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Homepage > Publication Type > Watch List > Watch List - December 2015 > Democratic Republic of Congo

Democratic Republic of Congo

The following text forms part of Crisis Group’s Early Warning Watch List for December 2015, compiled for the European Union (EU) and its member states to provide analysis and updates on conflicts, and on opportunities for preventive action. Each Watch List identifies up to ten countries or conflicts which are particularly vulnerable to an outbreak or intensification of conflict or crisis – or which in some cases offer an opportunity for prevention or resolution – in the following six to twelve months.

Each country or conflict is chosen from the 70 crisis situations monitored by Crisis Group and regularly reported on in CrisisWatch; the choice of countries is representative of a range of conflicts and is not meant to be all-inclusive or a ranking of deadly violence. Each country summary contains an outline of recent developments and forthcoming events that may increase risks, and lays out opportunities for action for national, regional and international actors, in particular the EU and its member states.


January 2015 saw large-scale popular mobilisation against the regime’s attempt to amend constitutional term limits and extend President Kabila’s rule beyond 2016. The regime has created the conditions in which organising timely elections, initially planned for November 2016, has become virtually impossible. Since the protests, the government, as part of a strategy of confrontation, has accelerated decentralisation, to reinforce its otherwise uncertain grip on the country while launching calls for political dialogue. The opposition however remains wary of entering in discussions that could lead to a prolonged political transition. Centrally, Kabila’s desire to stay in power risks undoing the progress made in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) since the war ended in 2002. Assuming elections cannot go ahead as planned, a political agreement will need to be formulated in the coming months to ensure a consensual transition. Without this, popular mobilisation and/or regime fracturing threatens the country’s stability. The UN Organization Stabilisation Mission in DRC (MONUSCO) is currently not equipped to handle instability outside the Kivus.

The EU, its member states, and the wider international community should:

  • Continue to press for the full respect of the constitution, in particular the two-term limit for the president, and a realistic, consensual timeframe for presidential and legislative elections, while opposing an open-ended transition.
  • Should a technical delay occur, encourage the establishment of a regular, inclusive and transparent follow-up mechanism to manage the transition, and ensure that during and before any extension, parliament is not allowed to accept for consideration new legislation that would impact the electoral process, in particular the constitutional term limits. In case of delays and major security incidents during the transition, the introduction of targeted sanctions against political leaders should be considered.
  • Support Congolese actors, in particular the Independent Electoral Commission (CENI), the opposition, and civil society, in developing a shared, consensual electoral framework, involving a realistic timetable and budget. A sound process to ensure a representative voter list, based on the work conducted by the International Organisation of la Francophonie (OIF), should be established. Electoral technical and financial assistance should also be provided, including toward the CENI on voter registration support and training of electoral officials, and toward civil society to develop modules on voter education.
  • Call on the DRC government to guarantee the right to free speech, and abstain from arresting and harassing opponents, as well as involve itself in the internal affairs of opposition political parties. The legislation on political parties must be respected to the fullest.
  • Involve African partners – in particular Angola, South Africa and Tanzania – in the international dialogue with Congolese authorities on elections and future stabilisation efforts.
  • EU members sitting on the UN Security Council (SC) should press for MONUSCO to be kept at its current strengths during the entire pre-electoral phase. They should also call for the establishment of a mobile rapid intervention unit, with crowd-control expertise, and for MONUSCO military and crowd-control capabilities, and its political affairs and joint human rights offices, to be reinforced in sensitive regions, such as Katanga. The EU and its member states should press the government and the UN, including via the new UN Envoy for DRC Maman Sidikou, to reestablish operational cooperation.

As DRC enters the final year of President Kabila’s second and last constitutional mandate, political unrest is rapidly increasing. His regime, in power for almost two decades, has since the 2011 election been preoccupied with maintaining its hold on power. Political freedoms and democratic space have been further eroded and the acquis of the peace process that ended the 1998-2003 war is in danger. Through several initiatives – including the under-resourced implementation of the “découpage” process to create 21 new provinces and the lack of funding for the electoral process – the regime has now created conditions in which organising timely elections has become virtually impossible. Absent a political deal on the management of the electoral process and a possible transition, a confrontation between the majority and the opposition is likely.

In April 2015, President Kabila launched a political dialogue initiative, but the protracted process in itself has become an integral part of the delaying strategy. The need for consensus on outstanding electoral issues, including on the calendar, budget and funding, voter list and security arrangements is widely acknowledged. Opinions diverge, however, on the format, duration and (international) facilitation of talks. The opposition insists on full respect of the constitutional timeline, though most parties are not (financially and organisationally) ready to engage in the electoral process. The opposition is also split: the (internally divided) Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) strongly insists on international mediation, while a widening platform regrouping Vital Kamerhe’s Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC), the G7 and Moïse Katumbi, former Kantanga governor and erstwhile Kabila ally, aims for a process whereby the electoral commission together with the opposition and majority establish an electoral calendar. The latter platform is calling for popular mobilisation. The framework for dialogue set out in the 30 November presidential decree meanwhile has not been accepted by the UDPS and is perceived by several opposition parties as an attempt to change the constitution.

Both the ruling majority and opposition are fragile and aware of their limits. This includes doubts about the cohesion of the security forces in case of confrontation but also the capacity of political parties and civil society organisations to mobilise the population. Despite backing down in January, the regime has maintained a strategy of stubborn confrontation, including in its most recent call for dialogue. So far, it maintains a numerical majority in parliament, but recent developments have contributed to further erosion of its popular base, including in Katanga, the country’s economic powerhouse.

The absence of leadership at the CENI partly explains the delayed electoral preparations. One year before the end of the presidential term, its leadership has been replaced, and the institution has now little political or popular support. Meanwhile, the “découpage” of the provinces remains controversial: sold as decentralisation, the regime has instead sought to use the process to further centralise power in the presidency. Katanga, the regime’s historical powerbase, is of particular concern: the former province, now divided in four, has witnessed a considerable erosion of its power as major political leaders in the province – Moïse Katumbi and Union of Congolese Nationalist Federalists (UNAFEC) head Gabriel Kyungu – left the majority in recent months. This troubled relationship with the province’s elites has been the driving factor behind the regime’s acceleration of the “découpage”, which allows redistribution of positions and resources to political allies. In Lubumbashi, Katanga’s capital, the process has led to confrontation between the government and the UNAFEC, which has Katumbi’s backing, as the regime attempts to consolidate its grip over provincial structures.

Meanwhile, relations between the DRC government and the international community, in particular MONUSCO, have been increasingly difficult. Since the November 2013 defeat of M23 rebels, military cooperation between the government and MONUSCO has mostly come to a halt, and implementation of MONUSCO’s political mandate has been rendered virtually impossible. Kinshasa is pushing the UNSC to downsize the UN mission, while requesting that the regionally composed UN Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), put in place during the M23 crisis in 2013, be maintained. The FIB revitalisation has however not taken place. The armed groups in the east are currently estimated at almost 70 – indicating a process of fragmentation and enduring insecurity against a backdrop of infrequent, unsustained military operations, and a totally under-resourced national disarmament demobilisation and reintegration program.

Read the full Watch List for December 2015 (pdf).

Learn more about the Watch List.

Note: The Watch List is produced as part of the project “Strengthening Early Warning and Mobilising Early Action”, co-funded by the European Union. The project aims to strengthen the links between early warning, conflict analysis and early response, and to build civil society’s capacity for early warning.

The Crisis Group EU Early Warning Watch List is one of many products the organisation produces to alert policy makers and the general public on unfolding crisis or conflicts, and which offers them solutions to support conflict prevention, management and resolution initiatives.

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