What happens in the Democratic Republic of Congo after December 19th?

The presidential term of Joseph Kabila, in power in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 2001, is suppose to end in less than two weeks on December 19th. Kabila is barred from running for another term. The next day Congo should have a new government.

For the last year, opposition groups have demanded the electoral commission organize elections. They have mostly met with violence and obfuscation. At least 100 people have been killed in protests in 2016 and hundreds more arrested. Opposition party offices have been torched and one of the opposition candidates have been forced to flee the country. Meanwhile, Kabila’s party insist that no election can happen until 8 million potential new voters are added to the voters roll, knowing full well this could take years.

Joseph Kabila took power—he wasn’t elected; he inherited the office—in January 2001 after the assassination of his father Laurent D. Kabila while nearly half of the country was occupied by foreign troops and rebels. Among the foreign armies on the ground in the Congo, were Rwandan and Ugandan troops who earlier helped Laurent Kabila take power in May 1997. Following disagreements between Laurent Kabila and his former Rwandan and Ugandan allies who warned him against becoming too independent, the latter wound up occupying a large part of Congolese territory along with rebel groups.

The Congolese met in the South African resort, Sun City, to find a solution to the country’s crisis. They drafted a constitution accepted by referendum in December 2005 and promulgated on February 18, 2006. According to article 70 of the Constitution, the president of the republic is elected by a direct, general vote for a five year term that is renewable once. Article 220 of the Constitution is a safeguard stipulating that “… the term length of the President of the Republic” cannot be subject to constitutional revision.

In 2006, Joseph Kabila was elected for a five-year term. Before the 2011 elections, Kabila changed the rules of the game by imposing a single round of elections. This was made possible by paying large sums of money to members of the Congolese parliament. In so doing, Kabila trampled on the Congolese constitution and disregarded the separation of executive and legislative powers. The 2011 elections were particularly flawed and lacked transparency. Despite the objections by the Catholic Church of the Congo, the Carter Center, and the European Union over numerous electoral irregularities, the CENI declared Joseph Kabila the “winner.”

The country plunged into a grave political and institutional crisis. Nevertheless, the opposition expected Kabila to organize new elections at the end of his second and final term, leave power, and make way for a new president. Instead, Kabila stepped up his delay tactics in order to avoid holding elections. That’s when his excuses started. At the same time, he revived an old project to double the number of provinces, adding to the challenge of holding elections. Understanding this climate gives context to the current crisis.

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By Charles Tshimanga

Credit picture: Tutondele Makienda/Getty Images