Obama Warns Kabila Over Third Term
The United States warns of further violence in the already war-wracked Democratic Republic of Congo should President Joseph Kabila hold on to power after his mandate expires in December.
Kinshasa, meanwhile, speaks of “chaos” if foreign countries meddle in the crisis.
For months, Washington has kept a close eye on the DRC, where tensions are running high ahead of the December 20 deadline for the end of the president’s second term. He is barred from running again under the constitution.
The opposition and Western powers worry that Kabila is pulling strings to keep his post as head of state, and may try to delay the vote.
Kabila took over after his father Laurent was assassinated in 2001, before being elected in 2006 and 2011.
In May, the constitutional court ruled that Joseph Kabila could stay in power in a caretaker capacity if elections are not called by September 19 in accordance with the constitution, which requires a vote 90 days before the end of a president’s mandate. At this point, staging elections on time looks unlikely.
“Sadly, the situation has only deteriorated. Congo today is roughly one month away from a full-fledged constitutional crisis,” said Anthony Gambino, who used to head the US Agency for International Development office in Kinshasa.
Thomas Perriello, the State Department’s special envoy to the Great Lakes region of Africa, warned that “in countries where incumbents try to change the rules to stay in power, those countries are five times more likely to face violence and instability.”
“The good scenarios get less likely as we get closer to these deadlines, and the bad scenarios get more likely. We see this next month as crucial,” he added.
Perriello, like Gambino, was speaking at the Brookings Institution this week alongside the DRC’s ambassador in Washington, Francois Balumuene.
– Democratic transitions challenging –
US President Barack Obama has pressed for improved democratic transitions in Africa.
“Africa’s democratic progress is also at risk when leaders refuse to step aside when their terms end,” Obama said in July 2015 at African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa.
Noting that he himself is limited to two terms under the US Constitution, he stressed that “the law is the law.”
Washington has also pressed, unsuccessfully, for Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza and Rwanda President Paul Kagame to respect the laws in place in their respective countries to leave power when their time is up.
As for Kabila, “it’s not based on personal animosity against a leader but based on a belief that a great product of President Kabila has been to establish a constitutional democracy, and this is an opportunity to turn the corner,” Perriello said.
The DRC — which gained independence from Belgium in 1960 when it was previously known as the Belgian Congo, and later became the Republic of Zaire from 1971 to 1997 — has suffered brutal wars, namely on its eastern front with Rwanda.
– ‘Implosion and chaos’ –
Balumuene, the DRC’s ambassador, pointed to the repeated economic and security challenges Kabila has faced, including the fight against the Rwanda-backed M23 Tutsi rebels who were defeated in late 2013.
He called for an “extension” of Kabila’s mandate to address the country’s crisis.
“We need time after December 20, almost a year, to prepare the elections,” Balumuene said, promising that the outgoing president would not run for a new term.
“The opposition and certain foreign backers” are trying to “use the street, trigger a mass revolution to oust President Kabila,” the ambassador charged.
“Then, no one would be able to manage the chaos and its aftermath,” he added, speaking in French.
“We must avoid at all costs an implosion of the DRC… We do not need another Libya in Central Africa.”
Gambino retorted that the country’s constitution must be followed.
“Any solution of what to do after the 19th needs to respect the constitution,” he said.
“Second, if one does that, that requires the holding of presidential elections if not in 2016 as early as possible in 2017. Delay beyond that is impossible.”