The Democratic Republic of Congo's President Joseph Kabila abruptly cancelled a meeting planned for this week with the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres and the African Union Chair Moussa Faki. Kabila sent a message this weekend that he was "no longer available" for the meeting - just before the top diplomats were due to travel to Congo's capital, Kinshasa.
Kabila's last-minute cancellation - and his unwillingness to meet other regional and international leaders in recent weeks - does little to allay concerns that he does not intend to step down from office, in accordance with Congo's constitution, and allow credible elections to be held.
Over the weekend, the Catholic Church's influential lay leaders in Congo that peace and stability in both the country and the broader region were at risk, and announced a new round of peaceful, nationwide protests for mid-August to "save" the country's "endangered democracy."
Elections are scheduled for December 23, but Kabila has yet to declare publicly that he will step down. Meanwhile, ruling party officials have brazenly begun to campaign for Kabila to stay in power, in violation of the constitution's two-term limit. Political opposition members and activists have said there is a crisis of confidence in the electoral process, as government repression has continued unabated.
The joint Guterres-Faki visit would have been an opportunity to deliver a tough, coordinated message to Kabila about the minimum conditions that need to be met for the upcoming vote to be credible and the measures the UN and AU would impose should he fail to do so.
Kabila's snub merely adds insult to injury after years of government-organized abuse and defiance of international calls to take concrete steps to organize a free and fair election. International bodies and concerned governments need to move beyond statements and apply real pressure to show there are consequences for the repression and abuse that Kabila and those close to him have used to maintain power. This could be through targeted UN Security Council, AU, European Union, and United States sanctions against Kabila himself and others most responsible for the abuses.
Strong action is needed now. If Kabila postpones or manipulates the elections, the danger won't just be for Congo, but for the entire region.