Three months before the end of Joseph Kabila’s (supposedly) final term as President of the DR Congo, no new elections have been announced yet. Everyone’s holding their breath: can Kabila be stopped from pursuing another term, and will there ever be a smooth transition of power in conflict-ridden Congo?
Nikki de Zwaan, program manager for the DR Congo in Cordaid’s Security & Justice department, just visited Eastern Congo to witness the progress made in our ’Access to security and justice’ program, which uses a Result Based Financing approach combined with training of police, the justice sector and local authorities. The success of our program is evident – but what will happen when the Presidential elections will not be announced on the deadline of Monday 19th September or will be postponed until 2017?
Nikki, how is Bukavu at the moment?
“The situation is okay for the moment. People seem to be waiting what will happen, so they are talking a lot about the elections. All events are interpreted in the context of the election announcement on Monday. This morning, there was no gas at the gas station, and then the story immediately goes: ‘This is because they want to prevent trouble’ or ‘People have stocked up because they expect hell to break loose’.”
This morning, there was no gas at the gas station, and then the story immediately goes: ‘This is because they want to prevent trouble’
Why is there such apprehension about the elections?
“The elections, according to the Constitution, are to be organized three months before the end of term of the current President. This term will end on 19 December, which means that the election date will need to be announced on 19 September at the latest. Everybody already knows that deadline will not be made. There’s a National Dialogue ongoing between part of the opposition and the ruling parties to look for solutions. But a large part of the opposition does not want to take part because they do not believe in it and think it’s only a way of the government to postpone the process even further.”
Is the government postponing the elections for a valid reason?
“There are a number of technical reasons for the likely delay. For example, the electoral lists are not up-to-date, the population register is incomplete, preparations are lacking (which could have been made over the last years, if there had been political will). But the biggest problem is that the President, Joseph Kabila, wants to stay in power. He and his inner circle, for their economic interests; although he is officially not allowed to stay a third term. So everybody thinks that the reason why they are delaying the election process, influencing the Supreme Court and the electoral commission, is for Kabila to remain in power and eventually succeed in changing the Constitution in his favor.”
The international community is on top of it, trying to negotiate, but actually part of the international community just wants political stability for Congo to protect their own economic interests.
Is no one doing anything to stop this? They must have seen this coming for over a year.
“Well, yes! But the problem is, though they’re talking a lot and trying to influence the government, publicly Kabila has not said a word about the matter. The international community is on top of it, trying to negotiate, but actually part of the international community just wants political stability for Congo to protect their own economic interests. For them, Kabila represents that stability. The European Union and United Nations have less influence over the situation, because other countries look the other way.”
How are the Congolese people looking at the situation?
“Congo has never had a peaceful transition of power since the end of Belgian colonialism. So they’re all expecting things to go horribly wrong. In any case, there is now consensus about the Presidential elections taking place before the local elections. But on the 19th, massive protest demonstrations are likely to hit the streets, so everyone is anticipating the upcoming months to be quite intense. Not just in Bukavu, but also in Kinshasa, Goma, Lubumbashi and elsewhere.
There are reports that the President has stocked up on arms and tear-gas, to counter the violence. And who knows, the situation here in the East is always rather unstable, so fighting may quickly escalate. Local people try to continue their day-to-day lives as much as they can, but at the same time all the internationals have their visas for neighboring countries ready.”
The reality in many countries is that peace is still a distant future. They’re mostly ‘keeping it together’.
On Wednesday, it’s the International Day of Peace. What’s your feeling based on your experiences in Congo?
“I think it’s very good there’s a day like that on which we all talk about peace and ways to attain it. But at the same time, the reality in many countries is that peace is still a distant future. They’re mostly keeping it together, sometimes going one step forward and two steps back again. For instance, I was in Burundi in 2014, before their elections and the ensuing unrest, and it seemed to all go in the right direction: development, stability and optimism. Because of bad political leadership, with leaders more concerned about themselves than about their country, everything fell apart. And the same could now happen in Congo – which is very sad indeed.”
> Cordaid continues working in DR Congo, even under the harshest of circumstances. Read more about our peace and security work here.