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Cordaid NL

After the clashes: Report from Kinshasa

“If elections will not take place soon, and the political forces do not reach an agreement, civil war is a realistic scenario in DR Congo”, says Yaouba Kaigama, Cordaid Country Director in Kinshasa. “In the meantime we continue our work.”

Soon after we talked to our colleague Nikki de Zwaan in Eastern Congo about the election delay, clashes between police and opposition forces took place in Kinshasa on Monday and Tuesday, killing dozens of people. Demonstrators took to the streets, claiming that president Kabila’s decision to delay elections is an unconstitutional and undemocratic maneuver to cling to power.

Yaouba in Kinshasa
Yaouba Kaigama (photo: Cordaid)

Yaouba Kaigama, Cordaid’s Country Director in DR Congo who has been living in the troubled country for the last 8 years, was in Kinshasa when violence erupted.

We are ready to evacuate staff at any moment.

Yaouba Kaigama, Cordaid Country Director DR Congo

What did you do when violence flared up and what is the situation today?

“On Monday and Tuesday violence forced us to close our office in Kinshasa. At the moment the streets are relatively calm again and yesterday we have gone back to work again. Our humanitarian work and our programs in health, education, economic opportunities as well as security and justice have not been suspended. But we are ready to evacuate staff at any moment.”

“The situation is still extremely tense. The EU and African Union backed dialogue between government and opposition has been suspended. The Bishops Conference – who has a strong position here – has withdrawn from the dialogue platform and will only return if Kabila will not run for a third term, elections will be held within a year and all parties can take part in the talks.”

We haven’t seen this kind of violence in Kinshasa since January last year. What’s at stake?

“We are familiar with violent conflict in Eastern DRC, places like North Kivu , where insecurity forces us sometimes to make use of UN transport logistics to distribute medicines. But this kind of fighting in Kinshasa is rare. This is different. At the moment in Kinshasa, the hard-fought constitution of 2006 – and with it democracy – is at stake. This constitution was a compromise between a lot of different powers in the country. It laid the foundation for the first democratic presidential elections, won by Kabila in 2006  and in 2011, and allows for no more then two five-year terms. Expectations of change are huge, especially among young people. They claim the Kabila regime hasn’t delivered and demand their right to vote for a new president and the constitution to be respected.”

The hard-fought constitution of 2006 – and with it democracy – is at stake.

Yaouba Kaigama

It sounds much like what happened in Burundi, with Nkurunziza’s disputed third presidential term.

“It could be much worse. If the ruling parties, the opposition and civil society do not reach a compromise through an inclusive dialogue, then we can expect more violence throughout the country. A vast majority of the people and the parties wants to stick to this constitution, as a democratic foundation. They fear that breaking it allows dictators to rule again, like Mobutu. In a sense the clashes we saw are a first test of DR Congo’s young democracy.”

How can further electoral violence be prevented?

“Most importantly elections have to take place within this year. If this is not possible, then all parties, also those who are not currently attending the negotiating table, need to sit together. If this fails, violent unrest will be huge. Many armed groups and factions could seize the opportunity to break loose in the constitutional vacuum that will exist. So until December, when Kabila’s second term will come to an end, the eyes of the world should be on Kinshasa and international efforts to prevent the worst scenario need to be intensified.”

Until December, when Kabila’s second term will come to an end, the eyes of the world should be on Kinshasa.

Yaouba Kaigama

Elections and violence often go hand in hand in fragile democracies. What is the key to prevent this?

“A key element is the independence of the electoral administrative body. If that body does not truly represent all parties – government, opposition and civil society – and is under control of either one of the parties, dispute is triggered and fair elections cannot be held. With all the risks this entails, like we see at the moment in DR Congo.”

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