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Kabila agrees to step down, but for how long?

Congolese Politics
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DR Congo: Joseph Kabila’s presidency has expired, elections are set for late 2017 but will they go ahead?
Junior Kannah / Stringer / Getty
DR Congo: Joseph Kabila’s presidency has expired, elections are set for late 2017 but will they go ahead?
S ince independence from Belgium in 1960 there has never been a peaceful transition of power in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Could that be about to change?

Until recently, the outlook looked bleak. When Joseph Kabila’s presidency expired on December 19, he remained in office and said he was moving nowhere until 2018. Weeks of protests appeared to have fallen on deaf ears.

But talks between the government and opposition figures, mediated by the Catholic Church, seem to have changed that. On December 30, bishops said Mr. Kabila had agreed to resign at the end of 2017, after elections.

“The streets are now quiet… many people have already registered for their voting card for the election,” Christian Irenge, a journalist based in Goma and Kisangani, in the east of the country, told The World Weekly.

Kris Berwouts, a Central Africa expert who has worked with the UN’s Congo mission, thinks “the agreement is important” but nonetheless “very vulnerable”. It will take a lot of pressure from the Congolese people, the church, neighbouring states and the wider international community for it to stand, he told TWW. The country has seen many broken promises in the past and Mr. Kabila is yet to sign the deal.

One declared candidate for the upcoming election is Moïse Katumbi, a former governor of Katanga who now lives in self-imposed exile. The politician and businessman is one of the most influential figures in the DRC and in July 2016 he was convicted of corruption in absentia - a ruling he disputes as politically motivated. Mr. Berwouts suggested it would be “very difficult to organise credible elections” if Mr. Katumbi is unable to stand.

All these potential pitfalls make the prospect of a democratic and peaceful transition remote. It is equally unclear whether a new president would bring peace and improved standards of living. As many Congolese people have told Mr. Berwouts, “we don't only want to change the driver, we want to change the vehicle as well”.
Kaspar Loftin
The World Weekly
05 January 2017 - last edited 05 January 2017