Southern Africa: Regional Body to Meet About DR Congo Stability

SADC Extraordinary Summit of Heads and Government.

When the Southern Africa Development Conference meets Tuesday to discuss the Democratic Republic of Congo's efforts to hold elections and stabilize the country, the DRC's leader might not attend.

A government official told VOA that President Joseph Kabila instead would send Prime Minister Bruno Tshibala to the meeting in Luanda, Angola's capital. But Kabila's office has made no announcement.

Martin Fayulu, a member of the main DRC opposition coalition known as the Rassemblement, told VOA that the conference leadership should tell Kabila to step down so the country can have a peaceful election.

"What he has demonstrated is he doesn't want to organize the elections," Fayulu said.

Fayulu discounted the government's statements that it's preparing for elections, now scheduled for Dec. 23. He said there's evidence that government officials have interfered with the work of the Independent National Election Commission, known as CENI.

Rassamblement wants to see a neutral group, not the government, coordinate elections so its members can be confident that voting will be a legitimate exercise, Fayulu said.

"We want a credible transference election, and Mr. Kabilia is not ready to organize those elections," he said.

SADC last week opened an office in Kinshasa to support the country as it prepares for the election amid rising violence.

Kabila's term in office was to have ended in December 2016, but the government repeatedly has postponed elections. Part of the delay, according to the government, has been the sheer logistics of arranging an election in the vast, impoverished Central African nation of 83 million.

Kabila has been in office 17 years and has grown increasingly unpopular. His refusal to hold elections in 2016 has prompted numerous protests. The United Nations Security Council, in a December report, noted that "political tensions have been exacerbated by the DRC government's curbing of political freedoms of the opposition and curtailing the freedom of the press." It cited another report tallying at least 53 anti-government protesters were killed during demonstrations.

In a rare move, Botswana's President Mokgweetsi Masisi last week urged Kabila not to seek another term. Masisi took office earlier this month in one of Africa's most stable democracies.

Masisi said in an interview with London's International Institute for Strategic Studies that he hoped to see a commitment from Kabila to leave office at year's end.

Botswana political journalist Kealeboga Dihutso, a Botswana broadcaster in the capital, Gaborone, told VOA that some there are unhappy that Masisi spoke out.

"It's a generally held view (that Kabila should not run), though we don't really enjoy it when our president or one of our leaders has commentary on other counties," Dihutso said.

However, he said, people elsewhere in Africa often like it when Botswana's leadership speaks out.

"I think internationally, it improves our status, our stature in Africa, because we generally get appreciated by a lot of African countries" for Botswana's long history of peaceful, democratic political transitions.

Kate Pound Dawson contributed to this report.

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