Congo’s Challenged Regime

Kabila Holds On

At a protest to press President Joseph Kabila to step down, Kinshasa, September 2016. Kenny Katombe / REUTERS

Over the past few years, the Democratic Republic of Congo has been embroiled in a constitutional crisis. It has recently become acute. President Joseph Kabila’s term will end on December 19, and the constitution requires that an election to select a new president (Kabila is not allowed to run for a third term) and parliament be called 90 days before then. Yet the government has failed to do so, and the electoral commission, which is hardly independent, has not taken even the first steps in organizing a timely vote. The whole question of succession is therefore in abeyance. This has created massive popular protests.

The regime’s response has been twofold. First, it has cracked down on its opponents, who have organized a number of marches demanding Kabila's ouster. In September, for example, at least 50 protesters were killed in response to protests in Kinshasa. Second, the regime organized a national dialogue aimed at resolving a dilemma that Kinshasa itself had created by ignoring its constitutional responsibilities. The dialogue involved government, opposition, and civil society figures. (However, most opposition leaders boycotted the meeting, as did the representatives of the Catholic Church.)

It is clear, and has been for some time, that Kabila plans to stay in power past his term limit by employing delaying tactics—a practice known in Congo as glissement, or slippage. To a certain extent, Kabila's attempts to perpetuate his rule have already succeeded. On October 18, the national dialogue suddenly concluded with an agreement to postpone elections until April 2018. The parties resolved the contentious issue of which election (presidential, provincial, or local) should be held first in favor of the participating opposition, which backed prioritizing the presidential vote. They also agreed to create a transition government in which a member of the opposition will receive the post of prime minister. Kabila will remain president.

In many ways, Kabila has modeled his regime on Mobutu's.

The regime ended the dialogue on October 18 in part so that its representatives could attend the

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