“Reformist Congolese voices need to be heard. Whether by innocence or design, supporting authoritarian leaders like Mr. Kabila, who promise peace, only reinforces the cycle of violence, leaving millions of Congolese yet again facing a turbulent, uncertain future”.
President Joseph Kabila of Congo shows no sign of stepping down. He reached the end of his constitutional two-term limit last year, but after months of delays for which Mr. Kabila blamed incomplete voter lists, one of his ministerial colleagues argued that presidential elections —estimated to cost $1.8 billion— are an expense Congo cannot afford. Mr. Kabila’s dallying has led to consternation in Congo and around the world that he is violating Congo’s Constitution and setting himself up as a President for life. The US, a major donor, imposed sanctions last year in to pressure the President. The uncertainty surrounding Mr. Kabila’s exit has led to fears that Congo, where five million people have died in wars fought against six nations over the past two decades, may fall into a fresh round of conflict and again destabilize the region. At stake is Congo’s fledgling experiment with democracy. Mr. Kabila was elected president in 2016 in Congo’s first free vote in four decades. The democratic transition was a moment of great hope, meant to draw a line under the worst war in the world and a hundred-year history of brutal dictatorship and colonial rule. Mr. Kabila was an initiator of peace accords between warring factions in 2003 that led to the end of much of Congo’s deadly war. Mr. Kabila governed Congo like a phantom President, isolating himself in his palace, presiding over dysfunction and disorder. He has softened criticism from his Western allies by ensuring that they profited from Congo’s wealth. Huge mineral concessions were handed to corporations from countries that finance Congo’s elections and that support Mr. Kabila’s Government with foreign aid. A US diplomat told me that Western aid was linked to promises of deals for minerals essential to Western technologies, from military aircraft to cellphones. Western mining businesses have also been linked to grave crimes. Mr. Kabila’s hunger to hold onto power is no surprise. He never offered to build the institutions — transparent elections, an independent judiciary, a free press — essential for Congo’s long-term stability.