The ongoing political crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was a top feature among Washington foreign relations circles throughout the week of May 21-25, 2018. Representatives from Congolese civil society and the Kabila administration appeared at a Congressional breakfast forum and were received quite differently. The leaders of the Congolese political opposition demonstrated unity by appearing together at meetings in town. And the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a bipartisan resolution pressuring the Kabila administration to hold free and fair elections, while asking the Trump administration to hold them accountable.
The net result was stronger determination at the policy level to increase pressure on the Kabila regime, and move his administration towards finally implementing the 2016 agreement under which he will not run for a third term under any circumstances, or change the country’s constitution to permit this.
Africa Policy Breakfast Forum
The week began with an Africa Policy Breakfast Forum organized by Congresswoman Karen Bass of California. The contentious session can be watched in full online here.
Visitors from Congolese civil society made presentations about current political, economic and social conditions in the DRC. All were consistent in their conclusions that the majority of the Congolese people are suffering from severe and worsening poverty, with many millions internally displaced by violence.
President Kabila was represented at the Forum by his Senior Diplomatic Adviser, Ambassador Kikaya Karubi, whose speech starts about 30 minutes into the video. As Karubi started to describe the significant economic growth enjoyed by the DRC during President Kabila’s two terms in office, members of the Congolese diaspora in the audience started to shout “liar, liar”. Because of this vocal opposition, Ambassador Kikaya, along with his team of Congolese diplomats, were obliged to leave the room under protective escort.
DRC Opposition Visits
Two leaders of the DRC’s political opposition – Moïse Katumbi of Rassemblement, and Felix Tshisekedi of UDPS – also came to Washington this week, attending events, meeting with Senators and House Representatives, their staff, and senior State Department officials.
During joint appearances around town, they emphasized the following policy points:
- They, and their two organizations, are working in close collaboration for the purpose of winning the next presidential election. There is no space between them.
- They believe that the opposition will be able to present a single candidate to run for President against the candidate presented by the Kabila majority coalition.
- They are urging the United States, and other interested governments, to apply pressure on President Kabila to fully implement the 2016 agreement calling for a free and fair presidential election without any attempt by President Kabila to run again and/or change the constitution to remain in power.
- They are expecting President Kabila to make an illegitimate attempt to manipulate the Constitutional Court so that it will re-interpret the constitution to allow him to run for a third term.
Both Katumbi and Tshisekedi attracted large and sympathetic audiences during their various event appearances.
There was also significant, bipartisan DRC-related activity in Congress this week, particularly in the Senate. Senators Cory Booker (Democrat of New Jersey) and Jeff Flake (Republican of Arizona) passed a resolution in the Foreign Relations Committee urging the Trump Administration to apply pressure on the Kabila regime for free and fair presidential elections on December 23.
In recent years the United States Congress has passed fewer acts, and even fewer bipartisan acts, than before. The fact that this resolution comes after a long string of fully bipartisan Congressional letters on the DRC situation – to Kabila, President Trump, US UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, and the US Securities and Exchange Commission – indicates the unique significance and strength of concern over the Kabila administration’s moves for both parties in Congress. It is clear that the relevant Congressional committees are watching the DRC situation closely, and will be urging the Trump Administration to be very active in promoting free and fair elections under the existing constitution.
(Image: Martin Falbisoner)