The Democratic Republic of Congo, or DRC, has had a long history of political turmoil. Since the inception of the territory, the Congo has been occupied by several countries including Great Britain, Portugal, the Netherlands, and Belgium. It wasn’t until 1960 that there seemed to be a light at the end of the tunnel for the DRC when it declared independence from Belgium and elected Patrice Lumumba as Prime Minister and Joseph Kasavubu as President. Unfortunately, the Congo has remained unstable since then due to various coups, wars, and economic volatility.
Political tensions have been on the rise again as the current president Joseph Kabila has made moves towards revising the Constitution with a proposal that would allow him to stay in power beyond the two consecutive term currently allowed. Politicians, religious leaders, activists, and students are rising up to protest this proposed change.
The Third Term
President Joseph Kabila was elected in January 2001, and re-elected for his second term in in 2011. During his tenure, he has faced ongoing wars in eastern Congo as well as internal rebel forces supported by neighboring Uganda and Rwanda, making his efforts to extend his presidency that much more sensitive. Many are worried not only about the wars that will continue, but the implications that a “president” can make such changes to the constitution that undermine the very nature of the laws.
With more than 6 million Congolese lives lost due to the combination of war, malnutrition and disease, many are looking to the 2016 election as an opportunity for change. Those who oppose the extension feel that Kabila offers only an extension of the suffering and death that they have faced, and the people of the DRC are beginning to take action.
From political and religious leaders, to activist and students, the tension between the people and the government is rising. Critics accuse Kabila of being power hungry, and purposefully postponing the elections to prevent a change in government. They point to the President’s efforts to pass a law mandating a nationwide census ahead of the election and actions against the electoral commission. 40 protesters were killed while protesting against the census and those who dare to oppose the leader are also report being intimidated, threatened with jail time, and other deterrent efforts to silence the opposition.
Jonas Tshiombela, a resident of Kinshasa and leader of the NGO Nouvelle Societe Civile Congolaise (New Congolese Civil Society) states, “My life is now restricted. I am no longer free to live my life as in the past. I can no longer hang out in bars or public spaces. I am reduced to going to work.” Tshiombela is worried about his personal safety and livelihood as he continues to oppose President Kabila, so much so as he tells DW, “Every time I move across the city, I have to inform a group of close friends, who must be aware of where I am, with whom and what I am doing.”
Tshiombela is not the only person to disagree with the extended presidency, and as more students, activists and leaders step forward to announce their stance and disapproval, many are wondering how far the President will go to silence and circumvent the opposition. In fact, the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office in DRC has already reported over 400 cases of rights violation since the beginning of 2016, ranging from arrests, threats and other offenses exceeding the number of violations during the January protests of 2015.
As the 2016 elections continue to play out, the world will be watching the DRC and the impact that this election process has on the stability of the region.