*A post from our consultant in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. *
This year, all eyes are on the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The second term of President Joseph Kabila will end in 2016. Elections are scheduled for later this year, and according to the Constitution President Kabila cannot stand for a third term.
President Kabila has tried a number of tactics to remain in power and has been using his authority to try and crush dissent. But his efforts have been met with a flurry of support for democracy by the Congolese people. The government has responded with Pro-democracy protests have been met with violent crackdowns, and activists have been killed, severely injured, or arrested. However, that hasn’t stopped the people from wanting to see democratic change.
The main opposition candidate, Moise Katumbi, announced his candidacy for president last week, and was threatened with arrest one day later.
Since November 1965, when Mobutu Sese Seko dismissed all civilian politicians and established direct army rule, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), then known as Zaire, has never had stable democratic institutions. Now, over 50 years later, we are waiting to see what will happen next.
As a Congolese working as a consultant for JWW in the DRC, I recently interviewed people in the country’s eastern region asking them: What should happen, and what will happen next in DRC? Those interviewed included students, teachers, civil society group leaders, policemen, and a few community members through a focus group in a rural area around Bukavu, the capital city of the South Kivu Province. Here are some of their responses. **For the safety of those interviewed their identities will remain anonymous**
‘’Joseph Kabila and his government should respect the constitution and ensure there is free and fair Elections taking place across the country. It is time for new political actors to take power and work for their country, there is great need of a new generation of political leaders to lead the democratic Republic of Congo. The country is very rich –it has 24 trillion dollars of untapped mineral resources which are vital to global industries, that’s more than the GDP of the UK and US combined. It contains the world’s second-largest rainforest teeming with life, an estimated population of 79 million people, and the potential to power much of Africa—but paradoxically the people of Congo are ranked among the poorest in the World simply because of lack of good governance and transparency in the management of public wealth.’’
Joseph Kabila is making every effort to cling to power and attempting to make sure the elections are delayed by up to four years. He has been calling for a national dialogue which does not align with the country’s constitution. In January 2015, the Congolese people went to the streets to demand that Kabila respect democracy and the constitution by stepping down in 2016. Disappointed, a policeman says:
‘’I don’t think we should continue being used and stand up against our countrymen and sometimes kill them for no reason. At the end we are all ill-treated by the same people in power, they are not thankful; we guard them, provide their security, and escort them everywhere they go. But in the end we do not get paid well, should this continue? I don’t know, but if everything depended on me, it should stop once and for all, we also need change. ’’
A very angry and young student says:
“Why do politicians in this country continue to deny us our right to democracy? More than six million people have died in Congo in the deadliest conflict since the Second World War and our politicians just don’t care. The situation is getting worse and worse every new day, no freedom of speech, opposition leaders and human rights defenders and activists are being threatened for no reason, and these are the cases of Moise Katumbi, former Governor of the Katanga Province for joining the opposition side and stating to be candidate for the expected presidential Elections in November 2016. Some members of the LUCHA, a youth movement in DRC voicing up to demand democracy and social change, are under arrest in inhuman conditions I am a student and never got support from our government, paying for my school fees is a nightmare –the Kabila Government has no single reason to continue, they must respect our constitution and remember that Congo belongs to all Congolese, no matter their political affiliations.”
A secondary school principal said:
‘’I have been a teacher for nearly 7 years but I have never got any payment from the Government. They keep on telling me to wait, I have no idea what I am waiting for, may be a responsible government which is able to pay everyone working.”
On May 4 2016, horrifying news came from the Beni region in the North Kivu province. A former colleague sent me photos that showed attackers armed with machetes and axes hacking at least 17 civilians to death in a night-time assault on their village. I looked at the photos for a few seconds and needed to close my eyes. Since then, the photos have been haunting my mind and spirit. The next day I felt very low in energy–I asked myself the following questions: Where is the government to protect the people of Congo? How many people need to die before there is a responsible government understanding their primary mission? I answered my questions myself after I had remembered the government was very busy trying to delay the November 2016 presidential elections and embezzling public funds, instead of paying the army and police to provide security.
There is nothing to prevent policy makers inside and outside DRC—especially those who have interest in keeping Congo in a state of chaos—from invoking security reasons to postpone the elections in November 2016. President Joseph Kabila can easily proclaim a State of Emergency or State of Siege to temporarily postpone the electoral process.
Looking at what is currently going on across the country, we, the Congolese people, are not sure we clearly understand what Kabila wants to do. Will Joseph Kabila leave office, seek a new mandate, or stay on under his current mandate?
What is very likely is that Joseph Kabila may opt to remain in power by slowing down the electoral process. He could do so for credible financial and logistical problems that are facing the electoral process. The organization of local elections could consume most of the budget for the elections which makes it impossible to organize the Presidential polls on time.
Some political analysts that I have spoken to say that Kabila might accept an exit strategy but he will need certain guarantees: (1) the personal safety of himself and his family (2) no prosecution by the Congolese or pursuit of justice by the international community and (3) no loss of his wealth and property. He would also, undoubtedly, like to keep some political influence in the background, keep his family members (Jaynette and Zoe) on the political map, and maybe even play a role in representing the country internationally. He would, however, prefer to continue to live in Congo.
For the opposition leaders to win elections in DRC, they MUST come together and unify behind one candidate. This would only be possible if Etienne Tshisekedi, Vital Kamerhe , Moise Katumbi all came together.
The situation is very complex, and DRC is a country where anything might happen any time but the local people need to see real change and it will only happen if there is a fair and free election!!!
**This post was written by a JWW consultant and native Congolese. For security reasons, the author will remain anonymous.**
Click here to sign our petition to President Obama calling for additional pressure to be placed on Kabila to step down and allow for democratic change in the DRC.