Protests against President Joseph Kabila in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) turned violent on Tuesday, with government forces firing into crowds and killing over forty people.
President Kabila has been president of the DRC since 2001, with his second term having expired on Tuesday. The DRC constitution prohibits presidents from serving more than two terms, yet Kabila has refused to step down.
Although the President had previously shown signs that he intended to remain in office, and had failed to schedule an election, many people viewed Tuesday as final confirmation of his intentions, and took to the streets in cities all across the country.
The capital city of Kinshasa had the greatest unrest, with protesters setting fire to part of the headquarters of the President’s political party. Government forces responded heavily with force, and there have been numerous accounts of police shooting into crowds. Residents have also claimed that tear gas was used against the protesters.
The government Minister of Communications, Lambert Mende, released a statement on Tuesday stating that, “In Kinshasa there were nine dead, not a single one more”. This was later found to be a gross understatement upon further investigation by the United Nations.
The UN Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC has documented the killing of at least 40 civilians in various cities, with the majority of fatalities in Kinshasa. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has also stated that over 107 people had been injured or ill treated, and more than 460 civilians and political opponents to Kabila had been arrested.
The High Commissioner condemned the heavy handedness of the government response to the protests in which soldiers acted in law enforcement alongside the police, and where the government forces were heavily armed and using live ammunition.
Residents have also claimed that government forces have been carrying out door to door searches and arresting young people. Most social media in the country has also been blocked.
On Monday, before the protests, popular DRC opposition figure, Etienne Tshisekedi, had called on citizens to oppose the President peacefully. He uploaded a video to YouTube where he asked the DRC people not to recognise Kabila’s ‘illegal and illegitimate’ authority, and to peacefully resist his “coup”.
Even though Kabila is barred from a third term, the DRC constitution allows him to remain president until a successor is chosen.
Kabila’s party as well as some opposition parties have agreed to attempt to schedule an election though this is expected to occur in April 2018 at the earliest, leaving Kabila in power for at least another year and three months. The main opposition group has opposed this plan, and called for Kabila’s immediate removal.
Originally the election was meant to be held in November this year, however Kabila’s party insisted that more time was needed to organise it. Dozens of protesters were killed in September as they took to the streets after it became clear there would be no November election.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly ‘Zaire’, has never seen a change of power as a result of the democratic process. Kabila came to power after his father was assassinated by his bodyguard in 2001.
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