The formulation of the Trump Administration’s policy toward the DRC is now complete. Although the administration has not yet nominated an Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, the Africa Bureau is currently in the very experienced and capable hands of Ambassador Don Yamamoto, and his Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Ambassador Stephanie Sullivan.
From a variety of sources, I have determined that the Trump Administration believes an honorable departure from power on the part of President Joseph Kabila, pursuant to the constitutional limitation of two elected terms, would be in the best interests of the Congolese people, and the Great Lakes sub-region. The Administration, therefore, would like to see the next set of elections held at the earliest possible date.
During her recent visit to the DRC, US Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Nikki Haley, made a public statement asking for an election no later than EARLY 2018. The DRC Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) has just announced a date of December 23, 2018 for the election. The scheduling of the election toward the end of 2018, two years late, will certainly not please the Trump Administration, and even more significantly, will not reduce the already high level of political tension among the Congolese people. The political opposition has already decided that the Kabila Administration will no longer be constitutionally legitimate as of January 1, 2018.
The rallying cry for the opposition is “transition without Kabila.” They believe that if President Kabila remains in power after January 1, 2018, he will continue to use “slippage,” finding reasons to delay elections which would lead to a constitutionally required change of regime.
So far, the Trump Administration is continuing to apply sanctions on individuals within the Kabila government imposed by the Obama administration. Both the Kabila government and the CENI have signed contracts with Washington lobbyists in an effort to change the Trump Administration’s policy. So far, there has been no change. What is particularly significant is the bipartisan agreement, Republican and Democratic, in both houses of Congress, that there should be a democratic transition to a new regime in the DRC.
What pressures will the Trump Administration add to the current mix in the event there is further electoral delay, or “slippage”? There are a number of additional persons who could be added to the sanctions list at the appropriate time. Zoe Kabila and Olive Lembe are possibilities.
The key point to remember: The Trump Administration wants to see peaceful constitutional change of regime in the DRC at the earliest possible time – no later than EARLY 2018.