NAIROBI, KENYA – Joseph Kabila, the president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has been in power for almost a decade plus and from all indications, he wants to still even longer despite opposition protest and widespread political discontent marred seemingly turbulent social conditions.
On Monday, influential bishops in the Democratic Republic of Congo urged President Kabila to pledge he will not seek a third term in office to ease fears of unrest.
The Roman Catholic bishops last year helped broker a deal under which elections for a new president would be held in 2017. That deal paved calmed tension and allowed President Kabila, a Catholic to continue in office to today’s date.
As 2017 comes and is about to end, the ballot casting has been delayed because the country’s electoral commission says it lacks full logistical support.
President Kabila and his government have come under international pressure for reform and the holding of free and fair elections. The heavily mineral-rich but chronically poor and politically unstable country has now scheduled the presidential election for December 23, 2018.
To support the change of the new electoral date, the bishops, after holding an extraordinary meeting on DRC’s crisis, called on President Kabila “to reassure public opinion” that he will not be a candidate “to his own succession,” according to a release.
Kabila’s extended rule and stay in power have already led to street protests and a bloody crackdown throughout the DRC.
“It is essential, on the grounds of (demonstrating) sincere political will, to reassure the Congolese people and international partners by providing guarantees that elections will effectively be held,” the Bishops warned.
Kabila assumed the position of President in 2001, and according to the country’s constitution, which bars presidents from seeking a third term, his second elected mandate ended in December 2016.
In an effort to thwart the democratic and keep President Kabila in power, the country’s electoral commission said that organizing an election in the vast central African country was not possible before March 2019, but DR Congo’s foreign partners mounted pressure and a timetable was issued.
The Catholic bishops also called on the Kabila government to publish a funding plan for the election and to ease constraints concerning political prisoners and exiles.
Long run by a dictator Mobuto Sese Sekou, the DR Congo collapsed into the deadliest conflict in modern African history some two decades ago. Kabila’s father Laurent Kabila led a bloody rebellion that dethroned President Mobuto Sese Sekou. Its two wars in the late 1990s and early 2000s dragged in at least six African armies and left more than three million dead.
Kabila took office after his father Laurent-Desire Kabila was assassinated in 2001 at the height of the Second Congo War.