As it appears less and less likely that the Democratic Republic of the Congo will hold elections in the coming months, political opposition members and diplomats around the world are calling on President Joseph Kabila to respect his constitutional obligations and pave the way for a democratic transition.
One such effort is the African Union’s plan to bring all parties to the table prior to a constitutional deadline for elections in order to find solutions.
The DRC Constitution sets the deadline for December 19. Thomas Perriello, the special envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa at the U.S. State Department, said that the United States supports the AU efforts, led by the former prime minister of Togo, Edem Kodjo. However, if such efforts fall apart, Perriello said, time is of the essence for negotiations.
“We do worry that if we get to December 19th without a consensus path forward, that could be a very challenging moment for the DRC,” he told VOA. “But there is time left to figure out a way forward that can bring all the sides together within the spirit and context of the Constitution.”
'Glissement' on elections
Kabila, who is nearing the end of his second five-year term in office, has said the country is not prepared to hold elections this year because of problems of financing, the need to first hold local elections and voter registration. In what is being termed a “glissement” or slippage, he has stated he will push back the date and remain in office until elections can be held.
In May, DRC’s highest court said he could remain in power through the next election cycle, which could take as long as a year.
Kabila has not explicitly said whether he plans to run for a third term, something he is constitutionally forbidden from doing.
Members of DRC’s opposition say this is a way for Kabila to cling to power. In an interview with VOA Afrique, Olivier Kamitatu, president of the Alliance for the Renewal of the Congo, said it is time for a transition.
“What we want is to avoid the Burundization of the Congo,” he said, referring to neighboring Burundi, which is enduring its own constitutional crisis. “We want to avoid falling back into conflict, we want to avoid violence, we want to avoid instability, and for that, we are calling on Joseph Kabila to say clearly that he will not be a candidate for a third mandate.”
'Negotiation' by opposition
Opposition members have rejected participating in a dialogue called for by Kabila in late June. Kamitatu said he would participate in a “negotiation” rather than a dialogue, with the result being an election and Kabila exiting office.
“All the opposition right now speaks with a single voice,” Kamitatu said. “We aren’t against a dialogue; we think it’s more of a negotiation. But we are against a dialogue intended to violate the Constitution, massacre the Constitution. We are for negotiations that will respect the Constitution.”
In an independence day address to the nation, Kabila said he supported the AU process and called for a national forum to agree on a way forward. He said, beginning in late July in the province of North Ubangui, the country would launch a massive operation to register all voters in the country.
“I want to reassure you that all the arrangements have been made to finance this process, in all its sequences, as prescribed by law, but also ensuring its security,” he said. “And just like in 2006 and 2011, all logistical assets of the Army will be mobilized and put at the disposition of the Independent National Election Commission to accomplish this goal.”
Kamitatu and other critics have questioned the need to register all voters, saying only the 7 million to 10 million young voters between 18 and 25 years old who aren’t on current rolls must be registered. They have also questioned the independence of the National Election Commission and said Kabila is intimidating and silencing his political opponents.
The former governor of Katanga province, Moise Katumbi, considered a top contender for the presidency, has been charged with two criminal offenses: illegally selling a house and hiring foreign mercenaries. He is out of the country while he recovers from tear gas poisoning he suffered during protests.
Perriello said that the DRC can draw lessons from neighboring countries, including Burundi, and must do everything possible to avoid a return to violence.
“When leaders attempt to solve a problem by eliminating their critics and repressing those who disagree with them, it tends to backfire very badly and be destabilizing for the country,” he said.
He stressed that it is important for the country and Kabila’s legacy to allow “an open, diverse civil society and political space and not see that backsliding.”