On November 29, 2016, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission held a hearing headlined “Democracy and Human Rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” This hearing was focused for the most part on the political crisis surrounding the end of President Joseph Kabila’s second term which according to the constitution expires on December 19, 2016.
The delay of the presidential elections which were originally set to be held in November of this year has put the nation on edge for a long time, and the situation continues to worsen as December 19th nears. On October 18th, a political agreement to resolve the issue of delayed presidential elections was reached between members of the president’s coalition, some civil society organizations and several opposition parties under the facilitation of the African Union’s Representative and former Togolese Prime Minister Mr. Edem Kodjo. The agreement stipulates that President Kabila will remain in power until a new president is sworn in (article 17), and that the presidential elections will be organized in six months following the signing into law of an updated bill on the Allocation of Parliamentary Seats set for October 30, 2017 (Political Agreement, article 5). Many opposition parties opposed to the agreement insist that the way forward is to strictly follow the constitution, which stipulates in article 75 that in case of vacancy, the President of the Senate becomes the President of the nation.
To get around this constitutional mandate, the Congolese constitutional court composed of 10 justices granted an extension to President Kabila until another president is sworn in. Without debating whether the constitutional court has this authority, the legality of their decision is contested for the simple fact that out of the 10 justices, only 5 were present, and the legally required quorum for any ruling to be valid is the presence of 7 justices. Such process did nothing but to energize those calling for President Kabila to hand over power on December 19.
After December 19, the key question facing President Kabila is the legitimacy of his presidency considering the mandate given to him through the ballot box in 2011 will have elapsed. Already a campaign called “Bye Bye Kabila” is ongoing in the DRC, and there is an increased fear of violence. In his recent address, President Kabila spoke directly to this issue and warns, “No disagreement, no political agenda will not justify violence or loss of human life.”
Furthermore, on September 28, the U.S. Treasury put General Gabriel Amisi Kumba, also known as “Tango Fort,” Major General John Numbi Banza Tambo and former Inspector General of the Congo’s National Police on its Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) List. In a press statement, the treasury unequivocally states, “As a result of today’s actions, all of the designated individuals’ assets within U.S. jurisdiction are frozen, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.” Also, on November 15 the U.S.House of Representatives passed the Resolution H.R 780 which stipulates, “Sanctions should target core figures in the government of President Kabila for visa denials and for asset freezes because of actions that ‘undermine democratic processes or institutions.’” On December 1, the European Union (EU) parliament adopted a resolution on targeted sanctions against the Congolese Secret Service Director, Mr Kalev Mutond, Major General John Numbi, General Ilunga Kampete, Major General Gabriel Amisi Kumba and General Célestin Kanyama. The EU is following in the footsteps of the United States to put more pressure of the regime in Kinshasa to, among other things, discourage violence against peaceful protesters and encourage political dialogue in order to achieve a peaceful transfer of power after President Kabila’s second term.
In the meantime, advocacy groups in Washington have put everything on the table as they continue to urge the U.S. government to impose even tougher sanctions which include targeting members of the inner circle of President Kabila, his family and family members of government officials, particularly those who live in the U.S. More specifically, in addition to visa and financial sanctions, they want the government to carry out an aggressive and thorough review of immigration records of family members of Congolese officials who reside in the U.S.
The transition from President Barack Obama to President-elect Donald Trump is so far less of a concern in U.S. foreign policy toward the DRC because congressional and presidential actions on the DRC have been more triggered by strong U.S.-based civil society advocacy in partnership with DRC-based civil society groups. Today as it was yesterday, civil society groups in the US and the DRC are energized more than ever to save the democratic process they desire to see strengthened.