The unfolding political developments in the Democratic Republic of Congo have received international praise but questions remain about President Joseph Kabila’s willingness to hand over power in 2017.
Outgoing United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the signing Saturday in Kinshasa, by the opposition and the Majorité présidentielle, of a political agreement on the holding of elections in DRC and transitional arrangements leading up to the polls.
“The Secretary-General commends all actors involved in this effort, including the leaders of the opposition and of the Majorité présidentielle, and the Conférence épiscopale nationale du Congo (CENCO) for leading the mediation,” said a statement issued by Mr. Ban’s spokesperson.
“He calls on them to abide by the agreement just signed. He underscores the commitment of the United Nations to support its implementation, in line with resolution 2277 (2016),” he added.
The DRC Government and opposition political parties have been holding talks under the guardianship of the Catholic Church to allow a peaceful transition of power.
The political deal reached Saturday provides that Kabila, who has ruled DRC for the last 16 years, will not engineer the amendment of the Constitution to stay in power.
It also was decided that Kabila will appoint a new Prime Minister from the opposition coalition during the transition period ahead of the elections.
Kabila did not sign the political deal.
The President’s last Constitutional term of office expired in December 2016.
He would later secure a Constitutional court ruling extending his reign to 2018 due to logistical challenges facing the country in preparation for the elections.
It is unlikely that Kabila will simply step down without sustained pressure from the public.
It will be recalled that Kabila, who took power following the assassination of his father Laurent Kabila in 2001, has ruled the country with an iron fist.
Opposition protesters challenging his leadership have met the wrath of the police while rebel movements have been crushed by the military.
When M23 rebels took up arms against his reign, Kabila mobilised troops from his allies South Africa, Malawi and Tanzania to smash the resistance.
The rebels were seen as the most potent threat to Kabila’s hold on power.
With former M23 rebels locked up in Kinshasa jails and others camped at Bihanga barracks in Uganda, Kabila remains a force to reckon with in the country.
Another threat against Kabila’s schemes was the former Katanga Province Governor, Moise Katumbi.
In September 2015, Katumbi resigned as governor and from his political party, the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy.
On June 22, 2016, he was convicted, in absentia, of selling a house that was not his and sentenced to 36 months in jail.
This was seen as part of President Joseph Kabila’s attempts to hold on to power.
Interestingly, none of the opposition leaders are pushing for his release. For Katumbi to get out of this predicament, he will need a presidential pardon.
But with a conviction hanging over his head, Katumbi will not be able to stand for a presidential election.
The fourth obstacle was the judiciary system.
However, Kabila surprised many when he managed to secure a Constitutional Court ruling extending his reign for about two years without an election.
“Kabila is an intelligent man. If people believe he is going, that’s good for him. You will not see him making comments on the matter or even signing a document that he will go,” said a source in Kinshasa.
“By the time he decides to open up; he will have consolidated structures to facilitate his stay in power. He always knows how to play his game.”
Also important to note, is that the deal provides that whoever participates in the transitional government will not serve in the post-election establishment.
This means Kabila can easily negotiate with those who will be serving in the transition on a deal that works for all of them.
Analysts will argue that DRC’s opposition fell short of organising a ‘Tahrir-Square’ moment on December 19 hence missing an opportunity that would have struck fear in Kabila’s heart and forced him to quit.
And Kabila knows that most opposition politicians are racists and have openly demonised M23 which would been a powerful ally in securing significant concessions from Kabila.
Meanwhile, Ban Ki-moon said concrete steps must now be taken to prepare the ground for the holding of elections without further delay.
“The update of the voter register must proceed in a timely fashion. All political actors must work to ensure an environment conducive to free, fair, and credible elections, including by refraining from violence,” he observed.
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