President accused of trying to cling to power by delaying elections
The United States has warned of further violence in the already war-wracked Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) should President Joseph Kabila hold on to power after his mandate expires in December.
Washington has been keeping a close eye on the DRC, where tensions are running high ahead of the December 20 deadline for the end of the president’s second term.
He is barred from running again under the constitution. The opposition and Western powers are worried Kabila is pulling strings to keep his post as head of state, and may try to delay an election due to be held on September 19.
Meanwhile, a young man was shot dead yesterday when security forces fired at a crowd protesting against the government’s alleged failure to protect civilians after a gruesome massacre in eastern DRC.
Police and troops fired teargas and warning shots to break up an angry protest in the town of Beni, where 51 civilians were hacked to death at the week – end in the latest in a string of attacks blamed on rebels.
Security forces stepped in after hundreds gathered in the town’s main street on the last day of a three-day mourning period called by civil society groups over the gruesome murder of dozens of people on Saturday night.
The killings in and around Beni have been blamed by the government and the UN mission in the country on the rebel Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a partly Islamist armed group of Ugandan origin.
The group has been present in the DRC for more than two decades and is accused of a litany of human rights abuses. The ADF, opposed to Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni is thought to be deeply embroiled in criminal networks funded by kidnappings, smuggling and logging.
The son of Laurent-Desire Kabila took over after his father was assassinated in 2001, before being elected in 2006 and 2011. In May, the constitutional court allowed Joseph Kabila to stay in power if the election does not take place on September 19, in accordance with the constitution, which requires a vote 90 days before the end of a president’s mandate.
“Sadly, the situation has only deteriorated. Congo today is roughly one month away from a fully fledged constitutional crisis,” Anthony Gambino, who used to head the US Agency for International Development office in Kinshasa, said.
The State Department’s special envoy to the Great Lakes region of Africa, Thomas Perriello, warned that in countries where incumbents tried to change the rules to stay in power, those countries were five times more likely to face violence and instability.
“The good scenarios get less likely as we get closer to these deadlines, and the bad scenarios get more likely. We see this next month as crucial,” he said.
Perriello, like Gambino, was speaking at the Brookings Institution this week alongside the DRC’s ambassador in Washington, Francois Balumuene.
The envoy has called for an extension of Kabila’s mandate to address the country’s crisis.
“We need time after December 20, almost a year, to prepare [for] the elections,” Balumuene said, promising that the outgoing president would not run for a new term. US President Barack Obama has pressed for improved democratic transitions in Africa. Noting that he himself was limited to two terms under the US constitution, he said: “The law is the law.”
Washington has also pressed, unsuccessfully, for Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza and Rwanda President Paul Kagame to respect the laws in place in their respective countries to leave power when their time is up.
The DRC – which gained independence from Belgium in 1960 when it was previously known as the Belgian Congo, and later became the Republic of Zaire from 1971 to 1997 – has suffered brutal wars, mainly on its eastern front with Rwanda.