Kinshasa — THE Democratic Republic of Congo is on the verge of its worst ever crisis with potentially volatile repercussions across the region as President Joseph Kabila's tenure ends today (Monday). Polls set for last month were postponed to early 2018.
Kabila has been mum on his next move but as it appears unlikely he will step down at the end of his second term, the international community has warned the already volatile situation could worsen violence and government abuses in the coming days. Repression against activists, opposition leaders, peaceful protesters and others opposed to attempts to extend Kabila's presidency has escalated in recent months. Over 100 pro-democracy activists, opposition youth leagues, musicians, and journalists have been arrested since October in Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, Goma, and Bunia - most while planning or mobilizing participation in planned protests. At least a dozen remain in detention.
Talks between the opposition and the ruling coalition, mediated by the Catholic Church, have not resolved the political impasse. Congolese across the country have been mobilizing for large-scale demonstrations beginning today to pressure Kabila to leave office. Disturbingly, leaders of armed groups in the east said the army and police will no longer be "legitimate" after today, increasing the likelihood of armed conflict. There was a planned shutdown of social media from Sunday evening. Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said the country's brittle security forces could fracture if Kabila relies on force to stay in power. "Congo's neighboring countries could become involved, as they have during past fighting," Roth said. The United States this weekend expressed concern about the potential for unrest and violence. "We further urge government and opposition to refrain from any actions or statements that could incite violence or unlawful activity in the coming days and weeks," spokesperson, Mark Toner said.