The Catholic Church is hosting last-minute negotiations in the Democratic Republic of Congo in hopes a crisis can be avoided when President Joseph Kabila’s second term ends December 19.
On December 8, Archbishop Marcel Utembi, the archbishop of Kisangani, told 30 Congolese politicians that their mission is to forge “a larger consensus around the electoral process.”
In less than two weeks, Kabila’s second and, under the constitution, final term will end. But he will not be giving up power. Elections slated for last month were not organized, and in October Kabila’s political alliance, the presidential majority, struck an agreement with an opposition faction that permits the president to stay in office until polls can be held. They have been provisionally scheduled for April 2018.
However, most opposition parties, most notably a large coalition called the Rassemblement, reject this arrangement. They want Kabila to step down as scheduled and for elections to be held next year.
At Kabila’s instigation, CENCO, the influential body that represents the Catholic Church and is headed by Utembi, has been shuttling between the two sides since late October. It has taken more than five weeks to get the parties to nominate representatives and talk face to face.
“Together we must find a solution to Congo’s problems,” said Olivier Kamitatu, a senior Rassemblement official, “among which the most important remain respecting the constitution, in other words a democratic handover of power.”
Martin Fayulu, another Rassemblement delegate, told VOA the question of who will rule the DRC after December 19 is on the table.
“After Kabila finishes his mandate,” Fayulu said, “there will be a vacuum. He said the talks must determine how to fill that vacuum.”
Kabila not backing down
Until now, however, neither Kabila nor his political alliance have given the impression that the president has any intention of relinquishing power before 2018 at the earliest, or that they are willing to contemplate having elections in 2017.
Kamitatu told VOA time is fast running out for the negotiators. If a compromise cannot be found before December 19, many fear a repeat of September 19, when a Rassemblement demonstration turned violent. According to the U.N., security forces killed more than 50 people over two days.