The governance of Africa’s second largest country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), is in a political crisis because the work of organizing elections within the constitutional timeframe was not conducted. The purpose for such inaction was obviously political. The opposition has accused the Congolese president, Joseph Kabila, of attempting to remain in power past the two-term limit as deemed by the constitution. A political consultation also called national dialogue begun on September 1st, an initiative of President Kabila, though the process was contested by some members of the opposition. Radio Okapi reported that on October 17th a compromise on the way forward was reached and an agreement voted on by unanimous consent. It is scheduled to be signed on October 18th and consequently end the consultations. The agreement which we have not seen to accurately verify its content is said to include among other things: the presidential elections scheduled for April 2018, a new primer minister from the opposition to lead the transition period, a team of 19 people (7 from the opposition, 7 from the presidential coalition and 4 from the civil society) in charge of implementing the agreement, and President Kabila will stay in power until the next president is elected. No reports on whether President Kabila will be a candidate for president again. The gathering was held under the facilitation of the African Union’s (AU) mediator, former Togolese Prime Minister Edem Kodjo. On the same day the political dialogue ended, the constitutional court granted the electoral commision an extension to make legal the delay in scheduling the elections. Unfortunately, it is likely that this extension might be contested because while 7 is the minimum number of judges required to rule on a matter, only 5 of 10 total judges were present for this ruling.
Some members of the opposition declined invitation to participate in the dialogue and conditioned their participation on the guarantee that the current president make a promise to respect the presidential term limit enshrined in the constitution and consequently leave power at the end of his second mandate which is set to end on December 19, 2016. The presidential elections were legally supposed to be held in November 2016, but logistically and politically they cannot happen. Because of this delay, tension is increasing daily as some opposition parties insist they will not ratify any agreement which keeps President Kabila in power or opens the door for him to bid for the presidency again. DRC Constitutional Court, in anticipation of this crisis, already ruled in favor of President Kabila to remain in power until the next presidential election.
The Political Dialogue in Context: A Clear Choice Between War and Peace
To start to understand the political dynamics of the crisis at hand, it is important to know Congo’s most recent history. The Congo is a nation slowly recovering from wars which began in 1996 and ended in 2013, with the exception of places like Beni and surrounding localities in North Kivu Province which have not known peace in years. President Joseph Kabila came to power on January 26, 2001, when Congo was at war. He was made president ten days after his father, Laurent Desire Kabila, and former Congolese President (May 17, 1997-January 16, 2001) was assassinated. Laurent Kabila became president as a result of the defeat of the Congolese army against the armies of the neighboring nations of Rwanda and Uganda. Leaders of these nations chose Laurent Kabila to be the public face of an economic and political war which ended 32 years of the dictatorial regime of former Congo’s President Joseph Desire Mobutu. After leading a transitional government, Joseph Kabila was democratically elected for his first term in 2006 and re-elected for his second term in 2011.
More than 35 people, among them police officers, were killed in DRC between September 19-20, 2016 in clashes with security forces. Protesters were demanding that the elections be held and that President Kabila leave power at the end of his mandate. The people need lasting peace; thus, political and military actors need to do everything possible not to engage people in another power struggle. It is imperative that the Congolese people expose and oppose any one who attempts to use force to impose on them any form of government . Political dialogue has the potential to bring hope of a bright future. All parties should put aside their political ambitions and focus on what’s best for the Congolese people.
President Kabila Won this Round of Electoral Political Challenge
Opposition and civil society groups which declined to attend the dialogue or boycotted the forum made a very bad political calculation. The first time President Kabila asked for a dialogue they did not think he could afford to delay the elections and prolong his term in power. However, his strategy worked, and he did. The most logical action for the Congolese opposition is to be at the table, ensure a date for the elections is set, work to fund the electoral process, guarantee it is transparent and finally encourage people to go to the polls. Also, only by engaging can they make sure that the dialogue maintains the integrity of the constitution which prohibits the current president to represent himself for a third term, something he can do only if he legally succeeds in altering the constitution.
In fact, he tried to do so before. On January 17, 2015, the Congolese House of Representatives revised the electoral law and included in it a measure to require a national referendum to be held prior to the elections set for November 2016. The end goal was to remove the presidential term limit from the constitution, thus allowing President Kabila to bid for a third term. The outcry from the opposition and civil society groups, including the Catholic Church, led to massive protest in the Capital Kinshasa and in provinces like North and South Kivu on January 19. Many people died at the hands of security forces in the crackdown of protesters, and many more were imprisoned. Under intense diplomatic pressure, the Senate, led by Mr. Leo Kengo Wadondo, removed the controversial provision from the proposed electoral law and passed it on January 25 . The participation of the opposition will contribute to finding a much stronger and inclusive solution that will save the democratic process the Congo needs to ensure a peaceful power transfer. With consensus, it is possible to build a nation with strong institutions where laws are applicable to all citizens and justice rendered impartially.
The Dialogue in View of Solutions to Problems Affecting Citizens
The Congolese people’s aspirations go beyond a peaceful power transfer to another group of elites who, like their predecessors, will quickly get rich once in office. People want real solutions to economic and social challenges affecting their families. This is why the dialogue should be in view of building strong institutions to ensure for example that corruption in all its forms is discouraged if not eradicated, and all illegally acquired assets are returned to their rightful owners. Furthermore, the DRC suffers from a very serious deficit of the rule of law. If laws are respected, no employers or managers in Congo will dare ask for sexual favors in return for a job position. With the rule of law in effect, the country will protect and hold accountable teachers who ask for sexual favors of women who are in high school or university to pass a class. A commitment to the rule of law in Congo can stop the ongoing land grabbing by the Congolese elite and multinationals aided by the government.
In closing, it is clear that disregard for the rule of law plays a large factor to the ongoing crisis in Congo, considering the current constitution states that total presidential terms are limited to two. Unfortunately, it is not unusual that some people lack humility when they hold a position of power. Only strong institutions can oblige such people to willingly or unwillingly submit to the law. This should be the destination where the political dialogue leads the Congolese people.
Also read “The DRC Elections: the Electoral Commission’s Chairman Explains”
by Jacques Bahati and Edited by Lauren Rogers