Congolese President, Joseph Kabila, is reportedly in talks to step down following an election held at the end of 2017. A deal, announced by mediators on Friday, December 30th, would prevent Kabila from changing the constitution and extending his mandate for a third term in the hope of securing a peaceful transition of power come the next election. The Catholic Church oversaw the negotiations between political parties, which have been ongoing since November through the Episcopal Conference. Bishop Marcel Utembi confirmed the success of the talks, claiming, “we have reached agreement on all points.”
Joseph Kabila first came to power in 2001, after the assassination of his father Laurent Kabila. In the first two years of his presidency, he set upon ending the war started by his father with neighbouring countries of Uganda and Rwanda, which had killed an estimated four million people. Through a series of peace talks and skilled diplomacy, an end to the war was negotiated in 2003, ensuring an end to the violence. In addition, he attempted to unify the nation through meetings with various religious and social group leaders and passing reforms which would bring stability to markets and investors. Kabila further made attempts at strengthening international ties with countries such as the United States, as well as leaders of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
In 2006, Kabila participated in Congo’s first multiparty election in 41 years, securing the presidency in a runoff against Jean-Pierre Bemba, after failing to secure the majority the first time around. Once again, Kabila attempted to unify the country by signing peace agreements with rebel fighters – but these agreements quickly fell apart as the rebels continued their attacks.
Kabila sought a second term in 2011 and won with 49% of the vote, despite noted irregularities by international monitoring groups. Both Kabila’s opponent Étienne Tshisekedi, as well as the bishops of the Catholic Church of Congo raised concern over the legitimacy of the election results.
In January 2015, an electoral law passed by Congo’s parliament surmised Congo would not have its scheduled 2016 election until a nationwide census had been conducted. This would mean Kabila would be able to stay in power past his elected term until the census concluded, which could take several years. The law sparked anger and as a result, protests led by students turned violent – resulting in twenty-seven deaths following clashes with police.
Civil unrest and violence continued through 2016; seventeen people were killed at a protest in Kinshasa calling for Kabila step down. On the 20th of December 2016, the day his second term expired, Kabila issued a statement claiming he would stay in power as president until the next elections which would not be held until 2018. This announcement sparked further protests claiming the lives of forty people.
The Catholic Church’s involvement in the talks between the government and the opposition intends to put an end to the violence by seeking an agreement for a peaceful transfer of power. The deal agreed upon would ensure Kabila remains in power until the end of 2017, where a fresh set of elections will be held and a new president would be chosen. If implemented successfully, this would be Congo’s first peaceful transfer of power since 1960.