Can President Kabila’s exit salvage DR Congo?
President Joseph Kabila’s declaration that he would not run for the third term in the forthcoming December elections has been dominating political discussions in the continent for long, but now, attention is drifting towards the future of a Democratic Republic of Congo without him.
On August 8, news of incumbent President Joseph Kabila not running for another term in the country’s forthcoming election came as a shock to many Congolese citizens.
But the handwriting has been on the wall before the famous declaration. Earlier in June, Congo’s Prime Minister, Bruno Tshibala had stated that President Kabila would respect the constitution and not run for a third term.
“The elections (referring to the forthcoming Presidential elections in December) are going to take place without the participation of President Kabila, who will abide by the spirit and the letter of the constitution,” Tshibala was quoted as saying in an interview on the sidelines of the International Economic Forum of the Americas conference in Montreal, Canada.
But not many took his comments seriously, considering Kabila’s failure to walk his talk during previous occasions.
President Kabila has been in power since the assassination of his father in 2001. He was officially elected President in DRC’s first democratic election in 2006 since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960.
He went ahead to win a controversial election again in 2011, against all the odds.
But he didn’t stop there, to the chagrin of many who voted him to power. His second term officially ended in 2016, but the incumbent President refused to step down. Elections were expected to hold in November 2016, but the country’s electoral body demanded the election be postponed, citing the widespread insecurity in the country. This led to the postponement of the elections to December 2018.
On August 8 however- the day DRC’s Presidential hopefuls were expected to submit their files, Kabila’s name was not included- leading to widespread jubilations in the capital, Kinshasha.
According to the country’s Independent National Electoral Commission, the elections will take place on December 23, 2018. The shifting of the election, opposition however argued, was a ruse by the Kabila-led administration to further extend his grips on power.
His decision to hang on to power has pitched him against many in the country, but he looked unfazed by the mounting pressure from the opposition camp. The country’s constitution designates a one-year term of five years for president in the country and a maximum of ten years, spanning two terms. The constitution, therefore, barred Kabila from running for a third term.
There are many reasons why many Congolese citizens want Kabila out of power. Under his watch, DR Congo has witnessed various clampdowns on those against his government. His administration is also accused of high-handedness. His refusal to relinquish power has created political instability in the country.
His government has continuously gone hard on public demonstrations, prohibiting people from engaging in protest of any sort. About 47 people have been killed during anti-Kabila protests in the country between 2017 and 2018 according to a UN report.
The development, observers say is anti-democratic and signals a path to anarchy. International rights groups such as Amnesty International have been pushing for a removal of the ban on peaceful demonstrations.
DRC’s economy has also been in a fix under his government. Activities of various militias fighting for the control of mineral-rich areas has left the country unsettled.
Millions of Congolese have been displaced from their ancestral homes to neighboring countries as refugees. Many are also in dire need of humanitarian aids. “More than 4.6 million children are acutely malnourished, including 2.2 million suffering from severe acute malnutrition,” UN’s Mark Lowcock had said in March this year.
“We’re seeing mushrooming epidemics including the worst outbreak of cholera in 15 years. There’s also an epidemic of sexual violence – most of it unreported and unaddressed – and much of it against children,” he added.
The unsettled nature of the country’s political atmosphere has also chased away interests of foreign investors.
The Central African country has a famed popularity for its mineral wealth, but poverty still looms large among its residents. Congolese citizens are “among the poorest on the planet,” according to Global Witness, the anti-corruption charity. In a report in July, Global Witness estimated that, between 2013 and 2015, mining revenues of around $1.3 billion failed to reach the treasury. Global Witness blamed the deficit on a “dysfunctional state-owned mining company and opaque national tax agencies” and “corrupt networks linked to President Joseph Kabila’s regime.”
A DR Congo without Kabila
While Kabila’s exit has dominated most talks of the forthcoming election, analysts are more interested in what happens next after the incumbent President finally exits the stage.
Observers have been beaming their searchlight on the leadership acumen of Presidential hopefuls and their ability to steer the country to prosperity. The country’s ruling coalition is backing erstwhile Interior Minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary to replace Kabila. Shadary, a long-time fan of the incumbent president will jostle for DRC’s presidency alongside eight Presidential hopefuls during the December election.
Shadary’s political antecedent is already a source of worry to many.
Critics argued that a victory for the former minister signals no clear-cut ideological difference between him and Kabila. Shadary’s primary opposition at the poll includes former Vice President Jean Pierre Bemba who made his way back into the country after being acquitted of war crimes at the International Criminal Court, Hague and Felix Tshisekedi, the longtime Congolese opposition figure Etienne Tshisekedi.
Shadary oversaw a period characterized by violent, repression of political protests, the clampdown on opposition supporters and arrest of activists, which made him one of the internationally sanctioned Congolese officials in 2017. Due to this, observers argued, Shadary’s victory will only signal an elongation of what characterized DR Congo during Kabila’s reign.
Opposition chances of pulling a victory at the forthcoming polls will be determinative of the credibility of the electoral body, and many are urging international organizations to weigh in and ensure the highly anticipated election is conducted in a politically conducive environment.