Why has President Joseph Kabila chosen to cling to power beyond his constitutional term limit – which expired in December of 2016? Why has the man who organised Democratic Republic of Congo’s only two multiparty elections since independence chosen to sow chaos and instability just when the country needs peace and stability the most? Why did he not proudly allow Congo’s first ever peaceful transfer of power to take place, which could have been his greatest legacy?
These are perhaps the single most important questions analysts, as well as journalists, pro-democracy activists, development workers and a great number of other people in and outside Congo, have been thinking about for some time – and rightly so.
Many hypotheses on why he chose not to leave office have since been presented. For example, one of his top lieutenants, Bernabe Kikaya, argued that Kabila, who has been in power since 2001, is clinging to power (in defiance of Congo’s constitution) to save Congo from a political crisis – a claim only the truly deluded would advance or subscribe to.
According to supporters of Kikaya’s theory, Kabila can only cede power once a new president has been elected – and election for this new president can only be organised by an electoral commission he controls, once Congo’s constitution has been changed to allow him to stand again because only he can be president.
The real reason, however, I suspect, Kabila has chosen to cling to power is more frightening.
Kabila and many of his supporters across Congo and a great number in Kigali and Kampala are frightened that if he cedes power, many of them (even if Kabila himself and a handful others are shielded from justice as a pre-condition for an “honourable” retirement) would be held accountable for aiding and abetting wars and conflicts that killed over 5.4 million Congolese people between 1998 and 2008 and left more wounds on the bodies of Congolese women than on the streets and buildings of the country.
Repealing the New Year’s Eve agreement
Last week, Kabila named Bruno Tshibala as the new prime minister – his second in four months – in attempt to repeal the New Year’s Eve power-sharing agreement, a radical pathway that Congo’s conference of Catholic bishops (CENCO) secured to end the political violence that killed over 200 pro-democracy protesters.
Under this agreement, Kabila agreed, first, not to seek a third term; second, not to alter Congo’s constitution, and last but not least to free all political prisoners.
In return, the opposition coalition known as the Rassemblement agreed to form a government of national unity, pick a prime minister and organise elections that are free and fair. As part of this deal, the Rassemblement also agreed to guarantee a smooth, non-violent transfer of power at the end of 2017, by which time it was agreed Kabila, who stayed for a year as a ceremonial president, will cede power.
Article by Vava Tampa
Vava Tampa, a native of Congo, is a community organiser and founder of the rights group Save the Congo!