Democratic Republic of Congo: the long journey towards the alternation

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57 years after independence, the DRC is still struggling to achieve its first democratic alternation at the top of the state. Yet a few months ago, the majority of Congolese aspired to witness the very first peaceful handover of power between the current President of 16 years, Joseph Kabila, and the newly sworn in president. This was meant to have happened before November 2016 according to the country’s constitution.

Joseph Kabila is no longer entitled to stand for a third successive term, according to the constitution he promulgated himself on 18 February 2006.

Since its independence in 1960, the Congolese population has only had four presidents, Joseph Kasa-Vubu (1960-1965), Joseph-Désiré Mobutu (1965-1997), Laurent-Désiré Kabila (1997-2001) and Joseph Kabila (2001-date). These successions were, either occasioned by a coup d’etat or a reversal of power by a rebel movement or even an assassination.

After taking office in 2001, Kabila inspired hope for the reunification of the country which had now been divided into three zones by a war that lasted for three years.

The burning question is, could Kabila still get involved and make every effort to mobilize the necessary resources for the elections that will lead to his own replacement? The doubt persists. And for good reason.

Although some signals were sent by the ruling Majority camp to try to reassure, including a commitment by the President of Congress to respect the constitution, developments in recent months still create uncertainty, especially since Joseph Kabila has refused to declare that he will not be a candidate for his own succession through modification of the constitution to remain in power.

At the beginning of Joseph Kabila’s second term, the government pledged to Parliament to provide a budget line each year for the financing of presidential elections. However, the government hit the people with a fait accompli in 2016 and asserted that the money had been allocated to the war effort to end the rebellion launched by the M23.

To date, the overall budget for the organization of elections is estimated at a staggering 1.8 billion US Dollars equivalent to more than 1/3 of the annual budget of the country in 2017 (4.5 billion US Dollars) which the government now claims it cannot afford. Nothing is less reassuring.

Since the violence of January 2015, the democratic space has become increasingly restricted and human rights abuses recurrent. Several opponents of the regime and leaders of civil society movements have been either imprisoned or forced into exile.

Certain media belonging to opposition political parties have been shut down, journalists and human rights defenders, assassinated or imprisoned.

Although America and the European Union have adopted targeted sanctions against Congolese officials and the army who are known to be involved in serious human rights violations, the abuses have not diminished. On the contrary, repression continues.

In November 2015, President Kabila called for dialogue to reach consensus on issues directly related to the organization of elections. This appeal was initially boycotted by the main opposition party (UDPS) and the G7 (Grouping of 7 political parties which defected from the majority). The dialogue culminated in the signing of the New Year’s agreements which provide for elections to be held in 2017.

As a result of this agreement, President Kabila will remain in office until the next elections and the Prime Minister will be granted the opposition.

This responsibility was entrusted to Etienne Tshisekedi, President of the “Rassemblement”. Unfortunately, on February 1, 2017, he died in Brussels which has left a vacuum and created an impasse.

While transparency and accountability are part of the pillars of good governance, in the DRC the government has deviated from the rule to the point where the situation the country finds itself is mainly attributed to the obvious will of the majority to retain power by non-democratic means.

The opposition, meanwhile, cannot always speak the same language because of the war of leadership and the pursuit of their personal interests. The people are left to overcome the effects of the economic crisis created by the political class by themselves.

Bernard Cazeneuve, a French politician, said: “Democracy must breathe.” If elections are always regarded as one of the main breathing mechanisms of democracy, we must consider that the Democratic Republic of Congo is increasingly stifled to the point that it risks losing the word “democratic” that pretentiously characterizes the Republic it represents.


The views expressed in this post are of the author’s and in no way reflect those of The Election Network.

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