Tension is mounting in Democratic Republic of Congo as the constitutionally set date for President Joseph Kabila’s second and last term in office draws near.
His government and an energised opposition are bracing for a possible showdown on December 19 — the date when he is supposed to officially step down.
The US embassy in Kinshasa has ordered American citizens to leave the country before then.
“As a result of the deteriorating security situation, the Department of State has ordered family members of US government personnel and authorised non-emergency personnel to leave the country by December 10, 2016,” reads the departure order the embassy released on December 2.
In the troubled Eastern Congo, a massive campaign dubbed “Bye Bye Kabila” has gained momentum since its launch on November 26. Its organisers plan to sustain the campaign.
Mineral-rich eastern DR Congo is known for harbouring hundreds of armed groups. President Kabila’s hold on power poses the risk of strengthening the political agenda of these armed groups, who would revive their plunder of the country, a youth activist from Goma, the capital of North Kivu, told the US Congress on November 29.
“Unfortunately, it is clear that there will be no election this year in DR Congo and this could plunge the country into a crisis over legitimacy and this would affect the Great Lakes region,” said Fred Bauma, a member of Lutte pour le Changement (Struggle for Change, or LUCHA), which helped organise the “Bye Bye Kabila” campaign.
“The president could salvage the situation by not running for a third term thereby upholding the Constitution,” Mr Bauma added. He was jailed for 17 months for organising democracy campaigns.
Beginning in September, President Kabila together with some opposition parties struck a deal to have him remain in power and extend his term up to April 2018.
Protests begun in January 2015 when the president first attempted to change the law to delay the general election.
“Our fight is not in any way against President Kabila but to reaffirm our Constitution. We protest for peace, social justice, freedom and dignity,” said Mr Bauma.
A survey released in September showed that over 80 per cent of people interviewed across DR Congo’s 26 provinces oppose any amendments to the Constitution.
At least 75 per cent want the president Kabila to step down when his mandate expires, while 79 per cent wanted him to resign if elections were not held on November 27 as the Constitution prescribes. Over 50 per cent defended their right to protest and in a hypothetical election, only 7.8 per cent would vote for him.
Efforts to avoid an escalation of tensions lie with the National Episcopal Conference of the Congo — an organisation of Catholic bishops, which commands significant influence in the country since 40 per cent of the population is Catholic.
The Catholic bishops are mediating talks between the government and a coalition of opposition parties for a transition arrangement that is agreeable to both sides before December 19.
According to the UN Security Council, all political leaders and their supporters need to exercise restraint in their actions and statements; to refrain from violence, violent speeches or other provocations. They also need to work on a swift political solution before December 19, 2016.