Congolese president under pressure after overstaying term in office

People walk near burning debris during protests in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2016. (Credit: AP Photo/John Bompengo)

Pressure is mounting on Congolese President Joseph Kabila for exceeding his presidential term and indefinitely postponing elections.

Protestors demonstrated after the expiration of the mandate on Monday. Meanwhile, Germany announced that it would suspend planned development aid talks, citing the political crisis.

“From now on, the Congolese government’s scope for action will be restricted. The German government will adapt its political contacts and cooperation in accordance,” according to a statement from Germany’s foreign office. “The negotiations on development cooperation scheduled to take place next year will be postponed indefinitely. The German government reserves the right to take further steps.”

Congolese courts ruled earlier this year that Kabila could remain in power until the elections, which were originally scheduled for November. But the government moved back the date and eventually said elections would take place in 2017. Opponents accuse Kabila of stalling in order to hold onto the presidency.

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Dozens of protesters died this week in clashes with security forces. Congolese police said civilian deaths were accidental or were in response to looting. The local organization Humanism and Human Rights said at least 10 people died and 47 were hurt when security forces attacked protesters in the southern city of Lubumbashi.

Reports today indicate that the protests were slowing down. In the past two days police arrested 275 people, according to police reports.

Germany is the first country to take action in response to the events. Other countries were quick to condemn Kabila’s actions and the police violence against protesters.

“It is unfortunate that DRC security forces responded to this expression of democratic sentiment with tear gas, arrests and warning shots. We remain ready to impose additional sanctions on those – whether government or opposition – who perpetrate violence or impede DRC’s democratic institutions,” according to a statement from the U.S. embassy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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Kabila attempted to head off criticism when he appointed opposition politician Samy Badibanga as prime minister. Other parties rejected the deal, claiming that Kabila was attempting to form a power-sharing government that shut out major opposition parties and kept him in power.

The U.S., U.N. and others support a mediation effort led by the Catholic Church in the Congo. They have made clear that elections must be scheduled immediately and that the negotiations should not involve making changes to the constitution. There are concerns that Kabila would try to find a way to extend his power beyond the two-term limit set by Congo’s constitution.

Mediators said they want to hash out a deal before Christmas, but the outlook is dim. The leader of the UDPS party Jean Marc Kabund said the only solution involves Kabila leaving office.

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About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.