What happens in the DRC after December 19th

Image via The White House
Image via The White House

The presidential term of Joseph Kabila, in power in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 2001, is suppose to end in less than two weeks on December 19th. Kabila is barred from running for another term. The next day Congo should have a new government.

For the last year, opposition groups have demanded the electoral commission organize elections. They have mostly met with violence and obfuscation. At least 100 people have been killed in protests in 2016 and hundreds more arrested. Opposition party offices have been torched and one of the opposition candidates have been forced to flee the country. Meanwhile, Kabila’s party insist that no election can happen until 8 million potential new voters are added to the voters roll, knowing full well this could take years.

Joseph Kabila took power — he wasn’t elected; he inherited the office — in January 2001 after the assassination of his father Laurent D. Kabila while nearly half of the country was occupied by foreign troops and rebels. Among the foreign armies on the ground in the Congo, were Rwandan and Ugandan troops who earlier helped Laurent Kabila take power in May 1997. Following disagreements between Laurent Kabila and his former Rwandan and Ugandan allies who warned him against becoming too independent, the latter wound up occupying a large part of Congolese territory along with rebel groups.

The Congolese met in the South African resort, Sun City, to find a solution to the country’s crisis. They drafted a constitution accepted by referendum in December 2005 and promulgated on February 18, 2006. According to article 70 of the Constitution, the president of the republic is elected by a direct, general vote for a five year term that is renewable once. Article 220 of the Constitution is a safeguard stipulating that “… the term length of the President of the Republic” cannot be subject to constitutional revision.

In 2006, Joseph Kabila was elected for a five-year term. Before the 2011 elections, Kabila changed the rules of the game by imposing a single round of elections. This was made possible by paying large sums of money to members of the Congolese parliament. In so doing, Kabila trampled on the Congolese constitution and disregarded the separation of executive and legislative powers. The 2011 elections were particularly flawed and lacked transparency. Despite the objections by the Catholic Church of the Congo, the Carter Center, and the European Union over numerous electoral irregularities, the CENI declared Joseph Kabila the “winner.”

The country plunged into a grave political and institutional crisis. Nevertheless, the opposition expected Kabila to organize new elections at the end of his second and final term, leave power, and make way for a new president. Instead, Kabila stepped up his delay tactics in order to avoid holding elections. That’s when his excuses started. At the same time, he revived an old project to double the number of provinces, adding to the challenge of holding elections. Understanding this climate gives context to the current crisis.

There are currently two camps in conflict. On one side is the Rassemblement, which consists of the following political parties: the UDPS of veteran politician Etienne Tshisekedi; the G7 supporting football club owner and former governor of Katanga province, Moise Katumbi; Congo Na Biso (“Our Congo”) of Freddy Matungulu; the Dynamique de l’Opposition; and l’Alternance pour la République. Tshisekedi’s Rassemblement argues that Kabila is primarily to blame for the current political crisis and thus cannot take part in its resolution. Therefore, the Rassemblement is calling for inclusive talks to determine the conditions and means for Joseph Kabila’s departure from the presidency later this month. The Rassemblement also seeks to select an interim President until new elections can be held and seeks to find the technical and financial means for instituting a new electoral schedule and planning the next election.

On the other side are Joseph Kabila and his supporters, who want to keep the incumbent in power past December 19, 2016, in violation of article 75. Article 75 states that: “In the case of a vacancy, as a result of death, resignation or any other cause of permanent incapacitation, the functions of the President of the Republic … are temporarily discharged by the President of the Senate.” Nevertheless, the Congolese president held talks, led by African Union mediator Edem Kodjo, a Togolese diplomat, on the crisis. Only a small portion of the opposition, which included Vital Kamerhe a former ally of President Kabila and president of the Union pour la Nation Congolaise, participated in the talks. The Rassemblement did not join in the talks for several reasons, including, firstly, the rejection of Kodjo who is seen as being too close with the presidential majority; second, the government’s current judicial proceedings against Moise Katumbi who is in exile in the United States (the government accuses him of hiring mercenaries and sentenced him, in absentia, to three years in jail for fraud); and, finally, the government’s incarceration of political prisoners and a media blackout. The Catholic Church who initially participated in the talks withdrew following bloody protests in September 2016.

Despite the fact that the main political parties did not participate in these talks, Edem Kodjo continued consulting with a very fringe part of the opposition and reached a political accord that allows Kabila to remain in power after the end of his term this year. In exchange for accepting what the Congolese people are calling glissement, the French word for “slippage,” Vital Kamerhe was expected to be named Prime Minister. Instead, on November 17, Kabila gave the position to Samy Badibanga, who had been excluded from the UDPS in 2012.

Observers of Congolese politics note that the political accord reached by Kodjo and Badibanga’s nomination do nothing to resolve the country’s crisis. With the support of the US, the European Union, and the UN, the Catholic Church of the Congo continued engaging in consultations with the Kabila camp and Rassemblement.

On December 2, the Catholic Church proposed that the presidential majority (MP) and the Rassemblement coalition meet, in a less formal setting, to discuss their differences. Such discussions would focus on adherence to the Constitution, the electoral process (including the scheduling of elections), the functioning of institutions during the transition, or what a possible political compromise might look like.

Joseph Kabila visited with Catholic bishops on Monday, December 5, and the question remains whether the Congolese president will make any concessions with respect to the Rassemblement’s positions. The Catholic Church insists that this is a critical hour and has called for all parties to share responsibility and exercise good political will in order to keep the country from falling into an out of control situation.

The Rassemblement is bound to spill out onto the streets on December 19 to demand that Kabila abide by the constitution and step down from office. Maman Sambo Sidikou, the head of MONUSCO, told the United Nations that there are real dangers in DR Congo’s descent into chaos.

Charles Tshimanga

Charles Tshimanga is an associate professor of history at the University of Nevada, Reno.

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