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06 Jan 2017 00:00
Power play: Violence erupted over President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to hold elections and step down. Photo: Eduardo Soteras/AFP
Hopes are high that a landmark power-sharing deal between Democratic Republic of Congo’s political opponents will bring an end to a crisis two years in the making.
The agreement aims to head off further unrest over the fate of President Joseph Kabila, whose second and final mandate ended on December 20 with no sign of him stepping down and no election in sight.
The deal, signed as the troubled country ushered in 2017, agrees Kabila may remain in office until elections at the end of the year.
A transition authority will be set up in the interim, headed by veteran opposition leader Étienne Tshisekedi and a prime minister named from opposition ranks.
This is how a country of 70-million people reached a crisis point — and then moved beyond it.
On January 17 2015, Parliament adopted a Bill that enabled Kabila, who has been in power for 14 years, to extend his term beyond 2016.
Kabila’s opponents believed he wanted to prolong his mandate by making the presidential and parliamentary elections contingent on a new electoral roll, as a census set to begin in 2015 had yet to take place.
From January 19 to 22, clashes between police and anti-Kabila demonstrators erupted in Kinshasa and several other towns. They then degenerated into riots and looting, with police using live fire and teargas.
Dozens were killed.
Speaking from Belgium, Tshisekedi called on the Congolese people to force a “dying regime” from power.
On January 25, Parliament voted in favour of a new election law which still left doubts over the timetable for fresh polls.
In December, the United Nations expressed concern about a government crackdown on opponents, pointing to “arbitrary arrests and detentions, in particular of political opponents, civil society activists or demonstrators”.
On May 4 2016, opposition leader Moise Katumbi declared he would stand in the presidential election and was seen as the leading challenger to Kabila.
Later in May this year, he left for South Africa, ostensibly for medical treatment, after appearing in court twice over alleged use of foreign mercenaries.
He was sentenced in June 2016 to three years in jail over a separate real-estate dispute, making him ineligible to stand.
On May 11 2016, the Constitutional Court ruled that Kabila could remain in office when his mandate expired, even without being re-elected.
On June 10, at a Brussels meeting organised by Tshisekedi, the mainstream opposition decided to set up a new coalition.
Tshisekedi returned to Kinshasa in July after two years in Belgium. Speaking before tens of thousands of supporters, he demanded the election be held by year’s end and Kabila’s departure.
In September, the opposition coalition called for demonstrations to signal notice to Kabila, three months before his term expired.
Violence erupted in Kinshasa on September 19 and 20 between security forces and youths, leaving several dozen people killed.
The protests were called by the Tshisekedi’s opposition coalition, to coincide with the last three months of Kabila’s term in office.
On October 17, the parliamentary majority and an opposition fringe minority signed an accord pushing the election back to April 2018 and keeping Kabila in place until his successor takes over.
The mainstream opposition continues to demand that Kabila step down at the end of his mandate.
On December 8, the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (Cenco) then launched talks aimed at a deal to set up a transition authority until a presidential election could be held. A December 16 deadline was set.
But that deadline came and went — and, on December 17, Catholic Church negotiators announced the talks would resume only a day after Kabila’s term ended.
On December 12, the United States and the European Union imposed sanctions on top Congolese officials over earlier bloodshed.
Deadly clashes erupted in Kinshasa and other cities on the last day of Kabila’s mandate, December 20, leaving at least 40 people dead, according to the UN.
The Cenco-mediated talks resumed in late December and on December 31 the two sides agreed that Kabila would stay in power until elections at the “end of 2017”, the transition council headed by Tshisekedi would be in place, as would a prime minister from the opposition. — AFP
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