There was great drama last week at a high-level meeting, held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, over the future of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Its convening was a sign the international community sees the urgent need for a political solution to that country’s constitutional crisis — and is urging President Kabila to avoid provoking a descent into civil war.
The UN meeting also served to support the efforts of the country’s Church, as well as its independent national electoral commission. All have come together in agreement that Kabila must give up power by end-December 2017. He must do so, first, because according to the constitution, he cannot claim a third term; and second, so as to lay the groundwork for free and transparent elections.
This unified stance is very important. The aim is not to eradicate Kabila’s clan but to allow for a smooth rotation of power. Kabila and his opposition had previously made a pact, agreeing to limit any president’s tenure to two terms. This pact enabled relative stability, economic recovery, and the beginnings of political development. But two years later, Kabila’s opponents are either imprisoned or exiled — Moïse Katumbi, the leading and most credible opponent to Kabila, being an example of the latter. Abuses are meanwhile increasing, and signs point to a resumption of violence — perhaps even civil war, tragically all too common in the country.
The DRC has some of the richest soil in Africa. But in this vast territory, tribalism is still prevalent. Its stability, or lack thereof, also effects the stability of the numerous countries it borders. Successive civil wars in the regions of Kivu and Katanga have spilled over into neighboring lands.
It does not appear that Kabila wants to abide by the rules of the constitution; to the contrary, he seems to want to effectively suspend it. It is the responsibility of the international community to act.
Some observers on the continent and elsewhere have suggested referring this question to the African Union. But this institution, for the time being, lacks the authority or capacity to force a resolution. It would take President Macron of France, or the Trump administration, or both, to apply the necessary pressure for a democratic transition.
The looming civil war is a danger for the entire continent. It will destabilize neighboring countries and create new waves of refugees. To avoid this tragedy, there is no alternative but to press Kabila to leave power peacefully.