For nearly two years now, the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo have waited with bated breath to elect a new leader after President Joseph Kabila served his two-term constitutional mandate.
National elections have been postponed twice and there is doubt that December 23 2018 will pass with a new president in office, even in the wake of international concern that the country will slide into civil strife.
President Kabila ascended to power following the assassination of his father, Laurent Desire Kabila – fondly referred to as M’zee by the inhabitants of Africa’s biggest copper producer.
Kabila Snr is credited with ending one of Africa’s longest dictatorships when he disposed of Mobutu Sese Seko in May 1997 through a military operation that started in the eastern part of the country running through the south to the capital Kinshasa.
The success of Kabila Snr’s operation with the help of Rwandese rebels, commonly referred to as the kadogo, led to the country’s name change from Zaire (under the Mobutu’s regime) to the current Democratic Republic of the Congo. During his reign, Mobutu led the DRC with an iron fist, ridding the country of any form of opposition or dissenting voice.
The country was looted and its poverty levels hit alarming levels, despite its people sitting on some of the richest natural resources in the world. Minerals found in the DRC include cobalt (used in smartphones and laptops), gold, diamond, copper and uranium.
Twenty years after the fall of Mobutu, fears are rife that the country is haunted by its past and the young Kabila is taking DRC back to its dark days.
When the young Kabila took over the reins of power from his late father in January 2001, he was installed to lead a transition which culminated into the first democratic election in 2006 under a new constitution.
In 2011, President Kabila re-contested the election and won what is constitutionally the final mandate.
Five years after his re-election, President Kabila and his government did not hold elections, claiming a lack of resources to finance the process. Authorities said the poll was to be delayed for another year to ensure good preparations.
This development did not go down well with the Congolese people. Since then, tension has heightened.
In January 2017, widespread protests were thwarted by the Presidential Republican Guards resulting in the death of more than 15 people.
The Catholic Church stepped in to strike a deal between the government and opposition political parties to avert a situation that could have led to widespread bloodshed in DRC. That deal led to the agreement among the parties and was known as the Saint-Sylvestre Political Agreement.
President Joseph Kabila earned a 12-month extension of his already expired mandate. As a result, both sides agreed the election would be held in December 2017.
That, too, passed without action and triggered upheaval. Some parts of the country that host a huge presence of United Nations peacekeepers are now under threat from sections of rebel groups, according to the United Nations monitoring group.
The government, on the other hand, has announced it will hold the delayed election on December 23 2018 largely as a result of pressure mounted by the international community. President Kabila has not categorically stated he will not seek unconstitutional means to recontest the poll and prolong his stay in office.
Instead it is his former Katanga governor, Moise Katumbi, who has emerged as a frontrunner under the opposition coalition titled Ensemble loosely translated as together.
Katumbi, however, has been in self-imposed exile since leaving DRC two years ago for medicals after a series of what his supporters say were politically motivated court cases and other underhand methods to eliminate him. He was found guilty and sentenced in absentia but appealed.
Recently Katumbi’s passport was revoked for allegedly having held an Italian citizenship. Katumbi denies the allegations and when the case of his passport came up for trial before the court of justice, it was postponed to October, paving the way for his return to file nominations.
The presidential nominations are set for dates between July 27 to August 10. Katumbi has announced he will return for the nomination.
While DRC government officials have stated Kabila will not contest as he is constitutionally barred, the head of state remains mute, fuelling speculation and tension in an already volatile environment.
International organisations and individual countries are piling the pressure on President Kabila’s government to hold a free, fair and all-inclusive presidential and general election.
Unresolved issues around the election abound and stakeholders want them attended to. The voter’s roll has seven million voters who can’t be identified. Another 1.2 million voter’s cards have gone missing with some accusing the Electoral Commission of knowing where they are.
Electronic voting machines procured from South Korea are under dispute because they are seen as a conduit to rig elections. It makes the forthcoming general election an even complicated affair.
African Union secreteary-general Moussa Faki has urged the DRC government to makie the elections a priority to delivering a democratic promise to its people.
US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, made a visit to the DRC in October last year urging President Kabila to hold elections before the end of December 2018.
Haley met privately with Kabila for 90 minutes in Kinshasa and warned that “a relationship with the United States is dependent on how he acts going forward”.
President Kabila has thwarted an attempt by Haley to visit the DRC this month, sending signals that he was up to no good.
The Southern African Development Community of which the DRC is a member has put together a team of heads of state led by Angola’s president, João Lourenço, to forestall a democratic process leading up to the December poll.
And it’s only a matter of time before the DRC and the world knows what President Kabila is up to.