4 April 2017

Congo-Kinshasa: A Silent Protest Across the Country Over Failed Political Deal

Photo: Radio Okapi/ Freddy Lufulwabo
Empty streets in Kinshasa

In Kinshasa and cities across the Democratic Republic of Congo yesterday, many people stayed home from work and classes. Shops and markets were closed or opened late, and streets were largely quiet.

The shutdown came following the opposition's call for "villes mortes" – literally "dead cities" – to protest the failed implementation of the New Year's Eve agreement, the Catholic Church-mediated power-sharing deal that helped defuse an explosive situation late last year. The deal allows President Joseph Kabila to stay in power beyond his constitutionally mandated two-term limit that ended on December 19, 2016, until elections are held before the end of 2017.

In Kinshasa and cities across the Democratic Republic of Congo yesterday, many people stayed home from work and classes. Shops and markets were closed or opened late, and streets were largely quiet.

The shutdown came following the opposition's call for "villes mortes" – literally "dead cities" – to protest the failed implementation of the New Year's Eve agreement, the Catholic Church-mediated power-sharing deal that helped defuse an explosive situation late last year. The deal allows President Joseph Kabila to stay in power beyond his constitutionally mandated two-term limit that ended on December 19, 2016, until elections are held before the end of 2017.

Congo's conference of Catholic bishops, CENCO, announced on March 27, 2017, that they were withdrawing from their mediation role due to the impasse over the implementation of the deal. The ruling majority coalition has refused to accept the opposition's choice of Felix Tshisekedi for prime minister, insisting the Rassemblement opposition coalition submit at least three names, one of whom Kabila will nominate as prime minister. The majority has also rejected the Rassemblement's designation of Pierre Lumbi to replace the late Etienne Tshisekedi as president of the Rassemblement's Conseil des Sages, which should in turn make him the president of the national follow-up council for implementation of the deal and the organization of elections (CNSA).

In announcing they were stepping aside, the Catholic bishops called for Kabila to take responsibility and engage personally to ensure swift implementation of the deal. They also called on the international community to provide greater support, and on the Congolese people to remain "vigilant."

The next day, March 28, tensions were high in Kinshasa and several other cities, as groups of people went to the streets, burning tires or chanting songs against the Kabila government, to protest the failure of the deal and call on Kabila to leave office.

At day's end, Jean Marc Kabund, the secretary general of the main opposition party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), told a large crowd in Kinshasa that the country was "at an impasse" and called for "acts of peaceful resistance," including a nationwide march on April 10 to protest the failure to implement the deal. After supporters cried out for more immediate action, police arrived and fired teargas to disperse the crowd.

On March 29, the Rassemblement opposition coalition, which includes the UDPS, published a declaration calling the agreement "broken." They urged all Congolese to respect yesterday's ville morte, support a "general strike" on April 5, and participate in the April 10 march, as well as subsequent demonstrations to demand the New Year's Eve deal be implemented.

Kabila reportedly told the bishops in a meeting on March 28 that he would get involved personally to find a solution to the political standoff. The presidency announced that Kabila would be meeting with concerned parties this week, but the Rassemblement already said it would not take part. Kabila is expected to address parliament in the coming days.

This political maneuvering has taken place in the context of increasing public outrage over the violence in the Kasai region in central Congo, where the death toll continues to rise. The still-unexplained deaths of United Nations experts Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalán, whose bodies were found last week, the continued disappearance of their four Congolese colleagues, and new reports of soldiers summarily executing youth while conducting door-to-door operations in Kananga city, highlight the need for an international, independent investigation into the violence in the region.

Congo's international partners should take strong action – including further targeted sanctions from the UN, European Union, and United States – and increase the pressure on Kabila and his government. Many Congolese are losing all hope that the New Year's Eve deal can be salvaged and a peaceful, democratic transition achieved.

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