Friday, 30 September 2016

Electric cars: Running on child labour?

DR CONGO: Electric cars: Running on child labour?


Leading electric car makers must come clean to their consumers about the steps they are taking to keep child labour out of their supply chains, and be open about any abuses that they do find, Amnesty International said today, ahead of the Paris Motor Show where new models of electric cars will be displayed.
Leading electric car makers General Motors (GM), Renault-Nissan and Tesla have failed to disclose the steps they are taking to ensure that cobalt mined by child labourers as young as seven in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is not used in their batteries.
“Electric cars may not be as ‘clean’ as you would think. Customers need to be aware that their green cars could be linked to the misery of child labourers in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Would customers at the Paris Motor Show buy a car if they thought it had cost someone their childhood?” said Mark Dummett, Business and Human Rights Researcher at Amnesty International.
“Amnesty International’s research shows that there is a significant risk of cobalt mined by children ending up in the batteries of electric cars. These vehicles are presented as the ethical choice for environmentally and socially conscious drivers, so the companies that manufacture them must come clean and prove they have acted diligently in getting their supplies.”
More than half of the world’s cobalt, which is a key component in the lithium-ion batteries which power electric vehicles, comes from the DRC, 20% of which is mined by hand. Research by Amnesty International for its report, This Is What We Die For, released in January 2016, found that adults and children as young as seven work in appalling conditions in artisanal mining areas. Researchers found these miners are at risk of fatal accidents and serious lung disease and earn as little as one dollar a day.
Electric car supply chain under scrutiny
Cobalt supply chain

New research, released on the eve of the Paris Motor Show 2016 by Amnesty International, has identified five car companies at risk. According to news sources and/or company press releases, South Korean battery manufacturer LG Chem provides batteries for:
  • GM’s Chevrolet Volt,
  • Renault-Nissan’s Twizy and ZOE,
  • Upgrades to Tesla’s Roadster model.
BMW, Fiat Chrysler most open on human rights policies but still fall short of international standards
  • BMW said it had been investigating its cobalt supply chain since 2013 and was working with its suppliers to identify its smelters, the names of which it declined to disclose. BMW added that Huayou Cobalt was not a supplier and that it had received assurances from its battery manufacturer, Samsung SDI, that Huayou Cobalt was not part of its supply chain. However, BMW does not provide evidence of any independent steps it has taken to verify Samsung’s assertion.
  • Fiat Chrysler, another customer of Samsung SDI, also said that Huayou Cobalt was not part of its supply chain. Similarly, it appears to accept Samsung’s assertion at face value. Fiat Chrysler admitted that it currently does not “have a program specifically focused on the identification of the cobalt smelters and refiners.” This means that Fiat Chrysler does not have a system in place to trace its cobalt supplies back to the “choke point” in the chain and so is unable to assess if cobalt mined by children in the DRC is entering its supply chain.
Electric car sector lacks transparency

Samsung SDI, also from South Korea, supplies BMW (i3 EV and i8 PHEV) and Fiat-Chrysler(500E EV), the two car manufacturers acknowledged in letters to Amnesty.
In its January 2016 report, Amnesty International revealed that there was a risk that other auto companies, including Daimler, VW and the Chinese electric vehicle giant BYD, were using cobalt that had come from mines in the DRC where children and adults work in unsafe conditions.
Amnesty International used investor documents to show how cobalt mined in the DRC is bought by a Chinese company, Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt (Huayou Cobalt), which supplies battery component manufacturers in China and South Korea. In turn, these component manufacturers sell to battery makers including LG Chem and Samsung SDI, that supply many of the world’s largest car companies. 
Daimler has stated that it does not source directly from the DRC nor from suppliers in the DRC. Similarly, VW has denied links to Huayou Cobalt. Both advise that they are doing more to detect human rights risks in their cobalt supply chains, but without providing evidence. For example neither explain how they verify information provided to them by their suppliers. Critically neither disclosed the identity of smelters nor any assessment of the adequacy of their practices. BYD did not reply to Amnesty International’s request for information.
General Motors (GM) and Tesla did not reply to a request from Amnesty International to provide evidence of how they identify and address  human rights abuses in their cobalt supply chains, particularly in relation to child labour. Renault said it would respond to Amnesty “at the earliest possible time,” but provided no other information.
By contrast, BMW and Fiat-Chrysler both sent detailed responses, though they failed to provide sufficient proof that they were meeting international standards applicable to mineral supply chains:
More details about company responses, including their full replies, available here
Under international guidelines set out by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), companies which use cobalt mined in high-risk areas should identify their smelters or refiners, as well as disclose their own assessment of the adequacy of the smelter’s due diligence practices in identifying and addressing human rights risks and abuses.     

None of the companies mentioned above could demonstrate that they have met this standard for cobalt.
Amnesty International is calling on all multinational companies that use lithium-ion batteries to prove that they are implementing their policies and to be transparent about the results of their investigations. It is integral that they disclose sufficient information that relates to any human rights abuses or risks of abuse they find.
Voluntary action by companies is not enough. Amnesty International is also calling for governments to pass laws that require companies to check and publicly disclose information about where they source minerals and their suppliers. Today there is no regulation of the global cobalt market. Cobalt does not fall under existing “conflict minerals” rules in the USA, which cover gold, coltan/tantalum, tin and tungsten mined in DRC.
In France, the National Assembly has passed a bill that would place an obligation on large French companies, such as Renault, to prevent human rights abuses in its supply chain. It will be heard by the Senate in October.
"This bill is a great example of the state ensuring that companies take human rights seriously and meet their responsibilities. If passed, companies could be sanctioned for failing to act vigilantly,” said Mark Dummett.
“Without legislation that makes human rights due diligence mandatory, companies will continue to skirt the issue and benefit from child labour and other abuses.”
 Amnesty International

Families of US government personnel ordered to leave Congo amid unrest

Families of US government personnel ordered to leave Congo amid unrest


Sept. 20, 2016: Congo riot police patrol streets on trucks,
 after violence erupted due to the delay of the presidential
 elections in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. 

The State Department is halting most official U.S. government travel to the Democratic Republic of Congo and ordering family members of U.S. government personnel to leave the country.
Violent clashes broke out in Congo amid political turmoil earlier this month. Americans have been warned about traveling in the African nation for several weeks.
In an updated travel warning issued Thursday, the State Department says continued instability is being reported in Congo. The warning says the potential for civil unrest is high in parts of the capital, Kinshasa, and other major cities.
Congo's electoral commission has decided a presidential election scheduled for November won't be possible, sparking deadly clashes between security forces and demonstrators.
Critics of President Joseph Kabila say the delayed election is an effort to keep Kabila in power.
Fox News

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Deadly clashes in DR Congo city of Kananga

Deadly clashes in DR Congo city of Kananga


Two days of violence in a city in central Democratic Republic of Congo have left at least 10 people dead.
Security forces in Kananga clashed with militia fighters seeking to avenge the death of their leader who was killed in August by the military, officials and media reports say.
The fighters attacked the city's airport on Friday, killing an airline worker, witnesses said.
DR Congo has suffered from years of unrest and political instability.
Protests against President Joseph Kabila in the capital Kinshasa earlier this week left at least 50 people dead, the UN said.
Reports said fighters loyal to late tribal chief Kamwina Nsapu first entered Kananga on Thursday morning.
Broadcaster Radio Okapi said the militia clashed with security forces and were eventually beaten back.
They returned on Friday and attacked the airport.
"There was heavy fighting with small arms and heavy weapons," said witness Killy Ilunga, who saw the body of a dead flight attendant.
"They burst into the hall of the airport. One of them beat her with a club."
Another witness reported seeing the bodies of several militia fighters at the airport.
The number of deaths has not been confirmed but reports put the toll at between 10 and 13.
Government spokesman Lambert Mende said the situation was under control.
"The airport has been under the control of our forces since this afternoon," he said. "We don't have a death toll at the moment. But yes, there were deaths."

Monday, 19 September 2016

DR Congo election: 17 dead in anti-Kabila protests

DR Congo election: 17 dead in anti-Kabila protests

Congolese took to the streets to protest against President 

At least 17 people have died in the Democratic Republic of Congo during protests calling for President Joseph Kabila to step down. 
Three of them were police officers, one of whom was burnt alive, according to the Interior Minister, Evariste Boshab.
Protesters set up barricades and torched cars on one of the main roads in Kinshasa, the country's capital.
Police fired tear gas to disperse the demonstrators. One witness said police fired live ammunition into the crowd.

The bodies of people who had died were seen lying in the streets after protests ended.
The electoral commission was meant to announce a date for presidential elections, due in November, on Monday, but has said it will not be possible to hold them then.
The opposition says Mr Kabila is trying to delay the elections in order to remain in power beyond his two-term limit, which finishes in December.

Police have made at least 10 arrests, with hundreds of protesters out on the streets, reports BBC Afrique's Poly Muzalia from the capital.
Most schools and shops are closed in Kinshasa, with those not involved in the protests staying inside to avoid any trouble, our reporter adds.

Anti-riot police have been deployed on the streets in Kinshasa 

A government-backed effort to work out a solution to the political crisis, called a "national dialogue", has been boycotted by most opposition parties.
Mr Kabila's second term, the maximum allowed under the country's constitution, is due to expire on 20 December.
Last year at least 12 people died in similar protests.
DR Congo has never had a smooth transfer of power since independence more than 55 years ago.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

DR Congo: Belfast charity boss describes Congo massacre as 'Hell on Earth'

DR Congo: Belfast charity boss describes Congo massacre as 'Hell on Earth'

Charity workers David McAllister and Tim Magowan; with 
Consolate, a Tearfund staff member at a refugee camp.

A Belfast man who witnessed the aftermath of a massacre in the Congo has described it as "Hell on Earth".
Tim Magowan, the Northern Ireland director of charity Tearfund, went to the Democratic Republic of Congo to work on a film about conflict survivors - but arrived just a day after the atrocity in which at least 64 people were killed.

The man he was visiting, David McAllister, witnessed thousands fleeing from their homes during the incident and shot a video.
The next day the Belfast men went to the village the people had been fleeing to and spoke to some of them.
"If Hell had a capital, it was right there," Mr Magowan said.
He added that he had been to other places of poverty and need, but the refugee camp had the biggest impact on him.
"It was easily the place that was most horrifying," he said.
Before going to the DR Congo he had been worried about his safety, but Tearfund has a good risk management system that kept him safe.
The contrast between his situation and the situation of those who had fled the massacre made a huge impression on him.
"They had nothing. There was absolutely no system of support around them," Mr Magowan said.
While they were in the village, he and Mr McAllister spoke to several of the displaced.
One woman, a farmer with eight children, told them of men cutting people to pieces with their machetes.
She said: "We ran away with only the clothes on our bodies."
Another woman told of how her pregnant relative was killed after her baby was cut out of her stomach.
Mr Magowan said her story was "just sheer, raw emotions".
But even though he was in one of the most horrible places he'd ever been, there were positive things happening as well.
"In the middle of that, what I saw was a few sparks of hope," he said.
Mr Magowan was inspired by the people around him, like Mr McAllister, who were using their experiences to make a difference.
Mr McAllister, whose family are known from the BBC1 documentary A Deadly Mission: Belfast To Congo, now works in the DR Congo with Tearfund. The charity works in remote areas with the Government, local partners and other agencies to help conflict survivors recover and rebuild their livelihoods.
When Mr Magowan and Mr McAllister saw how much the refugees needed, they reported their needs to Tearfund.
NI donors raised £10,000 for waterproof roofs, and £82,000 more was sent from the START network, an non-governmental organisation funding pool.
Mr Magowan knew he would see difficult things in Congo, but didn't realise how close he'd be.
"We were there to make a film about conflict survivors… I hadn't reckoned on being caught up in the aftermath," he added.
He said most of the stories he had gathered had more recovery time between their trauma and the interview, but "what we saw in the Congo was in real time".

By Ann W Schmidt

Belfast Telegraph

Friday, 9 September 2016

Faut-il continuer d’organiser des élections présidentielles en Afrique ?

Faut-il continuer d’organiser des élections présidentielles en Afrique ? 


Faut-il continuer d’organiser des élections présidentielles en Afrique ? Cette question peut être jugée provocatrice par les idéologues de la démocratie en Afrique. Cependant, elle fait suite à une observation des élections sur le continent africain ces vingt-cinq dernières années, particulièrement la dernière élection présidentielle au Gabon. Lorsque Jacques Chirac jugeait, au début des années 1990, que « la démocratie est un luxe pour l’Afrique », beaucoup d’Africains, y compris les intellectuels et politiques s’en étaient offusqués. Vingt-cinq ans après, la réalité du terrain ne lui donne-t-elle pas raison ?

La démocratie électorale en Afrique a échoué parce que les élections, notamment présidentielles, donnent d’observer trois constantes qui militent, à mon sens, pour leur abandon.

La démocratie, un luxe ?

Premièrement, l’élection présidentielle est improductive car non seulement elle est très onéreuse pour les pays africains, mais elle produit très peu de résultats positifs dans la vie des populations.La présidentielle ivoirienne de 2010 a été reconnue par l’ensemble des observateurs comme l’une des plus coûteuses au monde. Le coût de l’organisation du scrutin a été estimé à 300 millions d’euros, ce qui en faisait l’élection la plus chère d’Afrique.

Un partisan de l’opposant Jean Ping, à genoux face aux
 forces de sécurité qui bloquent l’accès à la Commission
 électorale, le 31 août 2016.

La démocratie en Afrique, dans des pays pauvres et très endettés, est devenue un véritable luxe. Ces pays font très souvent appel à des financements extérieurs auprès de l’Union européenne et d’autres bailleurs pour organiser les présidentielles. Mais tout cela pour quels résultats ? Dans de nombreux pays, l’élection met aux prises des factions, généralement à base ethnique et depuis longtemps embourbées dans des luttes de pouvoir fratricides.

De fait, le niveau de violence électorale (avant, pendant et après) est devenu la jauge du bon déroulement et de la crédibilité d’une élection. La dernière présidentielle du 27 août au Gabon s’est terminée par des violences exactement comme en 2009. Les violences électorales les plus graves sont celles qui se sont déroulées au Kenya en 2008, puis en Côte d’Ivoire en 2010 et, plus récemment, au Burundi en 2015. Le scrutin présidentiel à venir en République démocratique du Congo (RDC) a déjà généré des violences avant même que l’on ne se rapproche de son organisation.

En outre, même dans les pays considérés comme les plus avancés dans la consolidation de la démocratie comme le Ghana, le Mali, le Sénégal, et le Bénin, la présidentielle a polarisé les tensions et l’on a parfois frôlé la tragédie. Entendons-nous bien, l’absence de brutalité visible ne signifie pas qu’il n’y a pas de violation, même symbolique, des droits de l’homme par la restriction des libertés politiques, notamment l’emprisonnement, les tortures et les menaces des opposants, ainsi que des acteurs de la société civile (syndicats, unions, journalistes, etc.) avant ou après une élection. Ces violences en général débouchent sur la conservation du pouvoir par le président sortant ou le régime en place.

Deuxièmement, les élections présidentielles en Afrique ne débouchent que très rarement sur une alternance. En dehors de quelques pays comme le Ghana, le Mali, le Sénégal, le Bénin et leMalawi, l’alternance politique s’est faite soit par le biais des putschs ou soulèvements populaires lors du « printemps arabe », soit elle ne s’est pas réalisée. Le même président, le même clan ou système, trentenaire, voire cinquantenaire, demeure au pouvoir. Il en est ainsi du Togo et du Gabon, puis, dans une certaine mesure, de toute la sous-région de l’Afrique centrale notamment l’Angola, le Congo, le Tchad, la Guinée équatoriale, le Cameroun et, plus loin, le Zimbabwe et l’Ouganda.

Inculture démocratique des classes politiques africaines

La tendance, la grande, reste la foire aux modifications des Constitutions pour que des présidents qui avaient accepté aux forceps le multipartisme, demeurent au pouvoir vingt-cinq ans après l’instauration de la démocratie.

Aujourd’hui, ils sont nombreux à se lancer dans l’aventure de la modification constitutionnelle en vue de conserver le pouvoir, à l’instar du Burundi, du Congo et du Rwanda. Ce sont des présidents qui organisent l’élection, et la gagnent inéluctablement. Dans un passé récent, Abdoulaye Wade avait essayé ce passage en force. En Côte d’Ivoire, la tentation reste grande avec le projet de nouvelle Constitution prévue par le régime en place.

Au Bénin, ce n’est pas faute d’y avoir pensé. Au Burkina Faso, la tentative de Blaise Compaoré a connu une fin fatidique. En RDC, les manœuvres sont en cours pour trouver les ressorts juridiques d’une éventuelle prolongation du mandat de Joseph Kabila. Ces manœuvres qui très souvent 

Ce qui nous amène justement au troisième point : la contestation des résultats est devenue quasi consubstantielle à l’exercice de ces scrutins et dénote l’inculture démocratique des classes politiques africaines. L’opposition dénonce toujours des fraudes et demande l’annulation de l’élection. Depuis le 30 août, date de proclamation des résultats de la présidentielle gabonaise, le candidat de l’opposition, Jean Ping, n’a cessé de crier à la fraude tout en s’autoproclamant lui-même vainqueur du scrutin et président de la République en dehors de tout cadre juridique.

En 2015, en Guinée, l’opposant Cellou Dalein Diallo réclamait la reprise de l’élection avant même la fermeture des bureaux de vote. Lors de la présidentielle ivoirienne de 2015, les candidats de l’opposition tels Mamadou Koulibaly et Essy Amara ont suspendu leur participation avant même l’ouverture des bureaux de vote, dénonçant de graves irrégularités et la mainmise du président sortant, Alassane Ouattara, sur le processus. En face, le pouvoir, qui contrôle les organes électoraux pompeusement qualifiés d’« indépendants » bat toujours en brèche les contestations et recours des opposants et proclame vainqueur le président en place.

Penser autre chose que l’élection

Sur le continent, les élections présidentielles donnent à voir cette même complainte de fraude, de tricherie et de manque de transparence et d’équité. Pourquoi organiser une élection dont le processus est de toute façon remis en cause et ne débouche que rarement sur l’alternance, mais plutôt sur des violences, et des morts ?

Mon argument est qu’il ne faut pas organiser d’élection présidentielle dans certains pays africains. Ne pas le faire, c’est épargner des vies humaines, c’est épargner de l’argent, c’est s’émanciper d’acteurs politiques en manque d’inspiration. Le gain humain, économique, moral et politique de la non-organisation de présidentielles l’emporte sur le maintien d’un simulacre qui ne vise qu’àsatisfaire la communauté internationale. Le modèle démocratique occidental, contrairement à la pensée distillée, n’est pas universel. Chaque société devrait s’inventer son propre modèle degouvernance qui assure sa pérennité dans la paix et le progrès.

A ce titre, l’élection présidentielle pourrait être maintenue uniquement dans les pays où l’expérience semble fructueuse. Mais, dans les autres, il faut penser à autre chose, avant que l’Occident ne trouve – encore – une autre « solution » à imposer aux Africains, faute d’avoir trouvé par eux-mêmes. Le régime parlementaire, entre autres, peut peut-être contribuer à réduire tensions et violences à l’échelon régional ou local plutôt que national. Aussi, un candidat à la présidentielle ivoirienne de 2015 avait proposé la brillante idée d’un système tout à fait inédit fondé sur une présidence tournante entre les régions ou blocs ethniques.

L’épicentre de l’élection serait alors dans la région chargée de désigner, parmi ses élus, celui qui accédera à la présidence. L’on pourrait exiger de tout candidat visant un siège régional, puis la présidence, d’obtenir un quota de signatures dans les autres régions. Ce qui l’amènerait à organiser une campagne nationale. Le président élu se prévaudrait ainsi d’une double légitimité, régionale et nationale. Ce système parlementaire tournant aurait l’avantage de régler la question ethnique récurrente, de pacifier les élections et garantir l’alternance.

Par Alfred Babo

Alfred Babo est d’origine ivoirienne. Il est sociologue et professeur d’études internationales à l’université américaine de Fairfield (Connecticut).

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Congo’s President Is Preparing for War Against His Own People.

Congo’s President Is Preparing for War Against His Own People


Joseph Kabila isn’t preparing for new elections to pick a successor. He’s steeling himself for massive popular unrest by stocking up on riot gear and water cannons

KINSHASA, Congo — In a calm corner of this typically chaotic capital city, the expressionless face of President Joseph Kabila stares down from a billboard urging patience and dialogue. “I launch a final appeal to those who still hesitate to respond to the resounding call of their homeland,” the sign reads in a veiled reference to the country’s dangerous electoral impasse.
It might as well be the motto of Kabila’s government, which is widely suspected of delaying electoral preparations as part of an evolving ploy to remain in power. But judging by the government’s own actions, which have grown increasingly paranoid and heavy-handed in recent months, the motto hasn’t resonated much with the Congolese people.
A former Belgian colony the size of Western Europe, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has never in its history had a peaceful transition of power. The country’s constitution, which was drafted in the wake of a bloody wave of wars between 1996 and 2003, calls for presidential elections in November — and bars Kabila, who has already served two full terms in office, from standing as a candidate.
But while nominally preserving the appearance that they are getting ready for the election, the president and his allies in government seem to be preparing for something else entirely: the massive political unrest that could erupt in the wake of a delayed or stolen vote.
“This constitution is a reply to multiple cycles of violence, and so to want to ignore it would be to invite belligerence and encourage people to take up arms and rebellion,” said Donatien Nshole Babula, the first deputy secretary-general of Congo’s influential National Episcopal Conference, which has called on Kabila to step aside at the end of his term. “That is why we are calling on the politicians to listen to the cries of the suffering of the people.”
Instead of listening, Kabila and his team have doubled down on their dangerous game of electoral delay, or glissement, as the Congolese people call it, using the French world for “slippage.” They insist that elections can’t happen in November because of logistical and budgetary constraints; the voter registration rolls, for example, haven’t been updated since 2011, meaning that an estimated 7 million new young voters would be excluded while millions of dead people would remain eligible.
But the political opposition says these claims are just a fig leaf for stalling preparations, delaying elections, and clinging to power.
“The timetables put in place by the electoral commission are just playing a game to allow Mr. Kabila to stay in power,” said prominent Congolese opposition leader Martin Fayulu, who was briefly arrested in February after organizing demonstrations.   The people of Congo want Kabila gone.  That’s why we will demonstrate. We don’t have anything else.”
Kabila’s bid to delay the election comes at the same time as a growing number of leaders in the region have altered or ignored constitutional term limits in order to remain in power. Last year, the presidents of Rwanda and the Republic of Congo both orchestrated changes to their constitutions to enable them to run for third terms; in Burkina Faso and Burundi, violent protests broke out after the presidents of those countries tried the same. Some Kabila allies have floated the possibility of a constitutional referendum in Congo, but the president himself has stayed silent on exactly when elections will happen.
In the meantime, there are worrying signs that Kabila and his associates are readying themselves for a street fight. The government recently imported new surveillance cameras from China, as well as drones, anti-riot gear, water cannons, and tear gas from unnamed parties. It claims that the new equipment will help it safely and nonviolently disperse protests, but Congo’s security forces are not known for their restraint. In January, for instance, protests against a draft election law requiring a new census before presidential elections are held — an endeavor that would take years in a massive, infrastructure-poor country like Congo — provoked a violent crackdown in which more than 40 people were killed.
Hans Hoebeke, a researcher at the International Crisis Group focusing on Congo, described the newly acquired crowd-control arsenal as part of a larger attempt “to keep the senior levels of the army on the side of regime” in the event of popular unrest. He cited gifts of expensive new cars to top commanders as another facet of this strategy. Meanwhile, the government has moved aggressively to silence its critics over the last year, arresting Congolese activists and civil society leaders on dubious charges. It has also denied visas to multiple foreign journalists, expelled noted Congo researcher Jason Stearns after he published a report linking the army to civilian massacres, and revoked the work permit of Ida Sawyer, a researcher for Human Rights Watch who has lived in Congo since 2008.
“I do think that Kabila and the people around him want to stay in power, and I would say at whatever the cost,” Hoebeke said. “If he leaves, the whole construction of the majority around him would disintegrate.”
Kabila and his allies simply have too much to lose. They have amassed millions of dollars from mining, trading, and other business ventures — licit and illicit — that critics say are made possible by corruption at all levels of government. Those who have prospered under Kabila may fear prosecution once he’s gone.
“The big threat is Kabila and his people,” Fayulu said. “What they are fearing is to lose the advantage. And then if they are not in power, maybe someone will cut them or jail them.”
At the crumbling headquarters of the Independent National Electoral Commission in Kinshasa, deputy spokesman Onésime Kukatula Falash defended the government’s decision to delay the elections on budgetary and logistical grounds. Seated in a large office adorned with two photos of Kabila and a third of Kukatula Falash shaking hands with U.S. Sen. John McCain, he said it would take around 16 months just to update the voter registration rolls, citing a U.N. report that reached a similar conclusion but estimated ten and a half months. In the meantime, Kabila could legally remain in office, he said, citing a controversial decision by Congo’s highest court that was delivered in May. (The court, whose judges were handpicked by the president, ruled that Kabila could remain in power until elections are held, regardless of the length of the delay.)
“We have the constitution, which is covering everything, so I don’t think people will take to the streets because of the articles of the constitution,” Kukatula Falash said.
Leonnie Kandolo, a civil society and women’s rights activist in Kinshasa, reads her copy of the constitution — which she always carries in her purse — very differently. She said it’s clear that the Congolese people want Kabila to go, but one question looms darkly: “If people stand up and say no [to election delays], how are you [the government] going to stop those people?” Kandolo asked, shaking her hands exasperatedly. The answer, she feared, was force.
Kandolo was part of a monitoring team for the 2006 presidential election, the country’s first after the war. Kabila, who had been in power since the death of his father, President Laurent Kabila, in 2001, won with 58 percent of the vote. But it was the 2011 vote that shattered Kandolo’s faith in Congo’s political system. In a disputed election that was denounced as flawed by international observers, Kabila narrowly beat out longtime opposition leader Étienne Tshisekedi, who nonetheless declared himself the winner. Demonstrations and repression followed, and more than 20 people were killed, according to Human Rights Watch.
Many fear that electoral delays could precipitate something far worse in the coming months. In July, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned in a report to the Security Council that the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo was developing contingency plans because the election impasse could “degenerate into a severe crisis, with a high risk of relapse into violence and instability.” Another report released in June by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, a group of U.N. and non-U.N. humanitarian partners, put Congo at the top of a list of worldwide risks to watch. In addition to delaying the vote, the government is “likely to limit or shut down mobile networks, restrict the opposition’s rights through legal or violent means and increase intimidation and harassment,” the report said.
Reports like these make Kabila’s calls for dialogue ring hollow to many Congolese. But others are just as frustrated with the fragmented opposition, the majority of which has boycotted Kabila’s dialogues and called for its own. Part of the problem is that the “leaders of both sides see delaying elections as in their interest,” Stearns said. Although the government clearly benefits from the delay because it gets to remain in power, the opposition benefits as well — since it has a clear issue around which to mobilize its supporters.
Still others are frustrated with the international community, which many Congolese see as disinterested in Kabila’s efforts to subvert democracy. The U.S. government has been vocally critical of rising repression, including imposing sanctions on Kinshasa’s police chief for “violence against civilians.” But it and other Western powers have stopped short of sanctioning Kabila and his allies over glissement.
“If this international community wants to stop or save us from this war, instead of spending money on small, senseless projects, we should pool the money to mobilize ourselves to organize elections,” said Chrispin Mvano Ya Bauma, a Congolese journalist and researcher based in the eastern city of Goma. “If these elections aren’t organized, we could fall into war.”
Foreign Policy