Mass protests turned bloody last Monday with police and demonstrators clashing ahead of a planned opposition demonstration against the Kabila government in the capital of Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Government reports declared that, at least, 17 people died in the clashes, however, opposition groups say the number is closer to over 50. This latest round of violence was sparked after President Kabila delayed the December national elections, in what opponents are calling a last bid to cling to power.
The clashes erupted in Kinshasa with opposition, pro-Kabila activists, and security forces taking to the streets. Riot police fired gunshots and tear gas into the crowds after being provoked by activists who were throwing stones at them and damaging property. Activists lit posters of the president on fire and sought shelter behind burning tyres, which were used as barricades along the main streets in the city centre. Witnesses reported that three police officers died in the clashes, and according to Agence France-Presse, four people were killed after the headquarters of opposition parties were torched.
Opposition activists organized the protests against President Kabila, who is now expected to remain in office past his mandate. Activists are calling for the president to step down at the end of his term, which ends on December 20, and they are pressuring the government to hold earlier elections in November. Anti-Kabila protests have spread across the central African country, including in the eastern province of Goma, and there are reports of demonstrations being held by Congolese citizens of South Africa, outside the DRC embassy in Pretoria.
Joseph Kabila took over the Presidency after his father, Laurent, was shot by a bodyguard in 2001. Kabila’s leadership has long been disputed, due to corrupt polling during the 2006 and 2011 elections. With his second term coming to an end, observers are worried that Kabila will maintain his position, despite his mandate ending.
The DRC has been mired by violent unrest for over two decades, with security issues including attacks from militant organizations prevalent in the border regions. Residents of the eastern province of Beni have been living in fear of future violence after a gun attack killed 36 people in early August of this year.
The government has blamed the attacks on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a partly Islamist armed group of Ugandan origin. The group has been operating in the DRC for more than two decades and is accused of severe human rights abuses. According to army spokesman Hazukay, the August attacks saw 36 people killed, including 22 men and 14 women. They have been considered as an act of revenge by the ADF, which was in response to government military operations conducted in the area.
Government spokesman, Lambert Mende has defended the DRC government by claiming that they have appealed to world leaders to provide support against the militant group. “In our country, the armed forces of the DRC are alone in the face of the indifferent international community,” he said.
However, the violence seems to be endless with this recent massacre, which has seen the increase of the death toll from gun attacks to over 600 people since 2014. This has prompted demonstrations from residents in Beni and the surrounding regions, claiming the Kabila government is incapable of keeping them safe.
Gilbert Kambale, a local civil society leader in Beni expressed his worries about the attacks, which came three days after Kabila visited the region, and he made vast promises to do everything within his power to stop the violence.
“There is a blatant lack of security, [the authorities] are not capable of keeping the population safe. That is why the people have come into the street,” he said.
Amnesty International has previously called for government security forces to “show restraint” when handling demonstrations, according to Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn, and the Green Lakes. Wanyeki implores the government to “facilitate the right to peaceful assembly for all, including opposition supporters” and “refrain from using force against peaceful protesters.”
The DRC has a population of over 79 million and borders nine other African nations. The region has been faced with repeated bouts of violence since the end of the civil war (1996-2003), despite consolidated efforts by the international community and Congolese authorities to bring peace and security to the region.
Rebecca just returned from a year-long exchange program in Seoul, South Korea.Her majors include Korean language and North-East Asian studies, with a focus on developments on the Korean peninsula.
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