In a two-month negotiation mediated by the DRC Conference of Catholic Bishops, CENCO, President Kabila’s parliamentary majority and their political opposition have achieved an agreement that should guarantee the president’s departure after the completion of a free and fair election toward the end of 2017.
The opposition leaders are pleased with the agreement, and have expressed their satisfaction in public. Nevertheless, many in the opposition remain skeptical that President Kabila will actually accept to depart as the election comes closer. At the same time, all are wondering how US policy favoring constitutional good governance might change under future President Trump, and whether his administration will continue Obama’s policy of maintaining pressure on Kabila to step down immediately after the next election is completed.
WHAT DOES THE AGREEMENT SAY & IS THE OPPOSITION PLEASED?
The opposition leaders are very happy with the outcome, and feel confident that if the agreement is implemented, there will be a peaceful and transparent process leading to President Kabila’s departure.
The main purpose of the agreement is to assure a transparent transition to a presidential election at the end of 2017 that will assure President Kabila’s departure from power pursuant to the constitutional limitation of a maximum of two elected terms for the DRC chief of state.
The agreement gives the opposition virtually everything they need and want to assure a transparent transition to a free and fair election at the end of 2017.
The main concessions achieved by the opposition are:
· President Kabila will obey the constitution and not attempt to run for a third term.
· There will be no attempt on the part of the “majority” to hold a referendum designed to amend the constitution so as to eliminate the two-term limit on the president.
· The presidential election will be held toward the end of 2017 as opposed to an earlier agreement which called for April 2018.
· A new Prime Minister will be chosen by the leading opposition group “Rassemblement”.
· Political prisoners will be released.
· The special case of “convicted” opposition leader Moise Katumbi will be reviewed by the CENCO rather than by a panel of judges who are considered subservient to President Kabila.
President Kabila will remain in office until the newly elected President is sworn in at the end of 2017, an opposition concession.
Some observers remain skeptical that the agreement will be fulfilled in view of what has happened to date, especially the deliberate failure to provide funds for the election that should have taken place in November 2016. The big question is: “Will Kabila change his mind and stage a presidential coup d’état?” Nobody is taking success for granted, and the opposition remains alert to signs of backtracking. For example, within a few days of the signing of the agreement, some members of the President’s majority group have started to talk about bringing the agreement to the Constitutional Court for review. What the majority parties should be concentrating on instead is the identification of one of their political leaders who will be able to compete in the presidential election.
Here in Washington we are asking: “If Kabila throws out the agreement and tries to win a third term, will future President Trump follow Obama’s precedent and continue to apply pressure in the form of sanctions?” Obama appointed a special ambassador, Thomas Pariello, to follow the negotiations and apply pressure when necessary. I encourage the Trump Administration to send an early signal to Kabila and the parties to the agreement that there will be no change in policy, and that United States is counting on Kabila to stay true to his word. It would certainly be helpful for the new Secretary of State to appoint a new special emissary to assure continuity of policy toward the DRC.
WHEN AND HOW DID THE AGREEMENT COME ABOUT
As tensions built with rallies that frequently turned violent, the DRC Conference of Catholic Bishops (CENCO) decided to intervene in October 2016 with the objective of reopening the political dialogue between President Kabila’s “majority” group of parties, and the coalition of opposition parties seeking to uphold constitutional government.
The CENCO mediation continued throughout December 2016, with a final agreement signed on New Year’s Eve.
AN EARLIER “AGREEMENT” WAS REJECTED BY THE PEOPLE
· “Fringe” opposition groups participated in an earlier dialogue with the majority group, signing an agreement on October 13, 2016.
· The agreement called for a substantial delay in the presidential election until April 2018. This outraged the main political parties, as well as most of the population, because it would prolong President Kabila’s time in office a full 18 months after the end of his constitutional mandate.
· This caused violent popular street demonstrations to take place, with many opposition leaders declaring that President Kabila would no longer be recognized as president after the end of his second term on December 19, 2016.
WHEN AND HOW DID THIS ALL BEGIN
A political crisis began building in the DRC in the first half of 2016 when it became clear that the government was doing nothing to prepare for the presidential election due to be held in November 2016, in accordance with the constitutional requirement for an election every five years. The independent electoral commission (CENI) announced in mid-2016 that the election could not be held in November as scheduled because there were insufficient funds available.
The inevitable delay in the presidential election, due to the government’s deliberate failure to supply funds, caused tremendous resentment within the Congolese population. The opposition political parties, led by veteran political leader Etienne Tschisekedi, started to threaten major popular demonstrations and potential violence.
The threat of popular demonstrations caused President Kabila to propose a “national dialogue” between his “majority” group, and the leading opposition parties for the purpose of agreeing on a methodology for a transition to national elections. He asked the African Union to name a neutral mediator to mediate the dialogue. The AU named Ambassador Efrem Kojo, a former Prime Minister of the Republic of Togo.
The most important opposition parties decided to boycott the dialogue because they did not like the terms of reference, and because they felt that Ambassador Kojo was biased in favor of President Kabila’s group.
After this dialogue failed to stimulate acceptance by the population, as well as the main opposition parties, the Conference of Catholic Bishops decided to offer their mediation which was accepted by all parties. The Bishops deserve the gratitude of the Congolese people for their persistence, patience, and fairness in their successful effort to bring about the New Year’s Eve agreement on the last day of 2016.