Contention in the Congo over presidential election causes violence


Violent protests in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have left more than 50 people dead, according to BBC. The clash is between opposition groups protesting their government’s corruption and state police forces.

According to these opposition groups, at least 50 protestors have been killed. One eye witness reported much of the carnage came when police forces fired live ammunition into enraged crowds.

In response, protestors have resorted to more aggressive tactics from setting up barricades in the streets to burning cars in the Congo’s capital of Kinshasa. The capital’s day-to-day life has been so interrupted by the hundreds of protestors that much of the city has been forced to shut down. Schools and most shops are remaining closed until the storm of violence calms.

The protests have come in response to discontent surrounding anticipation of the upcoming presidential election, or, more appropriately, lack thereof. The Congo’s electoral commission has yet to announce the date for the approaching elections, stirring discontent amongst opposition groups.

The date of the election was supposed to be set for November. However, this past Monday, the electoral commission issued an announcement stating that it would be impossible to hold the election in the coming months.

Members of opposition groups see the declaration as evidence that the Congo’s current president, Mr. Kabila, is making a last-ditch grab for power in order to extend his time in office.

Such a move would be in direct conflict with the Congo’s constitution, which sets a two-term limit for the presidency. For Mr. Kabila, this period of time is technically set to expire in December.

Discontent with the Congo’s current president is not merely based on his lack of respect for the laws of the land. It has been 15 years since Mr. Kabila took power in 2001 following the assassination of his father, Laurent-Desire Kabila. In this time, conditions have not improved for the majority of the Congo’s people.

While the Democratic Republic of Congo as a whole has vast supplies of valuable minerals, it has failed to capitalize on this natural resource, leaving the country at the bottom of the barrel in regards to developmental progress.

Economically, the majority is struggling. While the average cost of living is estimated to be $10 a day, most civil servants, policemen and soldiers earn less than $100 a month, which is insufficient to cover the cost of living, as IRIN news reports. As a result of the economic hard times, hunger is rampant, a circumstance that is fueling discontent.

Despite Mr. Kabila’s seeming incompetence at improving the plight of the Congo, he has employed a complex strategy to keep himself in power. He has taken steps to undermine the capacity of the electoral commission by clogging the system with numerous local elections.

Mr. Kabila has even moved to manipulate the laws to extend his time in office. A ruling by the Congo’s Constitutional Court has required the completion of local elections prior to the presidential vote. By stalling local elections, Mr. Kabila has ensured that basic election procedures have not been completed.

As a result, it is logistically unfeasible for the Congo’s presidential election to occur before the end of 2016. Not only has the president exploited the Congo’s governmental system, but he has also attempted to eliminate any competition to his power. At one time, Moise Katumbi was one of Mr. Kabila’s greatest political rivals.

However, Mr. Kabila has neutralized this threat by sentencing Katumbi to three years in prison based on charges of political corruption. Mr. Kabila is making efforts at appeasing opposition groups through calls for negotiating improved conditions for legitimatized and more peaceful elections.

However, critics of the government even criticize these attempts at extending an olive branch. They consider Mr. Kabila’s attempted negotiations a part of his stall tactics to extend his term in office.

So far, with escalating national violence, a peaceful national dialogue seems far from sight. The violence is a continuation of a trend of contention surrounding presidential elections. Last year, strife over the presidency left 12 protestors dead.

The source of unrest in the Congo has not changed. The violent backlash seems to be escalating year-to-year with the dissatisfaction of its people.



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