Democratic Republic of Congo: tense electoral process

Published: 16 Mar 2016
By: Djibril Balde

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is still without an electoral calendar, despite the fact that presidential elections are supposed to be held this year. As a result, the political climate is tense, compounded by the uncertainty of who will stand given that the Congolese constitution forbids President Kabila, in power since 2001, from competing.

The Congolese political class is very concerned about the elections. Mr Delly Sesanga, president of the political party Envol, said: “We still have concerns about the calendar being respected and free and fair elections actually being held in 2016 for a new chamber and a new head of state. The fact that the president maintains that all elections must be organized, including local elections, might contribute to the postponing of the scheduled electoral calendar.”

The sixty-four million dollar question is: Will President Joseph Kabila respect the constitution by not competing for a third term?

A Congolese political refugee based in Senegal spoke to IRRI last week, stating he believes that President Kabila will not respect the constitution. He thinks that President Kabila will use all means at his disposal to serve a third term, because he knows that if he leaves power he will be brought to justice, due to the many abuses committed during his reign, such as political assassinations, kidnappings and discoveries of a mass grave, etc.

Last January, in the capital Kinshasa and some provinces, dozens of people were killed by security forces during violent protests. Protesters were denouncing a bill that would have enabled Kabila to remain in power after the end of his second term. As a result, opposition leaders, human rights defenders and the leaders of grass-roots movements were arrested. The UN has denounced the increase of arrests of opposition figures and urged Kinshasa to allow the holding of “credible” parliamentary and presidential elections in November 2016.

Following the January events, Christopher Ngoyi Mutamba (president of the NGO Synergie Congo Culture et Développement, whose release IRRI called for in a previous blog) was arrested and is still in detention. Two other young civil society activists, Fred Bauma and Yves Makwambala (from the youth movement Filimbi) were prosecuted by the Congolese justice system on charges of undermining the state’s internal security after participating in a press conference on “Youth and Citizenship” with Senegalese and Burkinabe grass-roots movements. They are still in detention. According to José Maria Aranaz, Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in the DRC, the case of the Filimbi activists is emblematic: “Civil society will play a very important role in the credibility of electoral processes in the future. And all restrictions on the activities of civil society will have a direct impact on the credibility of the electoral process.”

In Maluku, a suburb of Kinshasa, residents reported a mass grave to MONUSCO. The peacekeepers went to the scene and discovered four hundred and twenty five bodies that had quickly been buried at night, according to some residents. Recent media reports claim that these “are bodies of those who died during the events of 19 to 21 January in the capital.”

Previous experience has shown that elections can spark off violent conflict – in Africa and elsewhere. The involvement of the African Union and the international community in the electoral process in Congo is paramount, as it can promote political stability in the DRC. However at a national level, a necessary first step is that the ruling party, the opposition, civil society and the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) take heed of the Congolese constitution and relevant national legislation and agree on an electoral calendar. Then it is important for all stakeholders should also work to revise the electoral register, so as to allow every Congolese citizen of legal voting age to fulfill their civic duty.

The Congolese authorities must release all political prisoners and human rights activists. They have the obligation to guarantee freedom of expression as well as freedom of assembly to the population, civil society, the media and the opposition. They must also stop politically motivated arrests, in order to avoid further exacerbating problems in the electoral process. In addition, an independent investigation must be conducted in relation to the mass grave at Maluku and those responsible must be held accountable. Paul Nsapu Mukulu, Secretary-General of FIDH has said: “It is high-time the international community sent a clear message to President Kabila that he must respect the constitution and hold free, fair, and credible elections in November 2016. If we want to avoid the same situation as in Burundi, the UN Security Council should consider imposing sanctions against leaders of the Congolese security forces who have been responsible for extra-judicial killings, torture, and arbitrary arrest of human rights defenders, journalists, and political opponents during the pre-electoral period in the DRC.”

Equally important, to ensure the Congo leadership sets the right example, President Kabila must respect the two term limit in the Congolese Constitution. Otherwise the country will be put to fire and sword. The international community should put strong pressure on him in order to discourage him from seeking a third term.

Programmes: Causes of Displacement
Regions: Great Lakes Region, Democratic Republic of Congo
Type: IRRI Blog