The Democratic Republic of the Congo is facing a crisis due to its President’s continuing refusal to step down. President Joseph Kabila, despite having served his constitutionally mandated two terms, clung onto power well after the end of his mandate in December 2016, sparking widespread protests and violence across the country.
Image found at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/01/19/dr-congo-security-forces-fire-catholic-churchgoers
The Congolese authorities have come under fire from the UN for their response to the protests. Being described as ‘unlawful’ and ‘killing protesters with impunity’ by several reports, alarm bells ring concerning the sheer lack of respect for human rights and dignity displayed by the government. It seems as though they are prioritising maintaining their hold on power over the lives of their citizens, having killed 47 people in protests over the past year. Authorities have also been accused of covering up human rights abuses, with dead bodies being hidden after protests, and international observers being blocked from protests.
Although elections had been projected for December 2018, it is unlikely that they will take place. Indeed, the political repression and crackdown on dissenters hardly bodes well for a peaceful environment in which free and fair elections can take place. The systematic deployment of the military as well as the police to crush protesters is indicative of an ‘unlawful, unjustified and disproportionate’ response, according to the UN. It is therefore difficult to envision the way in which space can be opened up for opposition movements to stand a chance at contesting Kabila in the elections. The electoral commission have reportedly pushed back the date to April 2019, but whether the DRC will stabilise by this time remains to be seen.
What is clear is the need for a strengthening of civil society in the DRC. At present, opposition remains fragmented and weak at best, and non-existent at worst. The efforts of Kabila’s government to eradicate all forms of opposition have not gone to waste, as most major opposition leaders have been arrested, exiled, or assassinated. The principal body of opposition in the Congo is the Catholic Church, which has not only organised peaceful marches against Kabila, but has also called on the UN in an appeal for help. The Collective of Catholics appealed to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres for the UN to direct a stronger, more concentrated mission in the DRC ahead of the December elections. The Collective has also made the decision to suspend all protests until 30th April in order to facilitate a more peaceful environment conducive to free and fair elections. The Collective is also demanding the release of political prisoners, the lifting of bans on demonstrations by political opponents and civil society, and an end to the duplication of political parties.
The government, however, has said that Kabila is ‘eager’ to handover after the December elections. Speaking on behalf of the president, Prime Minister Bruno Tshibala told the BBC that Kabila would not be standing for presidency in the next elections, and that he wishes to be responsible for the first peaceful transition of power in the country’s history. However, with violence still erupting across the country, both in the form of ethnic conflicts and political protests, it is doubtful how peaceful this transition of power will be.
This article was written by, Ananya Sriram, a member of STAND France’s Communications Task Force and a second year student at the University of Leeds studying French and International Relations.