More than four days of riots and demonstrations across the country have shown Kabila that the Congolese people are not prepared to tricks to keep in office after the expiration of his mandate in 2016.
President Joseph Kabila is trying hard to remain in office after the expiration of his mandate in 2016. But one after the other, his attempts to organize his future accordingly are failing. Last year, it has become clear that attempts to change the constitution to allow him to seek a third successive mandate were facing a strong opposition, even within the ranks of his presidential majority. On the last 15 September, the Senate speaker and former Prime Minister of Mobutu, Léon Kengo wa Dondo, whose Union for Democratic Change has three portfolios in the government, declared in the inaugural speech of the parliamentarian session that any attempt to amend Article 220 of the constitution, which stipulates that the president can only exercise a maximum of two five year mandates, would be a “flagrant violation” of the fundamental law. Similar objections have also been voiced by some of Kabila’s key allies such as the Unified Lumumbist Party or by the President’s own security adviser, Pierre Lumbi.
Earlier in July, the roman catholic bishops conference urged in “a message of peace and hope to the people” titled “protect our nation !” urged everyone to respect the constitution and more particularly its Article 220 which limits the number of presidential mandates. Some of the most critical opinions came from the province of Katanga, Joseph Kabila’s electoral stronghold. In September, the Civil Society of Katanga urged the Supreme Court to prosecute whoever proposes a revision of the constitution. By the end 2014, it appeared clearly that, like in the rest of the country, a majority of Katanguese politicians stood against a third mandate for Kabila. The most prominent figures, such as the governor of Katanga, Moïse Katumbi and the speaker of the provincial parliament, Gabriel Kyungu expressed such opinions. The main grievances are the perpetuation of insecurity in the Northern part of the province caused by several Mai Mai groups and the overwhelming feeling that the mining rich Katanga contributes much more to the national budget than it receives from the central government. In mid-January, the provincial Minister of Mines, Christian Mwando complained that Katanga had only received US $ 65 million out of a total of $ 460 million promised by the central government. This situation derives from the non implementation by the central government of Article 175 of the Congolese constitution, approved by referendum in 2005, which stipulates that 40% of the tax revenues collected in the provinces are allocated to the provincial budget.
Realizing that amending the constitution could spark a lot of protests, the Kabila side started then to think about alternatives to keep the President in place after the expiration of his mandate in December 2016. On the last 5 January, the Minister of Interior, introduced a draft legislation to amend the electoral law. The plan was to postpone the presidential and parliament elections after the completion of national census which could take three or four years. The justification is that such census would ensure a more representative base to the elected President, MPs and Senators. But the main opposition parties, namely the Union of the Congolese Nation, (UCN), the Movement of Liberation of Congo (MLC) and the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) rejected the proposal as delaying tactics to keep in power Kabila indefinitely. A peaceful demonstration took place on the 15 January in Bukavu. Two days later, the vote of the legislate by the National Assembly, which was boycotted by the opposition, sparked a wave of protests and demonstrations which began on the 19 January and lasted four days.
“Stop killing your people!”
According to Human Rights Watch, 40 people have died in protests, 36 in Kinshasa, 21 of whom were fatally shot by security forces, and four in the eastern city of Goma. “Congolese security forces have fired into crowds of demonstrators with deadly results,” said Ida Sawyer, senior researcher at HRW, which documented “a number of instances in which police or
Republican Guard soldiers took away the bodies of those shot in an apparent attempt to remove evidence of the killings,” and added that soldiers also fired at a hospital.
During the riots, 13 police stations were put on fire, Uzi rifles were stolen, dozens of shops, particularly those owned by Chinese were looted and incidents affected 9 of the 24 communes of Kinshasa. The army also invaded the Kinshasa University campus. The demonstrations continued in spite of the shut down of Internet access and SMS service for mobile phones. In a communiqué issued on the 21 January, the archbishop of Kinshasa, Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya urged the authorities to stop killing their people.
Tensions decreased somehow on the 23 January when Senators voted unanimously an amended version of the controversial electoral law which removed the provision establishing the organization of the census as precondition for holding the presidential election. The text said that the update of voters’ lists must be done without interfering with the constitutional schedule of election dates. On the following 25 January, both assemblies met to adopt a common text which did no longer include the controversial provision to keep Kabila in office several more years. At the end of the day, it clearly appeared that a large share of his own presidential majority was no longer supporting the idea to maintain the President beyond 2016, but under the condition that the MPs could extend their mandate. Apparently, many politicians were afraid of the people’s anger. Yet, the Senators whose own mandate expired in 2012 were not really in a position to refuse. Eventually, the MPs managed to convince the Senators that their election had to come after the national census because in order to determine the number of MPs for each constituency, there is a need to know the number of inhabitants at both the national and the constituency level.
The President’s reaction however does not suggest he will accept easily this defeat. On the 28 January, the Supreme Court started prosecutions against one of the main organizers of the protest marches, the UNC chairman Vital Kamhere. The Court resurrected indeed a three year old libel case which the plaintiff, the ruling party MP, Wiwine Moleka, had dropped, after she reached a compromise with Kamerhe who had accused her to have been elected by fraud. Christopher Ngoyi Mutamba, the chairman of the Human Rights NGO Synergie Congo Culture et Développement who had accused Republic Guards to open fire in the Mama Yemo hospital and kill wounded people there, was arrested on the 21 January by ANR state security agents and had not been released ten days later. François Misser