The Democratic Republic of the Congo is Becoming Increasingly Tense and Potentially Dangerous

The political environment in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is becoming increasingly tense and dangerous as the deadline for the November 2016 presidential election approaches.

The DRC constitution stipulates that a President can be elected a maximum of two times to serve two terms. The constitution also states that the two-term limit on presidential mandates cannot be amended by parliament. To change this article of the constitution, a new constitution would have to be written, and confirmed by the people in a referendum.

President Joseph Kabila is showing signs of wanting to remain in power indefinitely, even though his second term in power officially comes to an end on December 20, 2016. An election for his successor is supposed to take place in November 2016, but so far, there have been no preparations. The Chairman of the “Independent Electoral Commission” has announced that it will not be logistically possible to hold a presidential election until the middle of 2017 at the earliest. Preparations have not even started. 

The question now is what happens on December 20 when the President’s second term in office expires, and there is not a newly elected president ready to be sworn in? Article 70 of the constitution stipulates that if there is an extraordinary reason why the presidency becomes vacant (i.e. death, illness, incapacity etc.) then the presidency is considered vacant, and the President of the Senate becomes interim president to supervise the holding of a new election within ninety days.

Currently, there is a petition being circulated in the parliament by members of the presidential majority. The petition states that in the event a presidential election cannot be held by December 20, 2016, then article 75 of the constitution will prevail. Contrary to article 70, article 75 states that the president remains in power until such time as a successor is elected and sworn in. If this view is upheld by the Constitutional Court, then the president can stay in power indefinitely through the simple device of not holding an election. Since the members of the Constitutional Court are essentially under the control of the president, their interpretation of the constitution will undoubtedly come down on the side of the president remaining in power.

Because the general population in all provinces of the DRC have lost confidence in the ability of President Kabila to return the troubled eastern provinces to peace, and because the nation’s abundant natural resources have not been used for the benefit of the people, the president has lost popularity. There is a general desire for him to fulfill the constitutional limit of two mandates and depart the office as scheduled on December 20, 2016. If, through constitutional manipulation, President Kabila attempts to remain in power indefinitely, the population is likely to take the law into its own hands, as was done in Burkina Faso in October 2014. 

This could make the DRC highly unstable and potentially dangerous between now and December 2016.

As of April 18, I have seen reliable reports that President Kabila has decided to arrest Moise Katumbi, the most popular of the opposition politicians. If this happens, it will certainly trigger international sanctions against President Kabila and his family, as well as against his top governmental advisers. Major popular demonstrations are likely.