Tag Archives: DRC

Central Africa region 2018 – Autocratic entrenchment and increasing instability

The Central Africa region remains a haven for autocratic and semi-autocratic regimes, in sharp contrast to West Africa, and the situation did not improve in 2018. The sub-region is home to the world’s three longest serving presidents: Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea (39 years in power), Cameroon’s Paul Biya (36 years), and Congo’s Denis Sassou Nguesso (34 years). Moreover, Idriss Déby (27 years) of Chad is not far behind, and the Bongo family has ruled Gabon for over 50 years. Faustin-Archange Touadéra of the Central African Republic (CAR) is the only president elected in legitimately competitive polls, in 2016, although his government now has limited control over national territory beyond the capital Bangui.

All six countries, member states of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC by its French acronym), are ranked “not free” by Freedom House, and score below continental averages on the Mo Ibrahim governance index. The six countries share a common currency – the Central African CFA franc – which was first introduced during colonial times in the five francophone territories making up the Federation of Equatorial French Africa (AEF). Equatorial Guinea, the only former Spanish colony member of CEMAC, adopted the CFA in 1984. Only Congo and CAR have experienced brief periods of electoral democracy in the 1990s, before autocrats returned to power in 1997 and 2003, respectively.

The sub-region experienced further autocratic entrenchment and growing instability in 2018. Biya of Cameroon won a seventh term in elections that lacked credibility. Cameroon also continues its descent towards civil war, as the crisis in the Anglophone regions of the country deepens. Anglophone separatists recently created their own crypto-currency, known as AmbaCoin. In Equatorial Guinea, Vice-president Teodorín Obiang who is the son of the current president was promoted major-general as the family closed ranks after an alleged coup attempt in 2017. Teodorín recently presided over a cabinet meeting, confirming fears he is positioned to replace his father soon. In Congo, Sassou Nguesso’s son Denis Christel, one of 10 family members elected to the National Assembly in 2017, was rumored to be preparing to run against his father in 2021. In Gabon, Ali Bongo has been ill for months and the constitutional court took it upon itself to amend the constitution to delineate responsibilities between the prime minister and the vice-president in the event of a “temporary” absence of the president. Déby pushed through a new constitution for Chad that enhanced presidential powers and eliminated the post of prime minister (see previous blog post here). The CAR is increasingly ungovernable, and various armed groups have spread violence to new regions of the country.

Prospects for replacing one-man or dynastic rule in the sub-region through democratic elections are bleak and stand in sharp contrast to democratic progress in neighboring West Africa, where only Togo is left with a president serving more than two terms. Unlike the successful alternation of power that has taken place in 14 of 15 West African countries member states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), in the last decade, the Central Africa sub-region is a sobering example of strong-man rule in fragile states that could implode into violence.

The situation is not much better when expanding the analysis to the larger Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), which in addition to the CEMAC countries includes Angola, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, and São Tomé and Príncipe. São Tomé and Príncipe is the only country in the larger Central Africa region that regularly holds credible elections and is rated as “free” by Freedom House. The region overall has had limited democratic experiences and ECCAS lacks the equivalent of the 2001 ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance. In contrast to the evolving democratic norms and regional institutions with increasing clout seen in West Africa, Central Africa remains at the mercy of personal networks among autocratic heads of state focused on mutual elite support.

The road to inclusive and credible elections in Central Africa remains long and tortuous, and 2018 has thus far not been a good year for the region. It remains to be seen whether the presidential elections in the DRC on December 23 will break the pattern and result in a peaceful transfer of executive power and more accountable governance [see previous blog post on the DRC here]. The outlook is far from promising, with a worsening political situation and increasing violence as election day approaches.

DRC – 21 candidates for one seat

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the election commission (CENI) has released the final candidate list for the December 23 presidential election. The list has 21 names: three political heavyweights and 18 candidates with few chances to win, particularly as the election is held in one round. Most striking fact? Incumbent President Joseph Kabila is not on it, meaning that for the first time the DRC will see a transfer of presidential power through an election.

Representing the ruling People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD) will be former Vice Prime Minister for the Interior Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, current permanent secretary for the PPRD and a close Kabila-ally. The nomination of Shadary put an end to speculations about whether Kabila would find a way to circumvent constitutional term-limits and stand for reelection for a third term [see previous post musing over who would run in the presidential poll here].

Shadary was a founding member of the PPRD and has risen through the ranks of the party: he was Kabila’s campaign chairman in 2006 and 2011; was elected deputy to the National Assembly; served on the Law Committee (PAJ); chaired the PPRD caucus; and was the coordinator for the ruling majority in the National Assembly. During his time as Minister of Interior from 2016 till February of this year, he oversaw a crackdown on protests in the wake of the de facto extension of Kabila’s term by two years. Dozens of protesters were killed and Shadary was placed on the EU sanctions list for violations of human rights.

There is speculation that with the selection of Shadary, Kabila’s intent is to take advantage of the DRC’s semi-presidential constitution to enact a  Putin-Medvedev scenario where, should Shadary become president, Kabila would be appointed prime minister and retain the real levers of power.

On the opposition side, two front runners are left standing: Felix Thisekedi of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), son of historical opposition leader Etienne Thisekedi who passed away last year, and former President of the National Assembly Vital Kamerhe of the Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC). Two other opposition heavyweights were excluded: former Kabila-ally Moise Katumbi, who was impeded from returning from exile to register as a candidate; and former rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba, recently returned from the International Criminal Court (ICC), who was disqualified because of his his conviction for witness tampering at the ICC.    

Fewer opposition candidates should make it easier to unite behind a single candidate and avoid splitting the vote – unless the opposition decides to boycott because of concerns over election administration. These concerns include the use of a controversial electronic voting machine and an incomplete voter register where 16 percent of voters lack fingerprints. Also, human rights abuses by security forces targeting political party activists are rising, according to the UN Mission in the DRC, MONUSCO, as elections approach.

The electoral campaign starting on November 22 is less than two months away. While Kabila has succeeded in establishing a unified coalition, the Common Front for Congo (FCC), backing Shadary, the opposition appears to be waffling still over how to select their candidate. Negotiations have been ongoing among opposition leaders without any formal agreement announced to date. Bemba has declared he is ready to back a consensus candidate, but who will it be and how will he be selected [there are no women among the top presidential contenders]? The opposition leaders have announced a public meeting on September 29, by which time we should know more about their strategy.

DRC – Finally preparing for a presidential election, but who will run?

With a two-year delay, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is finally preparing for a presidential election on December 23, 2018. The deadline for candidate declarations is August 8. Many observers still wonder whether term-limited President Joseph Kabila will find a way to run, though moves to adopt a new constitution or change key constitutional provisions have seemingly been abandoned [see earlier blog post about such moves here]. The smiling face of the president adorning huge billboards in Lubumbashi or printed on t-shirts in Kinshasa is not reassuring to his critics, who take it as an indication that “he wants to stay.” Kabila supporters from the ruling People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD) pooh-pooh such concerns, arguing it is a way of celebrating the president’s achievements.

It is peculiar that with less than a month to go before the window for candidate submissions closes, the PPRD candidate is not yet known. Though the process for selecting that candidate remains opaque, it is clear there will not be an open primary election. According to André-Alain Atundu, spokesperson for the presidential majority, primaries contributed to destroying the Republican Party in the US and the Socialist Party in France. Kabila tightly controls the candidate selection process in an effort to manage political egos and “avoid a war in his political family,” in Atundu’s words.

On July 1, Kabila launched a formal coalition – the Common Front for Congo (FCC) – that will throw its support behind a single candidate for the ruling majority. Wise move, as the constitution was changed in 2011 to eliminate the requirement for a runoff in the event no candidate wins an absolute majority (Kabila was reelected with 49 percent of the votes later that year). Members of the FCC include parties and civil society structures currently represented in the government of national unity created following the political agreement of 31 December 2016, but is open to others. On July 7, the Unified Lumumbist Party (PALU) also signed on to the charter of the FCC, despite a move earlier in the year by PALU to join forces in the coming elections with two of the major opposition parties, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) of Jean-Pierre Bemba and the Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC) of Vital Kamerhe.

Under Kabila’s leadership, the FCC aims to run joint candidates with a common program at all levels of elections: presidential, legislative and regional elections that will all be held simultaneously. Remains to be seen who Kabila will favor as presidential candidate and whether the FCC will resist as the egos of those not selected are bruised. Potential choices include National Assembly President Aubin Minaku; former Prime Minister Matata Ponyo; Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, former vice prime minister for the interior, recently promoted to party secretary for the PPRD; and a number of possible outsiders.

On the opposition’s side, the front runners are easier to identify. Despite significant talk about the need for a single candidate to avoid splitting the vote, there is as yet no formal agreement on who that should be. The three top potential candidates are: Moise Katumbi, former governor of Katanga and former ally of Kabila, who has had his passport revoked and currently cannot return from Europe; Félix Thisekedi, son of historical opposition leader Etienne Thisekedi of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) who passed away last year; and Jean-Pierre Bemba, president of the MLC and former rebel leader, who came in second to Kabila in the 2006 presidential run-off. Bemba, who has served 10 years of prison in The Hague, was acquitted on appeal by the International Criminal Court on June 8 from charges for crimes against humanity. He has been promised a passport to return to the DRC by the Congolese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, the debate is on between lawyers in Kinshasa as to whether Bemba can register as candidate, given on the one hand his conviction for witness tampering at the ICC, and on the other the fact that he does not yet have a voter card – which is required to register. Finally, former President of the National Assembly Vital Kamerhe appears ready to back whoever emerges as the strongest opposition candidate.

If indeed an agreement is reached among opposition leaders on fielding a single candidate, how would such a consensus candidate be selected? Via a “mini primary” election, as Kamerhe has suggested, an idea also supported by Katumbi in the past? If so, who would vote and how would such a primary election be organized in time? The MLC party congress to take place on July 12-13 could provide a first good indication of the opposition’s ability to move ahead in unified rank, depending on whether the party opts to put forward its own candidate, and if so how other opposition parties react.

July 25 marks the start of the process for submitting candidates for the presidential and legislative elections. We can foresee two weeks of intense political maneuverings in both political camps between now and then.

DRC – President Kabila and an extension to the presidential term

President Joseph Kabila’s second term comes to an end in December 2016. With the presidential election still nearly two years away, his supporters have already tested various options for a possible extension of Kabila’s mandate beyond the constitutional two-term limit. The term-limit issue is, however, proving to be highly divisive, including within the ruling coalition.

A simple revision of term-limits – similar to what Blaise Compaoré attempted in Burkina Faso – is not an option in the DRC: the constitution (Art. 220) stipulates that “the number and the duration of the mandates of the President of the Republic … cannot be made the object of any constitutional revision.” To revise term-limits would require adopting a new constitution or, alternatively, changing regime type by amending Arts. 70 and 71 to provide for indirect rather than direct election of the president, as in South Africa. Changing the mode of designation of the president would, arguably, reset the term clock to zero, allowing Kabila to present himself for election by the legislature for two new terms.

The adoption of a brand new constitution has the support of some stalwarts within the ruling People’s Party for Reconstruction and Development (PPRD) who consider the existing fundamental text an illegitimate compromise between belligerent parties in the DRC’s civil war. Thus, in March 2014, the National Secretary of the PPRD, Claude Mashala, initiated a petition for a new “dynamic” constitution, better reflecting the needs for “national cohesion.” Undeterred by the Burkina experience, Mashala reportedly declared in November having attained the 100,000 signatures required to initiate a referendum, with his team working on regrouping the signatures by province before submission to the legislature. There are, however, also opponents within the presidential coalition to constitutional change, including prominent figures such as Senate President Kengo Wa Dondo and the powerful governor of Kabila’s home province of Katanga, Moise Katumbi.

On a separate track, in September the government introduced a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow for the indirect election of provincial councilors (Art. 197). The proposal was met with staunch resistance by the political opposition, civil society and the Catholic Church, who saw this move as a ploy to change the mode of election of the president by the same stroke.

Still pending, this proposed constitutional revision was overshadowed by the adoption on January 17, 2015 by the National Assembly of electoral reform that could have led to a sliding of the presidential election into 2017 or later. The bill provided for a new census to be completed before the poll, to serve as the basis for the voter list. The government spokesperson, Lambert Mendé, admitted that if passed into law by both houses of the legislature, the bill could entail a delay of the presidential election “without the sky falling on our heads.”

In an already tense environment, the prospect of Kabila playing for overtime triggered widespread demonstrations in Kinshasa as well as Bukavu and Goma in eastern DRC. Police forces and the Republican Guard cracked down violently on protesters, killing as many as 42 people according to the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), a number contested by the government. The protest dynamic was distinct this time from previous demonstrations mainly initiated by political parties, as argued by Jason Stearns. Notably, the manifestations were more decentralized, university students played a greater role in both Kinshasa and Bukavu, and the homes of individual Kabila supporters were targeted. Social media also played an active part. This protest dynamic is reminiscent of the Burkinabe uprising that brought Compaoré down. The stand-off moreover shone a full light on divisions within the ruling elite.

In a declared move to respond to the people’s demands, the Senate removed the contentious language from the bill referring to the need for a census ahead of the presidential poll and included reference to the election taking place in accordance with the constitutionally mandated timetable. Senate President Kengo Wa Dondo used the opportunity of the directly televised Senate session to take on the mantle of savior of the constitution. Ultimately, the final version of the bill that was passed into law on January 25 by both houses makes no mention of the census requirement, but also does not include direct reference to the timetable laid down by the constitution.

The coming months are likely to see more of such tug-of-war between those who do and those who don’t favor an extension of Kabila’s stay in office. The diplomatic community has come out clearly against changing term limits, but the real test will lie in the internal balance of forces and tactics on either side.

DRC – Follow-up on last month’s national consultations

The national consultations held in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) at the initiative of President Joseph Kabila resulted in 619 recommendations that Kabila has promised to act on. The month-long consultations, bringing together 700 participants from political parties and civil society under the leadership of the chairs of the national assembly and the senate, ended on Oct. 5, 2013. Prominent absences from these discussions include armed groups currently active in Eastern Congo (who were not invited) and leading opposition parties (who refused to participate). The latter include the UDPS-faction loyal to presidential runner-up Etienne Tshisekedi and the UNC of Vital Kamerhe. On the other hand, the MLC of Jean-Pierre Bemba, currently on trial at the ICC in The Hague, did take part in the consultations.

The stated goal of these exchanges was to strengthen ‘national cohesion’ and end the political, social and security crises facing the country. Five working groups developed recommendations in the areas of good governance, the economy, disarmament and demobilization of armed groups, reconciliation and decentralization. Key suggestions included: the establishment of a more inclusive government, the creation of a national human rights commission, amnesty for political prisoners and the reopening of private TV-stations close to the opposition.

Kabila’s first response to the recommendations was the promulgation on Oct. 15 of a law establishing the Constitutional Court. Provided for by the 2005 constitution, this Court was never created though the law was passed by the legislature several years ago. The Court has the mandate to rule on the constitutionality of legislation and to resolve electoral disputes. In the absence of the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court – seen as partisan by the opposition – had validated the outcome of the controversial 2011 legislative and presidential elections.

In an Oct. 23 speech to the two houses of the legislature, Kabila promised follow-up on the remainder of the recommendations. He outlined a number of priorities for immediate action, such as a general amnesty and the inclusion of civil society and opposition party representatives in a government of ‘national cohesion’. Kabila also promised the repatriation of the remains of former autocrat Mobutu Sese Seko to be buried in the DRC and the enforcement of a 30% gender quota for elected positions.

Following the president’s speech, Prime Minister Matata Ponyo has asked the cabinet of ministers to handle daily issues as a caretaker government until a new government is appointed. The informal house arrest of Tshisekedi in effect since the 2011 elections has been lifted, and Kabila has commuted death and prison sentences for common law offenders – which does not, however, affect political prisoners.

Follow-up on the broader set of recommendations awaits the seating of the new government. This includes notably preparations for long-delayed local elections.