By Paul Ndiho
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, dozens of people have died in clashes between government security forces and protesters angered by what opposition groups say is President Joseph Kabila’s plan to postpone the presidential election in an attempt to retain power beyond the constitutional two-term limit.
The streets of Kinshasa are calm following anti-government protests last month that killed nearly 50 people. For months the country has suffered simmering anger over what opponents of President Joseph Kabila believe are his efforts to hold on to power beyond his constitutional term limit, either by delaying elections or revising the constitution. As other African leaders in neighboring countries including Uganda, Rwanda, Congo Brazzaville and Burundi have done.
The United Nations has voiced great concern and called on all sides to exercise restraint. The spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, says the international body is “deeply worried” by the violence.
“We call on all sides to show restraint and we urge the authorities to ensure that existing national and international standards on the appropriate use of force are fully respected by all security personnel. We call for a credible and impartial investigation to bring those responsible of human rights violations and criminal acts to justice.”
Since attaining independence from Belgium in 1960, the massive, resource rich nation has experienced dictatorship, poor governance, poverty, and insecurity. Congolese President Kabila has been in power since 2001. He won disputed elections in 2006 and 2011.
Political observers say Kabila’s government has delayed elections scheduled for November, for logistical reasons. Opponents fear that Kabila intends to hold on to power beyond the constitutional mandate. Taking a cue from other African leaders neighboring countries.
In June, Moise Katumbi, a popular opposition candidate and former governor of the Katanga province was sentenced in absentia to 36 months in prison on what he says were trumped up charges (what were the charges?). Despite the charges, the opposition leader has vowed to return to Congo from Europe to run for the presidency with the backing of seven opposition parties.
“The population are ready already for election, which is important. Ninety-nine percent are ready for the election and they are waiting for the right time. You don’t want to make a putsch, you don’t want to make a coup-d’etat, you want to follow our constitution and if they don’t call for election, then the people of Congo are going to say ‘Mr. President, you didn’t respect what you are supposed to respect, it’s time to go. Bye-bye Mr. President, bye-bye the government of Congo’. Demonstration are going to be always peaceful demonstration, you don’t want any blood to flow.”
Katumbi and others want the international community to step in and pressure the Congolese government to allow a peaceful transition of power.
It remains unclear when elections in the DRC will be held, if not in November. Kabila’s second term in office expires on December 19 and Congolese appear split on whether he should remain in office until elections are organized. A recent “national dialogue” was boycotted by many opposition parties and failed to resolve the issue.
The electoral commission says that it needs until December 2018 to complete the work of registering all voters and readying the country for an election. The opposition rejects that timeline, and the international community – including Belgium and the United States – have called for an earlier election date, potentially in 2017.
President Kabila’s office has issued a statement calling for calm — and inviting “the entire population to go about their daily activities, now that security is again fully ensured”.
The international community, especially the United States, are pressuring Kabila to respect the constitution and hold elections on time. They are also growing increasingly concerned over what they say are efforts to stifle peaceful protest.