DRC faces further unrest, violence with latest plans to postpone election

DRC faces further unrest, violence with latest plans to postpone election

The postponement plans are likely to spook investors and weigh on the DRC’s economic growth.

In a move likely to spark further unrest and violence, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) may postpone elections scheduled for later this year, including a highly contentious presidential vote in November.

The news comes as a chart, prepared on 14 January by the Independent National Election Commission, or CENI, was published on Twitter on Wednesday. According to the chart, it would take more than 13 months to partially revise the country’s vote register in order for elections to take place; a full revision, meanwhile, could take up to 16 months and cost as much as $290 million. Such plans would all but rule out elections for 2016.

Bloomberg reports that the chart, seemingly the latest attempt by President Joseph Kabila to extend his rule, has been circulated to dozens of ambassadors in the DRC’s capital Kinshasa over the past fortnight. CENI declined has to comment thus far. If true, however, the postponement would represent a devastating blow to the DRC as it seeks to put the memory of a bloody civil war behind it.

Further unrest, violence likely

Indeed, the past few months have seen grave concerns raised over the upcoming elections, with observers warning any delay could destabilize the country and plunge it back into violence. Those fears could soon be realized, with tensions and political polarization – both of which have threatened to spill over in recent months – set to grow in the coming weeks.

“Third term-ism” has seen a resurgence in the Great Lakes region of late, with the leaders of Burundi and Rwanda espousing similar moves last year. Burundi, in particular, has been unsettled by Pierre Nkurunziza’s clinging to power, with thousands killed and over 200,000 people forced to flee to neighbouring DRC, Rwanda and Tanzania since fighting erupted last year. This has heaped even more pressure on the fragile states in the region, including the DRC.

Fighting and unrest in the DRC could be just as acute. Already there has been a worrying rise in the number of human rights abuses by armed groups in the DRC; on 14 January, the top United Nations official in the country said there had been a ‘significant deterioration’ of the security situation in the war-torn eastern provinces, which are home to dozens of rebel groups vying for control of the country’s lucrative mineral wealth.

But the election postponement is likely to spell unrest in Kinshasa and other parts of the country too, as opponents vow to take to the streets to protest the schedule, which, they say, is designed to fail in order to keep Kabila in power indefinitely. Crisis Group, for its part, has said that at this late stage “delaying the 2016 presidential and legislative elections would be equivalent to an unconstitutional extension of the regime.” In any case, Kabila will likely respond to any opposition protests by using the brutal tactics he has so often employed – forced disappearances, death threats, harassment and violence.

In this regard, the January 2015 political crisis over proposed changes to the electoral law, which triggered deadly violence and repression against democracy activists in Kinshasa, may offer a sober forerunner of what could be in store.

The difference this time around, though, is that the latest postponement shows just how desperate Kabila is to cling to power, having virtually exhausted all other avenues. So, if the outgoing president views the latest schedule as his last serious chance to maintain his grip on the top spot, then his resistance to any detractors may be even more severe than in January last year.

That is not to say that elections will definitely not go ahead. Much will depend on Kabila’s own party, which is said to be deeply divided over the issue, and the level of international pressure that will no doubt continue to mount on Kabila in the coming months.

Bad news for investors and future growth

News of the postponement may also come as a serious setback to investors and companies within Congo. With the country home to an estimated $24 trillion worth of minerals and metals, or roughly the US and European GDPs combined, many of the world’s largest commodity miners and traders, including Glencore, Freeport, and Johannesburg-based AngloGold Ashanti, have, not surprisingly, set up significant operations there.

Such companies must already navigate a series of complex challenges, with endemic corruption, poor infrastructure and electricity, and the absence of legal enforcement mechanisms, being just a few obstacles that must be overcome to minimize risk and capitalize on the country’s mineral wealth. A resurgence in violence and unrest would make doing business in the DRC – one of the worst places in the world in which to do business – even more difficult.

Finally, the postponement plans are also likely to spook investors and weigh on the country’s economic growth. GRI had earlier predicted that the country, one of the continents top performers over the past five years, would have a sound year if election troubles are resolved. Unfortunately, however, investors’ concerns are now being realised, with the country unlikely to unlock major foreign direct investment until an orderly outcome to the election is reached.

When that will happen remains unclear. But as the country struggles to leave its violent past behind, embarking on possibly its first ever democratic transition, much is at stake. The next few months will be telling.

About Author

Andrew Manners

Mr Manners currently resides in the United Kingdom, where he works in a number of research roles in property, global politics, and international law. He has previously worked as a Research Analyst at Future Directions International, a Perth-based think-tank in Australia, where he focused on issues relating to East Africa and Indonesia. His commentary and and analysis has been featured on ABC News, ABC Radio National and Sky News, while his security studies articles have been cited in academic journals. More recently, he completed a Master's degree in Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding from Durham University. His recent research projects include a conflict studies trip to Lebanon, where he interviewed senior members of Hezbollah, and a policy initiative for Durham Law school focusing on the role of legal norms in international conflict negotiations.