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.