A stay-at-home strike intended to pressure Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila to step down at the end of his term in December was widely observed, opposition and civil society groups said Tuesday. But while the action brought business and civic activity to a standstill in the capital, Kinshasa, opposition leaders said it may have little impact on Kabila's efforts to hold onto power.
Traffic on the capital's normally bustling streets was greatly reduced, few of the shared taxis that ferry much of Kinshasa's workforce were running and the central market was largely empty, witnessed said. Most shops in the business district were closed.
“Congo, Kinshasa, Matadi, Goma, Bukavu, many towns were completely paralyzed. People didn’t go to work, and the students stayed at home. That means that the people of Congo have shown Mr. Kabila that they want him to go,” said Martin Fayulu, leader of the opposition Commitment for Citizenship and Development party.
Kabila assumed power following the assassination of his father, Laurent, in 2001. He won elections in 2006 and 2011 that the opposition says were rigged. He is barred by the constitution from seeking a third term.
Kabila has not said directly that he wants to seek re-election. But Fayulu said the president has taken steps that indicate he wants to run again when his current mandate ends in December this year.
“His behavior has shown that he wants to cling on to power. He has appointed the people in the electoral commission, and those people are working for him to delay the election. We all know that elections should take place this year, latest November. But the electoral commission is saying that they cannot have election this year because the timeframe they have, they are not able to do that work. But we all know they are trying to delay the election,” Fayulu said.
Mass protests erupted last year against proposed changes to the electoral law, widely seen as a ploy to prolong Kabila's rule. More than 40 people were killed when security forces cracked down on the demonstrations.
Fayulu said this time Congolese were to stay at home.
“January last year, we had people killed because the military and the police shot at people. But today, we told our people to stay home and we told the people not to engage in violence, we told people not to go to work and to stay at home, and everything went smoothly,” he said.
On Tuesday, the African Union, the United Nations, the European Union and the International Organization of La Francophonie issued a statement urging all Congolese political actors “to spare no effort, within the framework of the country's constitution, to ensure the successful holding of elections, preserve peace and deepen democracy.”
The organizations said the peaceful, transparent, smooth and timely conduct of the elections would “greatly contribute to consolidating the progress made in the DRC for more than a decade”.