All eyes on Kabila as DRC election deadline looms

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was braced on Wednesday for President Joseph Kabila to announce either a successor, or his own candidacy for elections in breach of a two-term limit.

A church-backed group called the Lay Coordination Committee (CLC) and a pro-democracy group, Lucha, have called for protests across the country if Kabila says he will go for a third mandate.

In central Africa, Angola is the only country where in 2016 a ruling president, Jose Eduardo do Santos, chose a successor, enabling a peaceful transfer of power after 38-years.

Kabila’s ruling coalition, the Common Front for Congo (FCC), has officially until 15:30 GMT to submit the name of their candidate to the electoral commission.

Eight candidates including at least three from the opposition have already submitted their names.

On Tuesday, members of the FCC were summoned to Kabila’s farm in Kingakati, outside Kinshasa, to discuss potential candidates for the December 23 vote.

Among the possible contenders are former prime minister Augustin Matata Ponyo, 54; chief of staff to the president Nehemie Mwilanya Wilonga, 50; and speaker of the National Assembly Aubin Minaku, 53.

Some fear Kabila, 47, could argue he has completed only one term in office because the constitution was changed since he became president that therefore he is eligible to run again.

“If he does, the implications for whether or not the elections should go forward are very significant”, said Stephanie Wolters, Johannesburg-based analyst at ISS Africa.

“And if he doesn’t, if he chooses a successor, it’s substantial progress for the process although of course not the end of the concerns that people generally have (about) the credibility of the elections”.

Peaceful transfer of power

A country of some 80 million people, the DRC has never known a peaceful government transition since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960.

Elections have been delayed since December 2016, prompting anti-Kabila protests that have been bloodily repressed.

Kabila’s tenure over the vast mineral-rich country has been marked by a reputation for corruption, inequality and unrest.

Several provinces are in the grip of armed conflict and according to the UN High commissioner for refugees, more than four million people have had to flee their homes, many to Uganda, Tanzania, Angola and Zambia.

“There’s a heightened political awareness and an understanding that the ruling party and Kabila hasn’t brought the kind of change that Congo needs and that Congolese want”, said Wolters.

“It’s essential to have some credible process or the Congo will keep spiralling and none of the important human security priority issues will be addressed”.

US sanctions

The United States is ready to impose further sanctions on the DRC to “squeeze” Kabila’s family and “his finances”, the Financial Times reported Monday.

Analysts like Wolters believe the president “is probably factoring that into his thinking or at least is aware that the possibility exists”.

The African Union this week reiterated calls for “all stakeholders to ensure peaceful, transparent and truly inclusive elections” in the DRC.

How much threats of sanctions and international opinion will inform Kabila’s decision is unclear.

One of the key issues surrounds the fate of opposition leader Moise Katumbi who was barred from entering the country last week to lodge his candidacy.

Katumbi, 53, a wealthy businessman and former governor of the province of Katanga, was unable to cross the border from Zambia where he and his team remains as of Wednesday.

Among opposition candidates, there are Felix Tshisekedi, 55, leader of Congo’s oldest opposition party UDPS, and Jean-Pierre Bemba, 55, a former warlord recently acquitted by the International Criminal Court of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The definitive list of candidates is set to be announced on September 19 after each name is validated by the electoral commission.

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