By most reports, Congo is close to collapse, but don’t be fooled and don’t expect regime change any time soon. Protesters killed, many arrested, the internet shut down, radio station signals blocked, protests banned as a president digs in, holding on to the reins of power he should constitutionally relinquish. President Joseph Kabila was supposed to peacefully hand over power to a newly elected president by now, in what could have been the first peaceful transfer of power in that country. Instead, there’s a political crisis that could turn into an actual conflict.
As with most crises around the globe, the Congo crisis could have easily been avoided. Legal maneuvers have been used to legitimize Kabila’s extension, but these maneuvers have undermined and weakened a nascent democracy. The country had five years to prepare for a new round of elections and official government excuses of a lack of budget or agreement on a timeline are bogus. An Africa Union brokered deal included only a small sliver of the political opposition, with the main opposition players boycotting the process. A new round of inclusive talks going on now might make some headway, but the fact remains that Congo is facing another manmade crisis that the region just can’t handle.
Realistically, Kabila is not going to step down and elections couldn’t be organized anytime soon even if a deal is brokered by the Catholic Church. Kabila has lost the opportunity to be a good statesman and follow his own country’s constitution, but he hasn’t lost the opportunity to keep his country from spiraling out of control; yet indicators point to more trouble ahead as Kabila ushered a new “midnight” government that doesn’t include any members of the main opposition. These provocations by the government – the new government, killings, mass arrests, internet shutdown – only show a one-sided dialogue.
There’s no doubt that supporters of the president and the opposition want peace. Congo suffered one of the worst wars in modern history and there’s no need to return to war. Nevertheless, if a dialogue is to work, there needs to be a consensus on the outcome. If there isn’t a compromise from the government and main opposition, Congo will continue to flounder and possibly spiral into chaos, which could ultimately lead to Congo’s collapse or at least the government’s collapse. A deal is always possible and the international community, including the United States, France, Belgium & the UN, is ready to support a deal that alleviates tension and paves the way for free, fair, peaceful and legitimate elections.
DISCLAIMER: the McCain Institute for International Leadership is a non-partisan "do-tank" that is part of Arizona State University. The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent an opinion of the McCain Institute.