According to a lead mediator from the Catholic Church, Congolese President Joseph Kabila will step down after elections, which will be held before the end of 2017, under a deal that was struck by political parties on 30 December 2016. Speaking to reporters, Marcel Utembi, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference in the DRC, disclosed that under the deal, President Kabila will be unable to change the constitution to extend his mandate and run for a third term in office. Hopes are now high that the landmark power-sharing deal between DRC’s political opponents will bring an end to a months-long crisis. It also aims to head of further unrest over the fate of President Joseph Kabila, whose second and final mandate ended on 20 December with no sign of him stepping down and no election in sight.
Below is a timeline of the crisis that has affected the country
- 17 January 2015 – Parliament adopts a bill that would enable President Kabila, who has been in power for fourteen years, to extend his term beyond 2016. The president’s opponents believe that he wants to prolong his mandate by making the presidential and parliamentary elections contingent on a new electoral roll, as a census that was set to begin in 2015 has yet to take place.
- Between 19 – 22 January 2015 – Clashes between police and anti-Kabila demonstrators erupt in the capital Kinshasa and several other towns across the country. The clashes degenerate into riots and looting, with police using life fire and tear gas in a bid to disperse the crowds. Dozens are killed. Speaking from Belgium, opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi calls on the Congolese people to force a “dying regime” from power.
- 25 January 2015 – Parliament votes in favor of a new election law, which still leaves doubts over the timetable for new polls.
- December 2015 – The United Nations expresses concern over a government crackdown on opponents, pointing to “arbitrary arrests and detentions, in particular political opponents, civil society activists or demonstrators.”
- 4 May 2016 – Opposition leader Moise Katumbi declares that he will stand in the presidential election. He is seen as the leading challenger to Kabila. The wealthy businessman is a former Kabila ally who joined the opposition in September 2015 after stepping down as governor of mineral-rich Katanga province.
- 11 May 2016 – The Constitutional Court states that Kabia can remain in office when his mandate expires, even without being re-elected.
- May 2016 – Katumbi leave for South Africa, ostensibly for medical treatment, after appearing in court twice over the alleged use of foreign mercenaries.
- 10 June 2016 – During a Brussels meeting, which was organized by Tshisekedi, the mainstream opposition decides to set up a new coalition.
- June 2016 – Katumbi is sentenced to three years in prison over a separate real estate dispute in a move that effectively makes him ineligible to stand in the election.
- July 2016 – Tshisekedi returns to Kinshasa after two years in Belgium. Speaking before tens of thousands of supporters, he demands that the election be held by the year’s end and that Kabila departs.
- September 2016 – The opposition coalition calls for demonstrators to signal notice to Kabila, three months before his term is due to expire.
- 19 – 20 September 2016 – Violence erupts in Kinshasa between security forces and youths, leaving several dozen people dead. The protests were called by Tshisekedi’s opposition coalition to coincide with the last three months of Kabila’s term in office.
- 17 October 2016 – The parliamentary majority and an opposition fringe minority sign an accord, which effectively pushes the presidential election back to April 2018 and keeps Kabila in place until his predecessor takes over. The mainstream opposition however continues to demand that Kabila step down at the end of his mandate, in December 2016.
- 8 December 2016 – The DRC’s episcopal conference CENCO launches talks which are aimed at a deal on setting up a transition authority until a presidential election can be held. It sets a 16 December deadline, which comes and goes.
- 12 December 2016 – The United States and the European Union (EU) impose sanctions on top Congolese officials over bloodshed in the country.
- 17 December 2016 – Catholic Church negotiators announce that talks would resume only a day after Kabila’s term ends.
- 20 December 2016 – According to the UN, deadly clashes erupt in Kinshasa and other cities on the last day of Kabila’s mandate, leaving at least forty people dead.
- Late December 2016 – The CENCO-mediated talks resume
- 31 December 2016 – The two sides agree that Kabila will remain in power until elections are held at the “end of 2017.” During this 12-month period, a so-called National Transition Council, will be set up, headed by opposition leader Tshisekedi, and a prime minister will be named from opposition ranks.
SECURITY MESSAGE FOR U.S. CITIZENS: KINSHASA (DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO), TAKE PRECAUTIONS DECEMBER 17-19December 16, 2016 in Democratic Republic of the Congo
The U.S. Embassy informs U.S. citizens in the DRC that U.S. government employees have been instructed to limit their movements to and within Gombe starting on Saturday, December 17. Employees have also been asked to remain in their residences from Saturday at 23:00 until Sunday, December 18 at 05:00.
During a speech in April 1990, then Zaire President Mobuto Sese Seko promised his people an end to one-party rule and a future without the many they knew as the Guide. However in the seven years that would follow, President Seko acted on few of his promises, and Zaire eventually sank into chaos, leading to his overthrow in 1997. In the years since, a number of conflicts have resulted in the death of millions of people, and in 2016, a quarter of a century after President Seko’s speech, déjà vu appears to have crept in as the future of democracy is questioned in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
On 15 October, the DRC’s ruling coalition and other smaller parties agreed to delay next months’ election to April 2018, in a move that is likely to anger opposition groups who have accused President Joseph Kabila of trying to cling onto power. According to one organization involved in the discussions, the Union for the Congolese Nation, the parties had agreed in talks on Saturday to give more time for voter registration and to keep President Kabila in office until the delayed vote. A statement has indicated that delegates at the talks would likely ratify the decision on 17 October. UNC president Vital Kamerhe is widely expected to become prime minister as part of the power-sharing government ushered in under the talks. While the DRC’s main opposition bloc has yet to comment on the move, it has already called for a general strike to take place on 19 October in order to press President Kabila to leave at the end of his mandate in December.
Last month, protests against President Kabila, 45, led to clashes with security forces ,with the United Nations reporting that at least fifty people were killed in the capital Kinshasa.
President Kabila has stated that he will respect the constitution, however he has yet to rule out attempting to change the country’s laws in order to enable him to run for a new term in office. Last year, the presidents of neighbouring Rwanda and the Republic of Congo changed their constitutions, effectively allowing themselves to stand for a third term. Opponents of President Kabila now say that they fear that he will do the same.
Gunshots were heard Wednesday in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital city, Kinshasa, as police cracked down on a new student demonstration at the city’s main university, following two days of bloody violence that has been sparked by attempts by President Joseph Kabila to extend his term in office beyond the 2016 presidential elections.
Protests erupted on Monday and have continued over the past days, with many heading to the streets, protesting against the government’s attempts to extend President Kabila’s term. On Wednesday, security forces sealed off the government-run University of Kinshasa, which has been the focal point of protests over the past three days. The protests also prompted the Roman Catholic Church to close its schools in the capital city on Wednesday, with Cardinal Pasinya announcing that they will remain closed until Monday. According to government spokesman Lambert Mende, eleven people, including a policeman, have been killed in the protests, with twenty-two others wounded. The opposition however has disputed these figures. Opposition leader Vital Kamerhe has indicated that at least twenty-eight protesters have been killed – twenty on Monday and eight on Tuesday. Protests in Kinshasa, which has a population of more than 9 million and which is seen as an opposition stronghold, are likely to continue over the coming days.
The protests coincided with a debate in the Senate, the upper parliamentary chamber, over government plans to hold a census before the elections. On Saturday, the lower chamber, the House of Representatives, approved the plan in a vote that was boycotted by the opposition MP’s. Most senators, including members of the governing party, have indicated that they are opposed to the plan as it risks destabilizing the country. The opposition has indicated that the move amounts to a “constitutional coup” by the president as it will take years for a census to be conducted in a country that has little infrastructure and which continues to be plagued by instability in the eastern region.
Opposition parties believe that the real aim of the new measures is to keep President Kabila in power after his mandate, which is set to expire in 2016. The president, who has won two disputed elections, is constitutionally barred from running for a third term. Sources have reported that the president’s regime is now seeking to make the staging of the presidential and parliamentary elections, which must be held by the end of 2016, contingent on the outcome of a census that is planned to start this year across the vast central African country. While the government had earlier indicated that it can complete the work within a year, this week, officials admitted that the election could be delayed and take place in 2017, however they have maintained that the census is vital to ensure that the polls are free and fair.
Both the opposition parties and regional analysts have indicated that the census would likely postpone the polls by at least two years and would effectively keep President Kabila in office for more than fifteen years. Officials have estimated that it would take up to three years to undertake a reliable census in a country that is still gripped by serious unrest in the east. The mineral-rich DRC has some 65 million people in a country that has little infrastructure and where difficult communications make any census highly difficult. The situation in the DRC is being closely followed after a move by Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore late last year to extend his own time in office led to mass rallies that swiftly forced him to flee.