Congo’s political crisis after 19 December

Protests and arrests have been centred on the Democratic Republic of Congo’s major cities, but we should also pay attention to more rural areas.

Credit: MONUSCO/Myriam Asmani.

Hundreds have been arrested and more than 20 killed over the past few days in Congo’s major cities, including the capital Kinshasa. Credit: MONUSCO/Myriam Asmani.

The formal end of President Joseph Kabila’s rule on 19 December was long announced as a moment in which there could be outbreaks of large-scale violence. Yet on the day things remained relatively calm in most of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

This had much to do with the massive deployment of security forces, which had a dramatic intimidation effect on Congo’s population. Campaigners say over a hundred people were detained in the few days running up to the end of Kabila’s mandate, and that a hundred more have been arrested since.

Already in September 2016, tens of people were gunned down in the streets of Kinshasa during huge protests against Kabila’s attempts to extend his rule. That had acted as a clear warning by the regime that any future expressions of dissent would provoke a similar response – a threat that was borne out on 20 December when more than twenty protesters are reported to have been killed in confrontations with security forces in cities around the country.

[DR Congo in crisis: Can Kabila trust his own army?]

Recent events, including several forms of resistance and confrontation in unexpected areas, give an indication of what might happen in the next few days and weeks. Rather than expecting massive rallies in Congo’s major cities, it looks like we are moving towards other, less predictable and less controllable forms of protest.

Spontaneous demonstrations have erupted in unexpected parts of the country, bypassing the political opposition, which seems have become more and more irrelevant. Different parts of the Congolese population have started refuting the legitimacy of the regime and its representatives. And some protests have shown themselves to be at risk of manipulation by all sorts of actors, potentially leading to a gradual politico-military disintegration that will be hard to manage.

At the same time, the Catholic bishops are continuing their efforts to bridge the gaps between the regime and all factions of the political opposition. After a four-day break and various earlier unsuccessful attempts, these talks − which are aimed at a reaching political agreement that involves an inclusive transition process towards elections − will resume this week.

[Africa’s least loved leader marches on]

However, the bishops’ efforts are already weakened − if not entirely obstructed − by the appointment of new Prime Minister Samy Badibanga’s government just minutes before midnight on 19 December. The announcement of a new transition government was a smart move to distract attention, but ultimately adds to already widespread frustrations.

The opposition’s inability to mobilise large crowds on 19 December reflects its failure to translate popular anger in Congo’s major cities into political strength. Nonetheless, these frustrations remain widespread, also largely driven by a deepening economic crisis. The sharp decrease of the value of the Congolese Franc for several months has had an enormous impact on people’s ability to buy essential goods and is also now affecting the economic position of Congo’s small middle-class.

This dire economic situation has had a disastrous effect on state revenues, which are currently insufficient to cover the monthly expenses of civil servants, including security forces. This means the government is even less likely to participate financially in the organisation of its own electoral process. And it will have to further degrade electricity and water services, which will in turn add to the population’s frustrations and feelings that state-led services are no longer legitimate.

[Hungry for change: the economics underlying DR Congo’s political crisis]

Beyond the cities

These dynamics are most visible in Congo’s major cities, but we should also pay attention to the quickly deteriorating situation in rural areas, particularly but not exclusively in the east. There, a series of small-scale armed attacks against the Congolese army as well as increased ethnically-inspired violence highlight that the crisis is about more than just the president’s mandate. The constitutional crisis is also a trigger to re-express unresolved grievances.

Recently, new armed groups in the region have been instituted. Meanwhile, others have forged new coalitions − for example between Bafulero and Babembe armed groups in Uvira and Fizi, or a number of Batembo groups in Kalehe. All these groups are repositioning themselves and trying to extend their zones of influence. Their struggles are symbolically centred on Kabila’s position, but are rooted in claims of local authority, power and resources.

With the regime is no longer considered credible, armed groups now present themselves as the true and legitimate authorities. They legitimise their existence by calling upon communities’ frustrations, linked to historical political marginalisation, and their need for protection. These same armed groups have − despite their fragmentation – also been able to consolidate themselves as powerbrokers in local politics.

The current crisis, and the prospect of elections, will only provoke new rounds of political competition. When driven or sponsored from the outside by disgruntled politicians or radicalised opposition forces, these armed groups could become a serious threat to local stability once again. Paradoxically, this would not necessarily be bad news for the regime in Kinshasa. It could simply create an additional incentive to delay or simply cancel the elections.

Koen Vlassenroot is Professor in Political Science and Director of the Conflict Research Group, Ghent University. He also leads the Africa Programme of the Egmont Institute.

Kris Berwouts has worked for 25 years for different Belgian and international NGOs focused on building peace, reconciliation, security and democratic processes. The last years he has been working as an independent expert on Central Africa. His book Congo’s violent peace. Conflict and struggle since the Great African War  will be published in July 2017 by ZED Books.

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3 thoughts on “Congo’s political crisis after 19 December

  1. I doubt it whether JOSEPH KABILA is a human being.AFRICAN LEADERS have finally turned themselves into wild animals i don’t know why.
    Am very sorry for Congolese security forces who are supporting this evil man(joseph kabila) How much is their salaries?.WHAT KIND OF CONGO ARE THEY WANNA LEAVE FOR THEIR CHILDREN’s CHILDRENS?whether they are doing it for MONEY,of what value is the money to them when they are dead?




  2. AFRICAN leaders please wake up and help out in the current situation in Congo drc because those so called UN whatever they are just there to enrich their continent and you know it.
    I pit some african leaders who are sending their soldiers to help joseph kabila instead of forcing him to stand down.SHAME

  3. The Christmas season is the time of year where people gather in common communal comradeship to give thanks and perhaps reflect on the past year in terms of endeavours and related activities. Family and friends are important as civic social relationships do matter in today’s fast paced frenetic society where change is considered essential.
    However, I would encourage each of you living and working in DRC to take a quiet moment and reflect on what is truly important. Material gain in the acquisition of bright shiny goods is transitory and illusory as true profound contentment in happiness is within each of us who aspire to live a good life in virtue of character in ordinal values. Please do not be seduced by the easy quick gain or be tempted into taking the shortcut, as goals worthy of pursuit do not subscribe to shortcuts or endeavours illusory.
    DRC in 2017 will require from each and every citizen the courage of civic civil conviction grounded within values profound and prescriptive. The Student Citizen may be required to make choices on which the future of your nation may well be contingent in how choice is operationalized. Remember that values including an ethic in value choice decision does matter and that voice in articulating in advancing values is essential if nation cooperation is to grow in civic civil strengthening.
    Sharing with the less fortunate is critical in the enhancement of civic civil social cohesion within society. The gross division existing between those with wealth and those who are lacking even in the most basic essential necessary to live is becoming increasingly more visible. Unless remedial options to mitigate this disparity in lifestyle are implemented by those responsible in governance the civic civil fabric binding the nation within rule of law will be breached and the consequences will be most dire. Respecting and aiding the vulnerable is indeed a testament positive to a society congruent in optimistic growth.
    Appreciate that education is both a privilege and a right and for those whom are afforded education exercise your talents and skill in a manner strong positive and prescriptive.

    DRC Publics needs now to move forward post Kabila non-violent which must be a ‘National Transition Authority’ subject to the ‘Caretaker Convention’ charged with the responsibility of facilitating Elections for 2017

    Joseph Kabila in my opinion is no longer capable in governing effectively in his capacity to provide any kind of social administrative executive function in exercising leadership.
    The International Community must now consider options forward for DRC.
    The DRC Constitution is clear, Joseph Kabila will not enjoy a Third Term in Public Office, and as his Constitutional Mandate expired December 19/16, a descriptive Public Administrative solution must be devised immediately to ensure continued civic civil social cohesion in DRC, a nation now fragile in expressive discontent as the DRC Political Status Quo elites have failed to serve their fellow citizens evidenced by their exhibiting crass craven personal agendas in attempting to secure a Ministerial Position which is merely a legal fiction designed for personal private theft and plunder.
    Due to a lack of concordance due to internal political squabbling, DRC is still lacking a Government which for me is now beyond that of a joke.
    Innocents will suffer unless the International Community intervenes in the suggestion of a remedy designed to lead DRC forward into elections 2017.
    There exists only one reasonable option ensuring DRC stability in social publics.
    A DRC National Transition Authority charged specifically with the mandate of ensuring elections to standard in 2017 is feasible, doable and reasonable when considering the exigent alternative which is that of chaos grounded within violence.
    UNTAG in Namibia, UNTAC in Cambodia and UNMIL in Liberia were for the most part effective in the facilitation of civic civil translation of the will of the people into governance via the electoral process.
    As the DRC Constitution does not allow for a Government post December 19/16, a Transition Authority subject to the Caretaker Convention will provide the essential bridge in allowing the DRC Citizen to select Leadership via the Civic Civil Electoral Process.
    The Caretaker Convention places extreme limits on Executive capacity to plunder in the negotiation of self serving contracts as this Transition Authority has no mandate to negotiate as suggested in the Caretaker Convention.
    Required is a civic civil social public blueprint ensuring both a census and election to standard in 2017.
    Elections in 2017 will alleviate potential civic strife in DRC as the DRC youth and those DRC citizens who live on the margins of society [98% of DRC] want Kabila gone.
    These disaffected abused citizens have no time for the ‘potemkin’ posturing being currently illustrated by the DRC Political Public Elites who are only sourcing monies for personal gain—the Dialogue Process being an exemplar ‘cardinal’ as the Dialogue participant sitting fees were exorbitant.
    The Citizens of DRC are ready to explode and Africa cannot afford to have DRC disintegrate into internecine violence.
    Sadly, over 10 billion USD has been expended on the two recent UN Missions DRC [MONUC and MONUSCO] with marginal results in the advancement of civic civil social stability.

    The Caretaker Convention
    Wednesday May 11/16 the DRC Constitutional Court decided that DRC President Joseph Kabila, who is constitutionally forbidden in seeking a third term as DRC President, is now by this Constitutional Court decision able to remain in office as DRC President even if no election takes place before his Presidential mandate expires December 2016.

    This judicial ruling was decided following the request of the ruling governing party motivated in DRC President Kabila’s failure to commit in setting a firm date for the DRC General Election, mandated by the DRC Constitution. This DRC General Election was to have been conducted in November 2016, prior to the December 2016 conclusion of Kabila’s Presidential mandate.

    Wednesday’s Constitutional Court ruling was a result of a request for clarification over President Joseph Kabila’s political public fate if the DRC General Election is prevented for reasons not sufficient in logistical rational ensuring that these November 2016 Elections do proceed on schedule.

    The DRC Constitutional Court grounded their legal decision on article 70 of the constitution stating that a President remains in office until an election decides selecting the next President. The opposition political entities argued in favour of article 75 whereby the President of the Senate assumes Office of President immediately following the statutory conclusion of the incumbent President’s Term of Office. Therefore, this individual will hold the Office of DRC President until an election which by active civic civil social citizen participation who will decide via the ballot their civic choice for DRC President.

    Issue salient for DRC:
    My concern regarding this decision rendered by this DRC Constitutional Court is that this judicial ruling does not take into account what I refer to as “The Caretaker Convention” limiting the executive powers of President Kabila, who post December 2016 will no longer enjoy the privileges of an elected mandate. Post December 2016 will witness Kabila as DRC President who is merely that of a caretaker who must be strictly limited in the conduct of his Presidential duties inclusive of presidential responsibilities.

    In my country Canada, Legislative Parliamentary Governance convention requires that the Government command the confidence of the House of Commons at all times. While constitutionally a government retains full legal authority to govern during an election, as well as the responsibility to ensure that necessary government activity continues, the Government is expected to exercise judicious probative restraint in all its executive administrative governance endeavours. This is what is meant as the “caretaker convention”. The reasoning is, following dissolution of Parliament, there is no elected parliament to which the Government can be held accountable, and the Government cannot assume that it will command confidence in the next Parliament as this Government may be defeated.

    Joseph Kabila in my judgment occupies a similar role in that his executive presidential responsibility must considered as that of a “caretaker” severely limiting his capacity to initiate new government business save that of ensuring that the CENI is able to discharge their civic civil electoral administrative responsibilities effectively and efficiently ensuring that the DRC General Election is conducted in a most immediate timely manner without any form of intimidation.

    The conventional restriction limiting the extent to which the President should exercise his authority applies when the Presidency is post mandate according to the DRC Constitution. The Caretaker Convention also applies to the outgoing government during any post-election transition to a successor government. The Caretaker convention ends when a new government is sworn into Office.

    This does not mean that government is barred from making decisions or announcements, or otherwise taking action, during the caretaker period. It can and should do so where the matter is routine and necessary for the conduct of government business, or where it is urgent and in the public interest – for example, responding to a natural disaster. In certain cases where a major decision is unavoidable during a campaign [due to an international obligation or an emergency], consultation with the opposition parties may be appropriate, particularly where a major decision could be controversial or difficult for a new government to reverse.

    In short, during an election, a government should restrict itself – in matters of policy, expenditure and appointments – to activity that is:
    1. routine, or
    2. non-controversial, or
    3. urgent and in the public interest, or
    4. reversible by a new government without undue cost or disruption, or
    agreed to by opposition parties [where consultation is appropriate].

    In determining what activity is necessary for continued good government, the Government/President must inevitably exercise judgement, weighing the need for action and potential public reaction, given the absence of a confidence elected mandate and fully aware that a different government/president will be elected.

    The duties of Ministers must continue to be fulfilled during the caretaker period. Officials and departmental resources continue to be at the disposal of ministers for the purpose of departmental duties. These duties may or may not be set out in legislation.

    As is always the case between elections, ministers are obliged to ensure that the resources of the department and portfolio – financial, materiel and human resources – are not used for partisan purposes. In the context of an election, they must be especially vigilant with respect to the distinction between official government business supported by departmental and portfolio resources, and partisan political activities, taking care to avoid even the appearance that departmental and portfolio resources are being used for campaign purposes for the exclusive benefit of one political entity.

    In order to fulfill their ongoing responsibilities, ministers must provide direction to the department or portfolio as appropriate. At the same time, in order to respect the caretaker convention as well as the distinction between official government business and partisan activity, in the absence of any of the exceptions enumerated above, ministers must:

    1. defer to the extent possible such matters as appointments, policy decisions, new spending or other initiatives, announcements, negotiations or consultations, non-routine contracts and grants and contributions;
    2. work to ensure that departmental activities are carried out in a non-partisan, low-profile manner; and
    3. avoid participating in high-profile government-related domestic and international events, including federal/provincial/territorial events, international visits, and the signing of treaties and agreements.

    Normal Ministerial Cabinet procedures must be followed in fulfilling the minister’s official duties. The minister must not act independently on any initiative that requires Executive approval. Ministerial operations are severely curtailed during the caretaker interregnum, with Cabinet meeting only as necessary to deal with essential items.

    But when it comes to questions of constitutional propriety we go beyond the particular merits or otherwise of the agreements and how a decision was reached. We are dealing instead with the practice of government itself – the rules and norms for decision-making in our society – and there ought to be no room for argument in discussion. If we know what our constitutional practice is and should be then we should always insist on its observance.

    Therefore, I intend to address the character of the constitutional conventions which appear to me to apply in this instance, that is to say, what is regarded as appropriate behaviour by a government in the period following the conclusion of a mandate and leading up to the conclusion of the ensuing general election.

    The Caretaker Convention:
    What is known in some quarters as the “caretaker convention” is easily described although it is nowhere written down. It is a well-established principle of parliamentary government that once parliament has been dissolved and an election campaign is under way the government’s freedom of decision-making is firmly restricted and should be confined to dealing with only routine matters of administration – apart, of course, from any emergency situation which may arise.

    More specifically, it is said that three areas of decision-making in particular should be avoided in this period – matters involving considerable controversy, matters which are not urgent [that is to say, matters which can wait for a later decision without causing irreparable damage], and matters where a decision would unreasonably bind the freedom of decision-making of a future government. It is occasionally said as well that matters involving the expenditure of very large sums of public money should also be avoided.

    There are two reasons for this view, both of which would appear to be obvious. The first is that if the President is out of mandate in time the ordinary mechanisms for scrutinizing the government’s behaviour – question time, a debate on the adjournment, motions for supply, and debate generally – are not available.

    Everyone knows that in a parliamentary system the power of the executive is potentially enormous. It is the existence of these mechanisms of “constructive obstruction” that takes the edge off that power and assures the people that the government is being kept responsible. But if they cannot be used there must be a compensating reduction in the usual extent of the power of the government. The caretaker convention addresses that issue.

    An election campaign ensures the selection of a new president and therefore the possibility that its leaders will not be able to take responsibility for the consequences of prior decisions conducted by the immediate past President [Kabila]. It follows that only the most routine administrative decisions ought to be made in this period – decisions, in short, which any government might make – again excepting an emergency.

    To conclude, it is up to the President to decide what will be done. Conventions, customs, and practices, simply because they are not in any way linked to legality, must always be grounded within an ethos public political in civic civil social character.

    Political public events in DRC are approaching an ‘inflection moment’ in potential civic civil social disequilibrium negative, ensuring DRC Public Society is set back retrograde decades, as intense kinetic destructive forces may sharply breach any prescriptive positive social fabric binding DRC, a nation state in a limited sense of the term, as DRC is utterly lacking in robust independent institutions necessary in the advancement of Governance. In DRC, Institutions promoting Education are profoundly lacking in resources. Institutions promoting Medical Health Care are shattered. Institutions advancing Law inclusive of Justice have been hollowed out ensuring that rule of law in DRC remains a legal fiction. The Public Administrative Institution is beholden to the rent seekers which have been structured by 50 years of benign neglect by the DRC Governing Structure denying any enhancement of normative niceties in promotion of a functioning effective efficient bureaucracy.
    My three years in DRC as a Public Law Instructor has allowed me to observe and bear witness to the inter-niceties existing in DRC which are manifold as the DRC political public actors are for the greater part playing a dangerous game notwithstanding the profound acute frustration of the 80 million or so citizens who are suffering in despair.
    This past year as Rector, I have been privileged in being introduced to significant individuals of power and influence who themselves are Leaders in DRC Society.
    My interactions with these DRC Elites has allowed me insight into the DRC civic civil social zeitgeist and my impressions are despondent, as these National Elites hold their citizens in contempt and regard the International Community with similar contemptuous disdain.
    This ‘disdain’ is grounded within the DRC civic civil social matrix whereby visible strength in power is revered, feared and any weakness in the lacking of action in power is despised.
    I believe DRC is on the cusp of emerging economic social greatness as an African National State administered and subject to norms grounded within rules ubiquitous for all Citizens, regardless of rank in status.
    A DRC State reflecting strong the rule of law in process and in procedure I believe will create a political public cascading effect in Sub-Saharan Africa inordinate in the calming of ‘ad hoc’ extremism in rent seeking governance.
    The Government of Canada is now reaffirming to the International Community at Large a re-commitment to engaging in International Peacekeeping Missions.
    Therefore, in keeping with the values engrained within International Peacekeeping, I recommend the Western Democracies issue a Statement expressing strong support in the respecting of rule of law by President Kabila evinced in his adherence to the DRC Constitution, whereby, on December 19/16, one hopes he will vacate Office as DRC President.
    A Public Statement by the International Community will illustrate clarion that democratic values without ‘fear or favour’ in rule of law matters as ‘practice’ and not merely as ‘fiction’.
    The Western Democracies can make a profound difference in DRC social publics.
    The Western Democracies ought to display in ‘publics’ that Principles of Governance subject to Rule of Law is not merely a talisman deployed for show when participating in International Forums.
    Conviction to principles does matter, as other African Nations will be watching closely in how International Partners respect their own talk when engaging in post conflict development respecting other Nations States.
    The Peoples of DRC will be watching too, as many innocent lives are in balance.
    Why is DRC most challenged in elements social civic civil political publics culminating now in Joseph Kabila’s express intent in not respecting the DRC Constitution inclusive in rule of law which places time limits in executive term of office length?
    My muse as to why current DRC civic civil public politics is roiled and astringent in utter lack of civic civil social cohesive capacity in performance and strengthening of public institutions can be traced to the moment of Congo Independence from Belgium in June 30, 1960.
    I remain convinced that the circumstances surrounding the 1961 assassination of Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba witnessed the commencement and root of many of the present day problems afflicting DRC—–an African Nation State so rich rife in human capital potential and promise, yet most unactualized in social civic economic and public political specific ‘gravity’.
    Something about Lumumba’s social civic public trajectory and the manner of his death offended global public opinion among both the elites and non elites, and has continued to attract and generate attention within the United Nations, and in Belgium and in the United States, and even in DRC itself. Many political public and social civic actors—–black Africans and white internationals created and instrumentalized Lumumba’s downfall.
    A review of the Congo’s politics in 1960 both integrates and suggests for me the perspectives of at least four primary competing public civic actors.
    1. the Congo’s inexperienced politicians who lacked absolute comprehension as to how to govern and why governance exists
    2. a normative righteous presumptive yet most flawed United Nations exemplified by the then Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold who at times displayed an idealized form in absolute lack in prescriptive sound reasoned judgement when confronting crisis
    3. an entrenched Belgian bureaucracy determined to hold on to and maintain past imperial prerogatives regardless of collateralized national Congo enmity directed to this soon to be vestigial colonialist ‘dictat’ in a land no longer Belgium sovereign
    4. an arrogant and destructive United States which under CIA aegis elected to project ‘cold war’ leitmotiv into Congo social civics without regard to potential social civic strife.
    This most arresting complex multi-dimensional tale of greed and power has intersecting narrative lines and an international array of participant actors. These diverse political public styles and variance in social civic conventions of propriety do require an explanation as well as a profound reflective consideration with the reward being a fuller complete and more profound understanding of a momentous event in African social civic public political topography.
    The Congo in 1960 illustrates manifest the roots of empire, and also the exercise and deployment of power without mercy. The social public ruin of Lumumba displays in purest form the vicious character of society without sovereignty, and illustrates the deepest problems of political ethics. Today, DRC institutions of social civic governance are still entailed and encumbered within the antecedents of this past break down in social public civics. President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to respect and comply with the DRC Constitution is merely the resultant of Congo’s ongoing civic civil social disequilibrium which commenced on the day of Congo Independence, June 30,1960.

    Since Wednesday December 14/16, I am back home in Toronto, Canada on Christmas Leave with my return back to DRC mid January.

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