Will Joseph Kabila really step down as DRC president in December?


Joseph Kabila’s second term as president of the DRC came to an end in December 2016, yet the leader remains in power. Consecutive election delays mean he’ll remain in power until December this year, at which point he has promised to step down ahead of his successor.

This is assuming the DRC actually goes ahead with elections as planned – something it has failed to do so far. Many of his critics accuse the president of intentionally delaying elections as a means of holding on to power. While others suspect he’s using these delays to orchestrate constitutional changes that would allow him to run again once the DRC finally holds its next election.

Kabila insists he will stand by the timetable for this year’s election, but failed to specifically rule out running for a third term in December when asked at a recent press conference. Meanwhile, public protests demanding he steps down ahead of this year’s scheduled election have been met with violent clampdowns by security forces, killing six people over the past month.

The DRC is stuck in one of Africa’s most complex political standoffs and it’s hard to predict what the next twelve months will hold, except that ongoing doubt over Kabila’s intentions to step down in December will only hurt the country more.

What are Kabila’s intentions?

Kabila’s supporters will tell you his government is simply attempting to maintain peace while the DRC prepares to hold an election. Security concerns, financial issues and logistical hurdles have all been cited as reasons for delaying elections in the country. And, in fairness, few have argued that the DRC was ready to hold elections in the months after Kabila’s second term came to an end in December 2016.

In the final days of 2016, rival parties agreed upon a deal that allowed Kabila to remain in power until elections could be organised – by the end of 2017 at the latest. However, continued pushbacks and violent clampdowns on protests angered the general public and opposition parties who demand Kabila steps down immediately.

They accuse the president of using the election delays to hold onto power and suspect he may be using this time to orchestrate constitutional changes that would allow him to run for a third term. Some suggest he is simply pushing back election dates and using brute force to extend his stay in power.

There’s no denying the continues pushbacks or violent crackdowns on protests either. But this doesn’t confirm Kabila’s intentions, which continue to be scrutinised by experts on both sides of the debate.

Will the DRC even hold elections in December?

If Kabila needs an excuse to push election back beyond December, security concerns will probably be his best justification. It’s his government’s responsibility to secure the financial and logistic capabilities required to hold an election and it’s failed miserably so far.

Tolerance for such reasoning is already short and Kabila has had plenty of time to put the necessary roadmap in place – something he says is already taken care of. However, this doesn’t guarantee the DRC will be peaceful enough to hold elections, even if the finances and logistics are taken care of.

This leaves the DRC’s opposition in a difficult position, particularly the Catholic Church which is leading the protest against Kabila. Staging protests only increases public dissent and the more Kabila crushes demonstrations, the greater criticism will become – both within the DRC and abroad.

However, the same protests provide a platform for security forces to respond with violence, which could give Kabila the excuse he needs to insist the DRC isn’t stable enough to hold elections in December.

Is Kabila pushing for a third term?

With eleven months remaining until the DRC is scheduled to hold elections, there’s no hint from the government that it will try to make the necessary constitutional changes that would allow Kabila to run for a third term.

Some critics suspect Kabila is working behind closed doors to make this happen before a public poll, whether that happens in December or not. While others simply accuse the president of illegitimately securing a third term by delaying elections, regardless of constitutional term limits.

And, so far, he’s managed to secure two unconstitutional years in power.

Let’s not forget that Kabila himself isn’t the one delaying elections in the DRC, though. The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) is responsible for setting the timeline for elections in the country and CENI is an independent entity from Kabila’s government.

This doesn’t stop critics accusing the government of influencing CENI decisions, but it does hint at the complexity behind the DRC’s political standoff. When the motives of key parties remain unclear and the country itself has a tendency of resorting to violence in times of political uncertainty, it’s difficult to predict what will happen next.

Featured image: “Le Président de la République, Joseph Kabila, a pris la parole hier jeudi 25 septembre, à la 69e assemblée générale de l’Onu qui s’est tenue à New-York” flickr photo by MONUSCO https://flickr.com/photos/monusco/15334828496 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

About Aaron Brooks

Aaron Brooks is a UK journalist who wants to cut out the international agendas in news. Spending his early years in both England and Northern Ireland he saw the difference between reality and media coverage at an early age. After graduating from the University of Chester with a BA in journalism, his travels revealed just how large the gap between news and the real world can be. As Editor-in-Chief at East Africa Monitor, it’s his job to provide a balanced view of what’s going on in the region for English-speaking audiences.