Joseph Kabila, President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
What – Despite Kabila’s second term officially expiring on Tuesday, he has thus far refused to step down and his government declared that it will put off elections until April 2018 at earliest. Although Kabila is banned by the constitution from seeking a third term in office, a delay in voting would allow him to remain in power until his successor is elected. Protests organized by opposition parties have been common and proven sometimes deadly, with 60 killed in a September protest when security forces opened fire on an opposition march.
How – The government claims that voting cannot occur because it needs to register millions of DRC citizens for the vote, which will take more resources and time. Opposition leaders dispute this claim, instead accusing the government and Kabila of using it as an excuse to retain power.
Why – Kabila’s apparent attempt to remain in power has angered many Congolese citizens who see him as corrupt and ineffective.
General Background – The current president of the DRC, Joseph Kabila, came to power in 2001, at the age of 29, following the assassination of his father, Laurent-Desire Kabila. He was then elected president in 2006 and reelected in 2011. Both of his elections have been tarnished by potential voter fraud, violence, and corruption. During his years as president, Kabila has faced numerous conflicts in the Congo and is highly unpopular due to the perception that he has used his office to enrich his family members while ignoring widespread poverty in the country.
What’s Next – Talks between the government and opposition parties have yielded no concrete results so far, though they plan to continue talks. Many fear that Kabila’s refusal to step down will result in a civil war reminiscent of those which occurred between 1997, when dictator Mobutu Sese Seko was overthrow, and 2003. Approximately five million people were killed during that time. The DRC has never seen a peaceful transfer of power since it became independent of Belgium in 1960. There have been signs of increasing violence with the deployment of checkpoints and heavily armed security forces as well as armed groups attacking government troops and pro-Kabila groups attacking opposition demonstrators. The government has also been accused of unlawful detentions and authorities have blocked access to most social media sites.
Update: Since the writing of the initial article, Congolese security forces have reportedly killed 40 protestors and arrested 460 after Kabila failed to step down as his term expired. However, an agreement between Kabila and opposition politicians is reportedly near conclusion in which elections will be held next year and Kabila would not change the constitution in order to run for a third term.