Tag Archives: DR Congo

Term limit changes and the threats to democracy in Africa

Institute for Security Studies

Term-limit changes the biggest threat to democracy in Africa?
14 September 2016

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe (92) is famous for quirky responses when asked why he has stayed in power since 1980. Asked by journalists whether it isn’t time he said farewell to the people of Zimbabwe, he replied: ‘Why, where are they going?’

On a serious note, he also angrily told journalists who asked about his decades-long presidency: ‘Have you ever asked the Queen that question, or is it just for African leaders?’ According to Mugabe: ‘Only God who appointed me can remove me’.

As the oldest serving president in the world, Mugabe has become something of a caricature of a leader who clings to power at all costs, ignoring the principles of democratic change of power. Are African leaders being judged too harshly?

15 September is the United Nations’ (UN’s) International Day of Democracy. According to the UN, the essential elements of democracy are ‘the values of freedom, respect for human rights and the principle of holding periodic and genuine elections by universal suffrage’.

Development is more likely to take hold if people are given a real say in their own governance
TWEET THIS

In his message for this year’s democracy day, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says that the UN’s new agenda for sustainable development, adopted last year, makes it clear that what people want all over the world is food and shelter, education and health care and more economic opportunities. They want to live without fear and want to be able to trust their governments. ‘Human development is more likely to take hold if people are given a real say in their own governance, and a chance to share in the fruits of progress,’ says Ban.

Having a real say in who governs them is the driving force behind protesters who take to the streets against long-serving presidents; from Angola and Burundi to the Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe. In all of these places, people are fed up with their governments, but don’t see a democratic way out.

In Zimbabwe, things are quickly unravelling for Mugabe. The increasing thirst for change has pushed thousands of protesters into the streets of Zimbabwe’s big cities, risking a crack-down by the security forces.

The latest wave of protests was prompted by the economic meltdown and the inability of the government to pay salaries – the final straw for those who have suffered through years of hardship due to Mugabe’s policies. Elections have been marred by serious violence, especially those in 2008. No succession plan is in place either. This is already creating instability and fears from the international community of a violent transition should Mugabe pass away while in office.

The call for long-serving presidents such as Mugabe, Paul Biya of Cameroon, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and others to step down is not driven by pressure from the international community, as some allege, but from African citizens who see how these leaders frustrate development and govern in the interests of a small elite.

In the last few months, democracy in Africa has suffered a number of blows
TWEET THIS

In the last few months, democracy in Africa has suffered a number of blows with presidential elections in Chad, the Republic of Congo and Gabon being contested. The opposition in Zambia is also still rejecting the results of the 11 August elections in that country, despite a court ruling that dismissed its petition, without holding a hearing. The court ruled that the delay for addressing the opposition’s claims had expired.

Meanwhile, the extension of their term limits by several African leaders has eroded democratic gains. Term limits are a necessary bulwark against abuse of power, especially when electoral systems are weak.

A number of African countries have no term limits for presidents. These include Gabon, Togo, Uganda, Cameroon, Chad, the Gambia and Sudan. In others, presidents have only very recently agreed to such limits, often window-dressing while they plot to prolong their stay at the helm. In Zimbabwe, Mugabe agreed in 2013 that presidents should have two five-year terms, which would technically allow him to stay in power until 2023.

In Rwanda, two term limits of five years now start only from 2015, enabling President Paul Kagame to stay on until 2025. In the Republic of Congo, according to changes made at the end of last year, President Denis Sassou-Nguesso will in future serve up to three five-year terms. Sassou-Nguesso pushed through these changes thanks to a hastily organised referendum on 25 October 2015.

In Burundi, President Pierre Nkurunziza’s insistence in 2015 to run for a third term, despite constitutional term limits, caused serious and ongoing conflict. Like in Zimbabwe, ordinary citizens are risking life and limb to oppose Nkurunziza’s long stay in power.

Term limits are a bulwark against abuse of power, especially when electoral systems are weak
TWEET THIS

Burundi’s instability is seen as an example of what can happen when leaders fail to stick to term limits. It is also considered a litmus test for continental institutions in dealing with the fallout from term extensions. So far, all efforts by the African Union (AU) have failed.

At the beginning of last year, African heads of state halted an initiative by the AU’s Peace and Security Council to send a 5 000-strong intervention force to deal with the instability that followed Nkurunziza’s election.

In addition, observers also fear serious violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) if presidential elections aren’t held in November, as the constitution requires. President Joseph Kabila should then step down after two terms in office.

Presidents make these constitutional changes because they believe, like Mugabe, that they should rule indefinitely. In countries with no term limits, elections are very often contested but through the abuse of incumbency, leaders manipulate the process and, like in Gabon, manage to stay on.

In many other parts of the world, presidents sometimes serve for life. However, often, the head of state is purely symbolic. In many European countries, like Britain, an executive prime minister runs things and is appointed through regular general elections. In this case, to reply to Mugabe, the Queen is little more than a figurehead.

Despite the serious threat to democracy posed by the extension of presidential term limits, as well as the manipulation of election results, several countries on the continent have recently managed to hold credible presidential elections that saw a democratic change of leadership.

These include Nigeria (March 2015) and Benin (March 2016). In Senegal (in 2012) and Burkina Faso (in 2014), attempts by leaders to extend their mandates were successfully thwarted.

Burundi was a litmus test for continental institutions in dealing with term extensions
TWEET THIS

Africa has also adopted important instruments and agreements to promote democracy. This includes the African Peer Review Mechanism, which has faced serious challenges, but attempts are now being made to revive it.

After much campaigning by civil society, the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance came into existence in 2012. This was after the minimum of 15 AU member states ratified the charter.

The document has far-reaching provisions for promoting the rule of law, the respect for human rights and for holding democratic elections ‘to institutionalise legitimate authority of representative government as well as democratic changes of government’. It also binds signatories to best practices in the management of elections; and acknowledges that unconstitutional changes of government are ‘a threat to stability, peace, security and development’.

The Charter, for example describes the ‘amendment or revision of the constitution or legal instruments, which is an infringement on the principles of democratic change of government’ as one of the ‘illegal means of accessing or maintaining power’.

Some have described the adoption of the Charter as ‘a new dawn for democracy and the rule of law in Africa’, though four years down the line, its implementation has been disappointing. If this is a true benchmark for African governance, adopted by AU member states, why have the AU and African leaders not spoken up about the leaders who change their constitutions to stay in power?

As the world marks International Day of Democracy, storm clouds are gathering and in several African countries, citizens will have little to celebrate.

Liesl Louw-Vaudran, ISS Consultant

Is democracy in Africa floundering or thriving? Click here for an infographic of presidential term limit extensions.

DR Congo – opposition rejects talks with Kabila over election timing

Reuters

By Aaron Ross | KINSHASA

Congo’s main opposition alliance on Saturday rejected talks with the government of President Joseph Kabila over elections that were due to have been held in November but have been delayed and called for a general strike on Tuesday.

The opposition wants Kabila to end his 15-year rule in December as mandated by the constitution but authorities say the vote cannot be held until at least next July and the top court says Kabila can stay in power until the election is held.

The strike call represents a significant escalation of opposition action in a country where about 40 demonstrators died in anti-government protests over the issue in January 2015.

It is also a setback for African Union mediator, Edem Kodjo, who earlier said the way was open for all-party talks to begin on Tuesday to secure agreement on the election.

“Opposition parties call on the Congolese people to hold a dead city strike (general strike) on Aug. 23,” said a statement on an opposition website. The opposition accuses Kodjo of favouring the government and asked him to step down.

Kabila succeeded his assassinated father in 2001, then won his first election in 2006. The constitution limits a president to two terms, though opponents accuse him of stalling the election to cling on to power.

Mineral-rich Congo is plagued by militia violence in the east and has never experienced a peaceful transition of power.

Congo’s voter registry will not be complete until July 2017, the electoral commission said on Saturday, in a fresh signal that the election would be delayed.

A drive to register more than 30 million voters started in March and will take 16 months to complete, election commission president Corneille Nangaa told representatives of political parties in the capital, Kinshasa.

“The issue before us today in Congo is how to reconcile the electoral cycle … with the technical constraints we face,” Nangaa said, referring to the logistical challenges of holding elections in a nation roughly the size of western Europe.

Congo’s highest court ruled in May that Kabila could remain in office if no election was held by November.

Kabila said this month a revised election timetable would only be published once a new voter registry is ready.

The government has said it prefers to hold local and provincial elections before the presidential poll, and some political analysts say that suggests Congolese will not go to the polls to choose Kabila’s successor until 2018 or 2019.

The opposition fears Kabila will seek a constitutional referendum to extend term limits as the presidents of Rwanda and Congo Republic did last year.

(Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Marguerita Choy)

DR Congo – 64 killed in machete massacre in North Kivu

Al Jazeera

At least 64 bodies recovered near Beni town in North Kivu, but local authorities warn death toll could rise.

At least 64 people have been killed in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in an attack carried out by suspected rebels.

Nyonyi Bwanakawa, the mayor of Beni in North Kivu, told Al Jazeera the attack on Saturday night happened in the town’s Rwangoma district.

READ MORE: UN peacekeepers in the DRC no longer trusted to protect

DRC troops and local officials recovered 64 bodies, but the number could rise as the search was still going on, Bwanakawa said on Sunday.

Other officials said the death toll was closer to 75.

DRC army spokesman Mak Hazukay also confirmed to the AFP news agency that bodies have been recovered in Rwangoma.

Beni, DR Congo [Al Jazeera]

Reports said that the victims were “hacked to death”.

Reagen Kyaviro, a survivor, told Al Jazeera that the attackers had turned up outside of his house.

“The guy in front turned his weapon on me. When I tried to run away from the house, he hit me on the neck with the side of his gun. He took me by my shirt. I was forced to run. By chance, they did not follow me.”

The DRC troops blamed the attack on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan rebel group known to operate bases inside neighbouring DRC.

Hazukay said that the rebels had “bypassed” army positions “to come and massacre the population in revenge” for military operations in the area.

Local residents also told Al Jazeera that they had spotted ADF rebels coming out of the forest on Saturday. There was some confusion, however, as some residents said that some of the men were wearing “army uniforms”.

The attack happened barely a week after 14 people were killed in another incident near Beni.

ADF troops were also suspected of carrying out that attack, but there was no independent confirmation.

In the past, independent observers have blamed both the ADF rebels and DRC forces for deadly attacks.

On August 4, DRC President Joseph Kabila and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni held talks in Uganda seeking a coordinated military strategy against the ADF rebels.

ADF rebels, who oppose Museveni, have been present in eastern DRC for more than 20 years.

The group has been accused of human rights abuses and is thought to be deeply embroiled in criminal networks funded by kidnappings, smuggling and logging.

The Beni area in particular has seen numerous massacres since October 2014 that have left in total more than 600 civilians dead.

The attack on Saturday happened barely a week after 14 people were killed in another incident near Beni [AFP]

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

DR Congo – Tshisekedi returns after medical treatment

Reuters

Hundreds of thousands of people lined the streets of the Congolese capital Kinshasa on Wednesday to welcome home opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi after a nearly two-year stay overseas for medical treatment.

Tshisekedi’s return to delirious crowds flashing victory signs comes at a crucial moment in Democratic Republic of Congo, as a near-certain delay to a presidential election slated for November risks triggering violence in the chronically unstable central African nation.

President Joseph Kabila, in power since 2001, is required by term limits to step down this year, but opponents accuse him of delaying the Nov. 27 poll to cling to power. The government says logistical and budgetary constraints make it unrealistic to hold the election on time.

Kabila’s opponents hope that Tshisekedi’s return can rally people to the streets after opposition protests over the last year failed to attract large turnouts.

Some supporters carried banners with Tshisekedi’s picture calling him president of the republic.

“He is the hope of all people,” said Eric Ilunga, a 31-year-old businessman who awaited Tshisekedi’s arrival outside Kinshasa’s main airport.

The 83-year-old politician, who left Congo in August 2014 for unspecified medical treatment in Brussels, has been visibly frail in public appearances over the last two years and leaned on his son as he slowly descended the stairs of a private plane.

A girl in a white dress greeted him with a bouquet of flowers while police linked arms outside the airport to keep the crowd from rushing in. People looked on from rooftops and along the highway on the 17 km (11 mile) journey to his home.

Tshisekedi, who formed Congo’s first organised opposition platform, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), under longtime autocrat Mobutu Sese Seko in 1982, was runner-up in Kabila’s 2011 re-election, a vote observers said was marred by massive fraud.

He is scheduled to speak at an opposition rally on Sunday.

Allies had said he would lead the opposition in a national dialogue called for by Kabila expected to begin next month.

On Sunday, however, Tshisekedi said the UDPS and allied parties would not participate in a dialogue led by the African Union’s designated facilitator, former Togolese prime minister Edem Kodjo, whom they accuse of bias.

Though other opposition leaders have gained prominence during Tshisekedi’s time abroad, he remains by far the most popular opposition figure despite concerns over his health.

“The return of Tshisekedi represents the beginning of the departure of Kabila,” said Martin Fayulu, another opposition leader.

(Editing by Nellie Peyton and Robin Pomeroy)

DR Congo opposition leader arrested on mercenary charges

Reuters

Democratic Republic of Congo opposition presidential candidate Moise Katumbi has been summoned to appear before a prosecutor on Monday to respond to accusations that he hired foreign mercenaries, his lawyer said on Saturday.

Justice Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba ordered the national prosecutor general on Wednesday to investigate Katumbi’s alleged use of mercenaries, including several retired American soldiers.

Hours later, Katumbi declared himself a candidate for president in an election scheduled for November.

Katumbi’s lawyer, King Kasongo Mushilanama, told Reuters that his client had received a summons on Saturday to appear in the office of the prosecutor general of Congo’s second city of Lubumbashi on Monday to respond to the government’s charges.

Katumbi will comply with the summons, he added.

Katumbi has denied the charges and accused the government of resorting to smear tactics. The U.S. Embassy in the capital Kinshasa also said that it believed the accusations were false.

Tensions are high ahead of the election in part because President Joseph Kabila, in power since 2001, has not declared whether he plans to step down this year, as required by the constitution.

The poll looks likely to be postponed as the government cites budgetary and logistical obstacles to holding it on time. Critics say Kabila is deliberately delaying the vote in order to remain in power after his mandate ends.

Kabila has not commented publicly on his intentions. He has instead called for a national dialogue to clear the way for elections to take place.

Kasongo also said that Katumbi’s farm outside of Lubumbashi was searched on Saturday by elite Republican Guard troops, who are responsible for guarding the president and securing strategic installations.

Government spokesman Lambert Mende said he could not confirm the search, as it is a judicial matter, but added that Congolese law permits the use of the Republican Guard in such situations.

The prosecutor general in Lubumbashi was not immediately available for comment.

Katumbi governed Katanga, Congo’s southeastern copper-mining heartland, from 2007 until last September when he quit Kabila’s ruling party, accusing it of plotting to keep the president in power beyond a two-term limit.

Dozens of people were killed in protests in January 2015 over alleged efforts by Kabila to extend his stay in power. Since then, authorities have arrested dozens of Kabila’s critics on what the United Nations and human rights groups say are trumped-up charges.

(Additional reporting and writing by Aaron Ross in Kinshasa; Editing by Joe Bavier and Digby Lidstone)

DR Congo – former V-P Bemba found guilty of war crimes by international court

Al Jazeera

ICC says Bemba guilty of commanding militia that went on a murder, rape and pillage spree in Central African Republic.

Prosecutors argued Bemba's forces 'raped their victims at gunpoint anywhere and at any time' [Peter Dejong/EPA]
Prosecutors argued Bemba’s forces ‘raped their victims at gunpoint anywhere and at any time’ [Peter Dejong/EPA]

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has found former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Central African Republic more than a decade ago.

The verdicts announced on Monday focused on the responsibility of a military commander for the actions of his troops, as Bemba commanded a private army of 1,500 men who went on a spree of murder, rape and pillage.

The charges – two of crimes against humanity and three of war crimes – stem from his militia’s intervention on the side of CAR’s then-president Ange-Felix Patasse in the neighbouring country’s civil war.

 Congolese fighters want amnesty

Bemba’s long-running trial was the first at the ICC to feature allegations of systematic sexual abuse by soldiers in a conflict.

Al Jazeera’s Paul Brennan, reporting from The Hague, said the ICC’s ruling was historic in several ways.

“Bemba is not only the most senior political leader ever to have been brought to judgement here at the International Criminal Court at The Hague, but what makes this particular case a landmark ruling is the fact that it has put rape as a weapon of war,” Brennan said.

Human rights activists welcomed the conviction.

Descartes Mponge, secretary general of Congolese rights group ACADHOSHA, said the judgment “strengthens the ICC’s credibility in Africa where it is accused of bias and politicisation”.

Bemba is a wealthy businessman whose Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) militia and political party vied for dominance in the country in the early 2000s.

Summing up the case against Bemba in November 2014, prosecution lawyer Horejah Bala-Gaye told judges that Bemba’s forces “raped their victims at gunpoint anywhere and at any time”.

Bemba’s lawyers told judges in their closing arguments that there was insufficient evidence to convict him.

‘Bemba had no control’

The ICC’s prosecutors said Bemba knew, or should have known, that his MLC soldiers were committing crimes.

During the five-year trial, 40 witnesses testified. One described being raped by two MLC soldiers. She was later diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.

Bemba’s lawyers said that he had no control over the MLC’s campaign in CAR, during which they claim its soldiers were fully under Patasse’s command.

His arrest in 2008 came as a surprise both to Bemba and his supporters and opponents at home. He had been living in semi-exile in Europe for several years when prosecutors sprung a trap by issuing an arrest warrant during a visit to Belgium, Congo’s former colonial master.

Speaking slowly, presiding judge Sylvia Steiner read out a chilling list of rapes and atrocities, detailing how MLC forces had deliberately targeted civilians as part of a “modus operandi” as they sought to halt the coup bid against Patasse.

Men, women and children were all raped – in one case three generations of the same family were gang-raped by MLC soldiers who held them at gun point and forced relatives to watch.

Bemba will be sentenced at a later date and could face up to 30 years in jail – or even a life sentence, if the court considers that it is “justified by the extreme gravity of the crime”.

DR Congo – civilians hacked to death by Ugandan ADF rebels

Reuters

Suspected Ugandan rebels used machetes to kill at least 12 civilians on Monday in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, authorities and a local human rights group said, the latest in a series of targeted attacks over the last 18 months.

Rebels from the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an Islamist group originally from Uganda that has operated in the border region since the 1990s, carried out the killings in the village of Mamabio, 50 km (30 miles) north of the commercial centre of Beni, said territorial administrator Amisi Kalonda.

“The bodies were found lying in different places. (The rebels) also ransacked the health centre,” said Kalonda, who said 13 people were killed.

The Centre of Study for the Promotion of Peace, Democracy and Human Rights, a local organization that documents violence in the region, confirmed the killings in a statement, saying 12 were killed.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed in dozens of raids near Beni since Oct 2014, defying repeated offensives by Congolese and U.N. peacekeepers against the ADF, who are believed to have only several hundred fighters.

A U.N. panel of experts and independent analysts, however, have questioned the DRC government’s near blanket attribution of responsibility to the ADF, saying that other armed groups are likely involved.

(Reporting By Aaron Ross, editing by Edward McAllister)