By Harish Venugoapalan
The Democratic Republic of Congo’s size is similar to that of Western Europe. It contains a population of 80 million which makes it the most populous French-speaking country. The current President Joseph Kabila is supposed to hold elections in November 2016. He has stayed in power since 2001 after controversial electoral victories in 2006 and in 2011. The constitution of the DRC prevents him from contesting for a third term. But the indications so far show that Kabila plans to stay far beyond 2016.
In January 2015, Kabila attempted to introduce a law which required a national census before elections could be held. Kabila also planned to reorganise provincial administration by replacing the eleven provinces with twenty six new ones in 2015. In the same year, the Kabila government claimed that elections could not be held as the DRC was not ready for polls. All of these were seen as delaying tactics and has invited vehement criticism — even internationally.
On the opposite side is Maoise Katumbi, a former governor of Katangi, a mineral-rich province, and the owner of leading football club, TP Mazembe. He is widely credited with doing a good job in Katanga from 2007 till 2015.
He was formerly a Kabila supporter but resigned in protest over Kabila’s attempts to hold power unconstitutionally. In May 2016, as soon as Katumbi announced his plan of running for president, Congolese officials announced a probe into allegations that Katumbi was using American mercenaries. Katumbi too has his fair share of controversies. He has been accused of abusing power to ensure that his football club benefited.
The country’s independent election commission announced recently that it could hold elections only in July 2017 for various reasons. Though the African Union appointed a facilitator, former Togolese minister Edem Kodjo, questions have been raised about his loyalties. There have been persistent protests against Kabila. In clashes with the police last year, about 40 people protesting against Kabila’s dilly-dallying tactics were killed.
The DRC is just recovering from the First and Second Congo Wars. These wars saw the interventions of countries like Rwanda and Uganda. The DRC is world’s largest producer of cobalt. It is also Africa’s biggest tin miner and is an important source of minerals including gold and tantalum. The natural resource wealth in the country was another important reason for these countries’ interventions aside from the Hutu-Tutsi conflict and the Tutsi vs other groups conflict that happened especially after the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Conflicts still continue in the east where there are many armed groups.
There is every possibility of escalation of violence if Kabila continues to find reasons to postpone elections. It is true that Kabila is not the first leader in Africa who wants to manipulate/subvert the constitution. Leaders in Uganda, Burkina Faso, Burundi and a few other countries have tried this before — some successfully (Burundi, Uganda) and some not so successfully (Burkina Faso). But while those countries were reasonably stable, the DRC was conflict-ridden for the past two decades. Another crisis at this stage might just lead to a collapse of the state. The people of the DRC definitely deserve much better than what they are getting from the politicians at present.
This article first appeared in DNA, and is reprinted with permission.