An electoral year without an election in the Democratic Republic of Congo
At their Council meeting of 17 October last, the European Union’s Foreign Affairs ministers declared their position in no uncertain terms on the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The EU issued an explicit condemnation of the violence perpetrated on 19 and 20 September in Kinshasa, stressing that that the authorities were responsible for organising elections, insisting that these elections had to be organised as soon as possible in 2017, and demanding that the Constitution be respected, particularly the provisions limiting the number of times one person can be elected as president. The EU also called for an inclusive and transparent political dialogue, involving in particular CENCO (the National Bishops’ Conference of the Congo) and supported by a wide popular consensus, and demanded that human rights and the rule of law should also be respected. Finally, the EU invoked the possibility of sanctions against the regime and reaffirmed its support, especially financial, for a transparent electoral process.
Current status of the negotiations
On that same day, an agreement was reached in the mediation process conducted under the aegis of the African Union in the form of a ‘national dialogue’. The objective was to find a solution to the latent crisis which has been persisting since the re-election – marred by blatant irregularities – of Joseph Kabila in 2011, and to progress rapidly to free and peaceable elections. By this agreement, the elections for the president, the national government and provincial governments have been postponed until April 2018. In the meantime, the plan is to keep Joseph Kabila in office and to give the post of Prime Minister to a leader of the opposition, probably Vital Kamerhe.
This agreement was immediately denounced by the opposition, which called for a general strike, labelled ‘Villes mortes’ (dead cities), as their demonstration of protest, and this threw into doubt any hopes of a rapid resolution of the political crisis that is currently causing upheaval in the DRC.
President Joseph Kabila, who has been in power in the DRC since 2001, is coming to the end of his second term of office – which on paper is his last – on 20 December of this year. The Constitution prevents him from standing again for office and he has not managed to pass an amendment to change it. However, he is not showing any signs that allow people to think that he will effectively step down from his functions at the right time; indeed, today it is logistically impossible to hold new presidential elections within the due time limits. Moreover, last May, upon being referred to by the parties in power, the Constitutional Court issued a decree authorising him to stay in post in case the elections were delayed.
‘Slippery’ is an apt word to describe the political strategy of having presidential elections whose planning is deliberately put off sine die – because the existence of such an electoral crisis is completely artificial.
The ‘Rassemblement’ (a loose coalition of political and social parties in opposition under the leadership of Etienne Tshisekedi) has insisted on a number of preconditions before participating in the national talks, including the liberation of political prisoners and the halt in the legal harassment of Moïse Katumbi, the presidential candidate now living in exile in Europe.
The Catholic Church’s position
The Catholic Church, to which 40% of the Congolese belong, has itself halted its participation in the talks as a result of the violence that broke out as side events of the demonstration organised to call upon Joseph Kabila to step down.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Congo (CENCO) is calling for an independent enquiry into the murderous repression which left several dozen people dead, and for the political agreement approving the national dialogue to state explicitly that the current president would not seek a third term of office. To date, these conditions have not been complied with.
Clearly the traditional institutional actors have lost all credibility, since both the ruling and the opposition parties come from the same school of politicians. Civil society has also lost its capacity for organising action and the population is looking for new forms of coalition, this time involving the younger generation that feels excluded from political life, and for escape from the catastrophic socio-economic conditions.
Sliding into insecurity is a scenario that is being taken very seriously by the international community: the United Nations Council for Human Rights has put the country under surveillance following the recent violence and the increasing restrictions of fundamental freedoms. The International Criminal Court has announced that it is closely watching the course of events. The US Treasury has placed on its black list two top military generals who are close to the President.
Translated from the original text in French
The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of COMECE and the Jesuit European Office.