of parliament. In a speech intended to be reassuring, he said that elections will be organised according to a forthcoming timetable. Claiming a consensus between the parties on how to appoint a prime minister (PM), the president gave the Rassemblement, among whose ranks the prime minister has to be selected, 48 hours to present a list of candidates. He claimed to have established a consensus on the “authority of nomination”, a clear sign that he intends to retain full control over the naming, and potential dismissal, of the new PM.

The political standstill has been feeding into already growing unrest throughout the country. Tensions have increased in cities like Kinshasa, Lubumbashi and Goma, and a stay-away protest (a campaign known as villes mortes, or “dead cities”) was widely observed on 3 April. Violent conflict at the provincial level has intensified. In addition to the ongoing conflicts in the eastern provinces (Ituri, North and South Kivu) new clashes have been reported in Tanganyika, at the border with South-Sudan and in Kongo-Central province

Most important is the spreading conflict in the Kasai region where clashes between militia and security forces have killed hundreds since August 2016. The discovery of mass graves is causing international controversy and may lead to a commission to investigate war crimes. This surge in conflict, often rooted in very local circumstances, is fed by the decreasing legitimacy of the national government as the process of political transition stalls. It is also having severe humanitarian consequences. A further risk if provincial unrest continues is that it drains international attention and resources away from the central issue of organising elections, and even throws into doubt whether they can be achieved. 

Both political blockage and provincial violence had an impact on negotiations at the UN on the renewal of the mandate of the peacekeeping and stabilisation force (MONUSCO). The debate was also overshadowed by the murder in Kasai of two members of the UN Panel of Experts on DRC. As the Security Council backed the December agreement, talks aimed at implementing it were unravelling on the ground. The issue also got embroiled in the new U.S. administration’s push for reform at the UN, with a heavy focus on budget cuts and reducing numbers of peacekeepers. There is certainly space to make MONUSCO more effective and efficient, but the emphasis on troop reductions, and their timing, may distract from the more important issue of achieving a more flexible and reactive force. 

Who are the main players and how are they now positioned?

Although the international focus has been on rising unrest, for the president and his political coalition (known as “the Majority”), the events of 2017 have been very satisfactory. Although the crisis is mostly attributable to President Kabila’s refusal to leave office (the constitution limits him to two terms), he kept the political initiative through control of patronage and of the security apparatus, and the lack of a well-organised opposition. In the dragged-out talks, the Majority suffered no internal fragmentation (unlike in 2015), and by buying time, it has continued to pull in money, including through mining contracts. Furthermore, President Kabila, following his usual approach of staying above the fray and then intervening as the peacemaker between squabbling parties, has kept the upper hand in negotiations despite his lack of popular support. In his 5 April speech, he squarely put responsibility for the delay, and for solving it, with the opposition.

The opposition, in particular the Rassemblement, rely on popular dissatisfaction and international pressure to maintain their structures and squeeze concessions from the government. The 31 December agreement opened the way for them to enter office, where they believe they will be able to supervise the preparation of elections, boost their internal structures, and box in President Kabila and his majority. But the Congolese opposition tend to splinter when offered the prospect of entering government. Their coherence has been recently challenged by the death of historic leader Etienne Tshisekedi on 1 February. He was the opposition’s uncontested leader and was to be the chair of the agreement’s follow-up mechanism. The main opposition group, the Rassemblement, is now pushing for his son Felix to be named prime minister, but he does not have the support his father enjoyed within opposition ranks or among the population, and he will be less able to provide legitimacy to an eventual compromise with the regime. The other big figure in the opposition, Moïse Katumbi, remains in exile where he is trying to sustain his popularity, but his ability to mobilise political support in-country remains untested. The Rassemblement was not prepared for the end of the CENCO mediation and has refused to meet with President Kabila, insisting on a continued role for the CENCO and good-offices by the UN. It has not accepted that Kabila can be both party and mediator, and is calling for demonstrations, a potentially dangerous move, as it is likely to result in violence but could also expose the oppositions’ possibly limited capacity for mobilisation.

Despite the end of the Church’s mediation, there is at present no obvious alternative to the 31 December agreement, which continues to have broad support.

Prior to 2016, the Catholic bishops of CENCO used their legitimacy and unique national networks to push for respect of the constitution, denouncing the regime’s plans to remain in power. But in 2016 they softened, and took on a mediating role when the African Union (AU)-brokered agreement of October proved impossible to follow through. The 31 December agreement is a solid achievement, getting far greater buy-in from opposition and the population. But events since have shown that the Church’s very strength – its capillary-like network of local representation – has become its weakness, both because it is hard to negotiate consensus across the whole national church, and because its very presence has recently exposed it to pressure and even violence from the population.

Having struggled to get agreement on how to name a new prime minister, the first step to implementing its December agreement, the Church withdrew from its mediation role. In its declaration of 27 March, the CENCO president criticised Majority and opposition alike for failing to compromise. Clearly, the Church fears that prolonged wrangling may impact its own credibility. Faced with political actors obsessed with short-term gain, it has found that its moral authority can only take it so far. Church leaders met with President Kabila, and effectively handed over responsibility for moving things forward.

How is the population of DR Congo reacting?

The population remains the great unknown factor in this. It is under great pressure as prices rise, and is generally frustrated at the political class as a whole. The December agreement brought some hope, but this has disappeared slowly. The end of the mediation by the Church has led to some protest and incidents in several cities including Kinshasa, Lubumbashi and Goma, although the scope was limited. More important was the general strike of 3 April which was widely followed, although as it was the first day of school holidays this may not necessarily signal a strong willingness to engage in political protest. A more important, further set of protests has been called by the opposition for 10 April. As happened in the past, there is a serious risk such protest could turn violent.

More than the political crisis, the people are preoccupied with the social impact of the economic crisis. Already dire conditions are worsening as the Congolese franc steadily loses value and prices of basic foodstuffs and transport are starting to rise. With organised political and social forces incapable of channelling the frustration, outburst of urban violence or people joining ill-defined insurgencies – as is the case in Kasai – is increasingly likely.

Can the 31 December agreement be salvaged, and what are the immediate challenges ahead?

Despite the end of the Church’s mediation, there is at present no obvious alternative to the 31 December agreement, which continues to have broad support. In his 5 April speech, the president said he was moving forward with its implementation, part of an effort to demonstrate a degree of “business as usual”. But buoyed by divisions in the opposition that lacks strategic or long-term thinking, his camp will feel it can call the shots. In that sense, while the agreement may remain intact, its spirit is fading. Once a prime minister is named, both sides will fight hard and long over the most powerful, and lucrative, ministerial posts. Every inch of real power will be fought for and naming a new government, with an agreed size of 54 ministers, will be anything but smooth.

Once a prime minister is named, both sides will fight hard and long over the most powerful, and lucrative, ministerial posts. Every inch of real power will be fought for.

Once formed, the government’s biggest challenge will be financial. Despite the country’s wealth, its government budget is wholly inadequate. Political uncertainty is taking its toll on the economy and undermining the currency. Paying for elections will be an additional challenge and donors, even those who have helped in the past, are reluctant to step in for fear of not being able to ensure that they will occur, while becoming a convenient scapegoat if funding falls short of requirements. 

Finally, the new government will have to deal with growing insecurity across the country, and do so with minimal real authority over the security forces, which tend to answer directly to the president or be fairly free of political control.

Are elections in 2017 realistic, and what are the longer term prospects?

At the technical level, some progress has been made. Voter registration has now reached approximately 50 per cent of its target nationwide. Even in provinces affected by violence, such as North Kivu, where Crisis Group recently did research, people are registering in large numbers. The electoral commission has significant capacity at local level built up over the last two polls (2006 and 2011), and there is a strong popular desire to see elections happen.

But technical competence is not enough without political will. The cash-strapped commission is at the mercy of central government and there is no reason to believe that the Majority will renounce attempts to delay elections as long as possible. A weakened opposition will be hard pressed to counter them, even if in government. Growing social unrest, and especially large-scale displacement, could make the process much harder. 

In such conditions, elections in 2017 will be difficult to achieve. Fresh mediation will then be required, and the risk of longer term stagnation will grow. But the momentum generated by voter registration and the strong will of the population are important factors, and maintaining progress, including the publication of a realistic and consensual electoral calendar is more important than meeting the December deadline. The hope is that, little by little, irreversible progress can be made, ultimately making elections inevitable. In his remarks on 5 April, President Kabila underlined forcefully that he will accept no foreign interference in the management or conduct of upcoming elections. This is a clear shot in the direction of the international community and the UN who foresee an important support role.

What can the UN and other major powers, including in the region, do now?

Although the 31 December agreement has united international powers in its support, the immediate prospects for international mediation to move it forward are poor. The AU tried in 2016, but its mediation, led by Edem Kodjo, a former Togolese prime minister and member of the AU’s Panel of the Wise, was rejected by the opposition. Regional powers to the south (Angola, South Africa) are also seen in a negative light by the opposition. The latest regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit was seen to favour the regime. The AU has however indicated it remains engaged and African mediation may be called on again to unblock progress, possibly after some months of internal manoeuvring. The government will try its utmost to keep the process in sub-regional and African hands.

On the ground, the UN force (MONUSCO) faces huge challenges. Its troops, nearly all stationed in the Kivu provinces, find it hard to react to violent flare-ups elsewhere. The UN’s “force transformation” agenda, intended to create a more flexible and reactive force, is making slow progress. It did manage to deploy troops and police to the Kasais, but there as elsewhere it suffers from a highly restrictive environment, as the government does not want UN forces and human rights units looking too closely into provincial unrest. The political good offices of the UN special representative remain important and logistical support to the Electoral Commission remains vital.

The hope is that, little by little, irreversible progress can be made, ultimately making elections inevitable.

Negotiations at the UN Security Council in March reduced its troop numbers, though by less than had been feared. A proposed new police component was rejected, despite the fact that such a reform – switching some troops for police – would have been sensible, given the changing nature of the challenges MONUSCO faces, particularly deterring violence against civilians in urban areas. The reduction, which came despite the violence in the Kasais, was the result of strong desire for UN peacekeeping reform by the new U.S. administration. While questions can certainly be asked about force effectiveness, the timing was unfortunate. In Kinshasa, it is perceived as a concession to the government, which has long pushed for a reduction, at a time when strong international pressure is needed to avoid further electoral delays. More broadly, since the change of administration, the U.S. has gone from being at the forefront of international pressure on the regime to largely retreating into silence.

The European Union, a major donor and possible source of funding for the vote, is highly unlikely to play a mediation role, having recently threatened further sanctions against any people who obstruct elections, it is currently seen as being quite hostile to the government. International positions are therefore in a state of flux just at a time when a dose of firmness is needed to avoid further drift. International pressure was instrumental in getting to the 31 December agreement. Dates now have to be set for each stage of the polls preparation, and potential donors will have to prepare financial support for the electoral process and the economy. The Security Council and the AU Peace and Security Council will also have to show unwavering political support to MONUSCO and the UN Human Rights community. Quiet diplomacy and a more active engagement by African powers and organisations with opposition leaders are needed to prepare the way for any future mediation. 

A screenshot of a video that went viral on social media networks, allegedly showing uniformed men shooting at unarmed villagers in the Kasai region of Democratic Republic of Congo, in mid-February 2017. SUDINFO/Daily Motion Video.
Commentary / Africa

Kamuina Nsapu Insurgency Adds to Dangers in DR Congo

Conflict in the impoverished Kasai region was sparked by local grievances but has spread to reflect wider discontent, including frustration over the country’s ongoing political and economic crisis.

The Kamuina Nsapu insurgency arose last year as a locally rooted conflict in the Kasai-Central province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), but has since gained intensity and is spreading to neighbouring provinces. By January, 216,000 people had been displaced, and more than 400 killed, according to humanitarian sources. In one town, Tshimbulu, at least 84 militia members were killed between 9 and 13 February 2017. Mass graves have been discovered in the area since. 

Two recent events have drawn national and international attention to the crisis. In February, videos circulated on social media that appeared to show a brutal army crackdown in Kasai-Central. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights called on the government to halt human rights violations, including apparent summary executions, by the armed forces. On 12 March, six people were kidnapped in Kasai-Central, including one American and one Swedish member of the UN Group of Experts investigating violations of international sanctions and international humanitarian law, and four Congolese working with them. The circumstances surrounding the alleged kidnapping, the first such incident in the expert panel’s long existence, should be clarified as soon as possible, not least in light of the need for international journalists and researchers to access the country’s increasingly troubled interior.

At the national level, a dangerous political stalemate continues following President Joseph Kabila’s decision to stay in power beyond his constitutionally mandated term limit in December 2016. Despite the agreement mediated by the Catholic Church and signed by the government and opposition party leaders on 31 December, which called for a transitional government and elections by the end of 2017, significant issues remain unresolved. With the economic crisis deepening, instability is rising, not only in the Kasai region but also in North Kivu, Tanganyika and Kongo-Central.

While much of this violence is rooted in local causes, it directly challenges state authority, and serves as a warning that the political crisis at the national level is further destabilising the country’s provinces. Violence in North Kivu province, recently visited by Crisis Group, has already affected preparation for elections, and this could be repeated as voter registration rolls out across the country. It is vital that conflict resolution mechanisms are established or boosted at the local level in anticipation of further problems.

MONUSCO, the UN’s largest peacekeeping mission, has only minimal capacity to respond to civil unrest or widening conflict. Nevertheless, UN troop and police presence in potential hotspots could deter security forces from committing abuses, and the mission’s monitoring and good offices will remain important. In a welcome move, the UN Secretary-General on 10 March requested the Security Council to approve an additional UN police presence, including in the Kasai region, noting a “high risk of urban violence in the upcoming electoral period”. The Security Council is scheduled to decide on possible changes to MONUSCO’s mandate on 29 March.

While much of this violence is rooted in local causes, it directly challenges state authority, and serves as a warning that the political crisis at the national level is further destabilising the country’s provinces.

The Kasai region, which was split from two into five provinces in 2015 in a policy known as découpage, is one of the DRC’s poorest, and usually far off the radar of politicians and diplomats in the distant capital, Kinshasa. Since April 2016, it has experienced an increasingly violent insurgency by the Kamuina Nsapu militia, named after the title of a hereditary chief in Kasai-Central province. Fighting has rapidly spread from Kasai-Central to neighbouring Kasai, Kasai-Oriental and Lomami provinces.

This insurgency has its origins in local tensions in Kasai-Central province. However, it has quickly tapped into the long-running political and socio-economic frustration in the Kasai provinces, and is also tied to national politics. The national and provincial governments’ legitimacy in the region is particularly weak. The crisis is now impossible to ignore and will require sustained effort on the political and development fronts to contain and eventually reverse.

A map showing the location of Kananga and five states in Democratic Republic of Congo. CRISIS GROUP

Kasai: Frustrations in an Opposition Stronghold

Kasai-Central, the origin of the insurgency, ranks very poorly in its human development indicators, including high levels of child mortality and malnourishment, as well widespread illiteracy among women and girls. A 2012 World Bank report puts provincial per capita income below $200 per month, among the lowest in DRC, and an earlier study by the bank questioned the financial sustainability of the separated Kasai provinces. The province has diamonds and gold, but there is no industrial mining. Infrastructure and electricity supplies are inadequate. The province’s only major industry, the Brasimba brewery, was recently closed, leaving the public sector as the largest employer.

Kananga is the birthplace of Etienne Tshisekedi, the historic leader of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) opposition party, and, until his death on 1 February 2017, the head of the Rassemblement opposition coalition. In the 2011 national elections, Tshisekedi and the UDPS dominated in the region. In Kasai Occidental (now split into Kasai and Kasai-Central), he obtained 75 per cent of the vote, and in former Kasai Oriental (now split into Kasai-Oriental, Sankuru and Lomami), he won 70 per cent. When President Kabila was declared the winner of the deeply flawed polls, the feeling that the national vote had been stolen by the regime was particularly strong in the area, where Kabila remains very unpopular.

Current Prime Minister Samy Badibanga, originally from Kasai-Central, led the dissident UDPS parliamentarians who in 2011 took up their seats in defiance of the party line boycotting the parliament. They were consequently expelled from the party. The UDPS boycotted the 2006 elections (none have been held since at provincial level) and is therefore absent from the provincial parliaments and governments, all dominated by the ruling majority.

Despite the Kasai provinces being home to numerous other senior political figures, including Evariste Boshab, former interior minister and deputy prime minister, many locals are unhappy that no Kasaian has ever led the country. Many are also frustrated that their representatives have not invested in Kasai’s economy, particularly in comparison to what they see as the better served Kivu and Maniema provinces.

The Kamuina Nsapu Phenomenon

It took a fairly commonplace local problem, the politicisation of the installation of a hereditary chief, Kamuina Nsapu, to ignite a cocktail of frustrations. With feelings against the government already running high, the chief managed to mobilise followers and to gain support for his anti-government cause.

Kamuina Nsapu is the hereditary title for the chief of Bajila Kasanga, or Bashila, a groupement containing several villages in Dibataie sector, Kasai-Central province, approximately 70km south east of Kananga. Since colonial times, the Bajila Kasanga chieftancy has spread and established several other groupements in the region, extending into Angola.

In the DRC, traditional chiefs are integral to public administration, receiving a salary and managing villages. They have a role in the control of land and may perform an important spiritual function. Chiefs are appointed according to local traditions, and then recognised by the state. In principle, the chief is apolitical, but, to be recognised and maintain his position and authority, he is often pressured to align with the regime. Politicians and officials have also increasingly challenged traditional authorities by creating, and even selling, new chiefdoms.

Tensions between state and traditional authority triggered the current conflict. In 2016, the state refused to recognise the traditional appointment of Jean-Pierre Mpandi as Kamuina Nsapu, and the provincial governor reportedly refused to meet him. This was considered an insult, and put the chief and the state authorities on a collision course, further aggravated by the state recognition of lower-ranked Bashila leaders. Subsequently, Mpandi criticised the regime in a nationalist diatribe using xenophobic language, decrying the presence of foreign mercenaries and what he called a government of occupation. Like many radical critics of the regime, he focused on its supposed Rwandan origin.

It took a fairly commonplace local problem, the politicisation of the installation of a hereditary chief, Kamuina Nsapu, to ignite a cocktail of frustrations.

According to local observers, the decision not to recognise Mpandi as chief was prompted by the then Interior Minister Evariste Boshab, because Mpandi was considered close to the opposition and refused to support the presidential majority. In January 2017, the new Interior Minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadari stated that Mpandi had taken radical anti-government political positions as far back as 2013. Crisis Group was told during a recent visit to Kasai that the relationship between Mpandi and provincial authorities deteriorated following the 2015 découpage, which led to an increase in harassment of the population by the provincial and territorial authorities.

In April 2016, while Mpandi was in South Africa, provincial authorities dispatched security services to the chiefdom to check for weapons. Mpandi later accused the authorities of entering sacred places, stealing traditional regalia and attempting to molest one of his wives. He accused the security forces of harassing the population and evicted them from the area. The chief increasingly considered the state and all its representatives, including the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), to be his enemies and incited his followers to rise up against them.

After months of escalation, Mpandi, some of his followers and several members of the security forces were killed on 12 August 2016. Several of his supporters do not believe Mpandi died. Since early December, Kamuina Nsapu militia attacks on state institutions have intensified, including in Kananga and Tshikapa, the capital of Kasai province, and violence has expanded to Kasai, Kasai Oriental and Lomami provinces.

In several Crisis Group interviews in Kananga, local observers said many young men and boys, some as young as five, had been conscripted or joined the militia. Its members wear red headbands or armbands, and like the Mai Mai groups operating in eastern DRC they undergo rituals and carry amulets that are believed to bring invulnerability. Some have guns, likely looted from the security forces. The government and several local observers claim some politicians support the insurgency.

With no identifiable leaders, their demands are hard to verify. However, four elements were repeated during Crisis Group’s interviews in Kananga in January: calls for the return of Kamuina Nsapu’s body for burial, to which the government agreed after talks with the family mid-March; reparations to Kamuina Nsapu’s family; repair of damaged hospitals and schools, to which the government has committed itself; social and economic development of the region; and the release of arrested militants and civilians, a demand the government partially met in February when it freed several prisoners and in March committed to continue the process.

However, when self-proclaimed spokespersons for the group appeared in local media in late February, the demands became national, including a call for the quick implementation of the 31 December agreement. This appears to reflect wider popular frustrations as the Kabila regime hangs onto power.

Political Dynamics

The Kamuina Nsapu insurgency has become a symbol of widespread dissatisfaction of both the Kasai urban and rural populations. The defence of traditional customs and practices found particular resonance among the public and other traditional chiefs. Optimism that a new UDPS-led government could calm the situation took a blow with the death of opposition leader Tshisekedi last month. Recently, in a further alarming twist, insurgents have also targeted Catholic institutions, for unclear reasons.

The government has created a new military zone covering Kasai, Kasai-Central and Kasai-Oriental provinces. Numerous army reinforcements have been deployed and Kananga is increasingly militarised. Poorly paid, badly led and trained, members of the Congolese security services are often accused of using disproportionate force, which the government denies. In December 2016, MONUSCO sent military reinforcements to the area, followed by human rights observers, and in March published a strongly worded statement denouncing the restrictions imposed by the security forces on its freedom of movement.

Following recent evidence of abuses by the Congolese armed forces and reports on the discovery of mass graves, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called for an investigation. In late February, responding to the mounting international pressure, the government dispatched a mission to investigate events and in mid-March announced the arrest of seven members of the armed forces, including several officers.

The political response was late and ineffective. Former Interior Minister Boshab visited in 2016, but took little action to follow up. The opposition, busy with the political dialogue in Kinshasa, has been mostly absent from the local scene. A parliamentary question about the situation was tabled in December 2016. The provincial assembly has not yet visited the affected areas, citing a lack of resources. In late January, militia incursions in Kananga prompted Prime Minister Badibanga to abandon two attempts to visit the area. This painfully demonstrated his and his government’s lack of popular legitimacy in his home region.

The government renewed its political efforts with the visit on 12 March of Interior Minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadari, whose delegation included opposition members of parliament. He held talks with the Kamuina Nsapu’s family. On 16 March, the parliamentarians published welcome recommendations, including the appointment of a new provincial administration and measures to manage conflicts with the customary authorities. On 17 March, the government announced a less far-reaching compromise, including burial of the Kamuina Nsapu, measures on detainees and an agreement on the procedure to select a new chief. However, this agreement is unlikely to solve the underlying issues, and even Shadari admitted that pockets of instability would persist.

Dealing with the Consequences

The conflict has considerable humanitarian and political consequences. If the displaced and other affected communities are not able to prepare the next planting season, food insecurity will increase. At the political level, the CENI is preparing to start voter registration in the Kasai provinces, but in conflict-affected areas, offices have been destroyed and staff threatened. Displaced people must vote where they registered, which can be problematic. Anti-state sentiments resonate strongly among local citizens, which may lead many to not register at all and would leave pro-opposition areas with low vote counts. A first important step will be the creation of adequate security and trust for the people, including the displaced, to participate in the process.

The 31 December political agreement called for simultaneous national and provincial elections by the end of 2017. Local elections are to follow at a later stage. Given the high stakes of the election and the troubling local conflict dynamics, legitimate mechanisms to resolve disputes should be put in place before polls are organised at the provincial and local levels. Local research, used by the UN, has identified no less than 79 potential conflicts in Kasai-Central province alone. More than half of these are related to tensions with traditional authorities.

While local measures are important, maintaining the path toward elections to ensure representative government structures is ultimately the only way out of this quagmire.

Because provincial elections also add to the cost and to potential delays, consideration should be given to uncoupling them from the national polls. Intensified initiatives for voter and civic education that can counter violent, messianic and xenophobic messages, targeting specific communities, are also necessary. The national and provincial governments should strictly adhere to existing legislation on chiefdoms, and refrain from any divisive interference.

In the meantime, the government should demilitarise domestic policing and establish provincial mediation and conflict resolution mechanisms, constituted by local and provincial groups, with support, if needed, from the national government and international actors.

Stalled negotiations over implementation of the 31 December agreement, in particular the delay in installing an opposition-led government, are raising tensions and triggering popular unrest and insurgencies in pockets across the country. In January 2017, conflict between the Bundu dia Kongo (BDK) movement and security forces occurred in Kongo-Central and Kinshasa. Like the Kamuina Nsapu militia, the BDK combines mysticism with a populist political message, and is rooted in the fragile legitimacy of national political institutions and in economic problems.

While none of these local conflicts alone are likely to fundamentally disrupt the national picture, they risk undermining the all-important voter registration process and thus the integrity and timing of the future elections. While local measures are important, maintaining the path toward elections to ensure representative government structures is ultimately the only way out of this quagmire.

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