As of Friday, December 23, there were signs of a breakthrough in political negotiations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo being conducted under the mediation of the Conference of Catholic Bishops (CENCO). There were some positive developments, but the key issues are far from resolution.
These developments include some important concessions by the “Majority” representing President Joseph Kabila:
• Moving the presidential election forward from April 2018 to the “end” of 2017.
• There will be a neutral “Transitional Council” to ensure the transition and election will be honest.
• Assurances that the constitution will not be amended to call for a referendum, and that the President will not seek to run for a third term, pursuant to his earlier public statements.
• The Prime Minister will be selected from the ranks of the “opposition.”
The main opposition, known as “Le Rassamblement,” remains unsatisfied with the majority’s concessions for the following reasons:
• The true opposition insists on selecting the Prime Minister. If the President selects the Prime Minister, he will undoubtedly continue with the recently selected Samy Badibanga, considered a bogus “opposition” who has joined President Kabila’s camp. The true opposition wants a Prime Minister who will have considerable power to make sure the transition is honest.
• The true opposition wants the independent electoral commission, known as CENI, to be reorganized with truly independent individuals. The “majority” wants the present CENI, which has been totally in the President’s pocket for years, to continue.
• The true opposition wants opposition political personalities to be released without prejudice from politically motivated charges against them. The “majority” wants them to be reviewed by a commission of judges, all of whom are controlled by the President.
• The true opposition wants presidential candidate Moise Katumbi, who has been charged with “fraud,” to be allowed to return to the Congo and campaign, with the bogus charges dropped. The majority says that Katumbi must also be reviewed by the presidentially controlled magistrates.
• The true opposition wants President Kabila to sign the final document, as a guarantee that he will uphold the agreement. President Kabila refuses to do that.
These are major hurdles to overcome. Assuming that President Kabila has no intention of going back on his word to depart as soon as his successor is elected, it is increasingly clear from his current bargaining positions that he intends to control who will succeed him, most likely a member of his family. It is also quite clear that President Kabila is determined to block his bitter enemy, Moise Katumbi, from being a presidential candidate.
It is premature to consider the negotiations to be successful. The DRC is still in grave danger.