The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Africa’s largest country by area, is headed for a major internal conflagration if something isn’t done soon to bring about a negotiated internal political settlement. Let’s not forget that the Congo is part of Central Africa’s “Great Lakes Region” that has witnessed three major ethnic genocides in the past forty years: Burundi 1972; Rwanda 1994; and the Congo 1996.
Congolese President Joseph Kabila is now in the final months of his second elected term. The Congolese constitution limits nation’s heads of state to two terms. A democratic election to select Kabila’s successor should normally take place next month in November 2016. Unfortunately, Kabila’s administration has deliberately failed to provide funding for the preparation of the election. The political opposition is gearing up for major street demonstrations to take place on December 20, Kabila’s final day in office in the event he insists on remaining in power. Kabila can diffuse all of this if he steps down, paving the way for an interim regime that will hold elections within a few months.
I have written an open letter to President Kabila recommending that he take the statesmanlike option of stepping down on the final day of his mandate, thereby gaining the gratitude and esteem of the Congolese people.
An Open Letter to President Kabila
October 17, 2016
H.E. Joseph Kabila
Democratic Republic of the Congo
First, I wish to convey my condolences, through you, to the families of those citizens of the DRC who perished in recent political violence in Kinshasa, Kananga and other cities.
As you know, I and other American friends of the DRC have been following political events in your country with great interest and concern for the past two years. We are worried that your country may be descending into dangerous political polarization.
The constitutional question is of significant importance with respect to popular confidence in your government that appears to have eroded considerably since early 2015. The majority of the Congolese people appear to be disillusioned with governance during your second term. Above average revenues from commodity exports between 2007 and 2014 do not appear to have resulted in noticeable benefits for the general population. Poverty rates have not been reduced commensurate with growth in the gross national product. The Congolese people are clearly looking for political change.
Bureaucratic and financial impediments have made it impossible to hold the next presidential election on November 16, 2016, the date required by the DRC Constitution. When your second term as President ends on December 20, 2016, you will continue in office pursuant to a decision rendered by the Constitutional Court under Article 70 of the Constitution. That article stipulates that the outgoing President remains in office until his elected successor is sworn in. As you can well understand, skeptical citizens are saying that the court decision provides you with a strong incentive to delay an election as long as possible, thereby facilitating your remaining in power indefinitely.
Mr. President, your time in office since the year 2001, when your father was tragically assassinated, has demonstrated a number of positive aspects. There have been new private sector investments, most notably in the Tenke copper and cobalt deposit in Katanga. Apart from external sourced instability in the Congo’s northeast, your two terms have seen stability assured for the vast majority of the population. It seems to me that the stage has been set for your departure from the presidency at the end of your two constitutional mandates with the gratitude and respect of the Congolese people.
I would humbly propose, therefore, that you consider announcing your retirement effective December 20, 2016, thereby turning power over to the President of the Senate pursuant to article 75 of the Constitution. If you should decide to take this decision, you will have departed with great popularity for courage and statesmanship, and you will be able to remain in the Congo as an esteemed elder statesman. This will also assure your favorable reputation within the entire international community.
Please accept, Excellency, my expression of highest consideration.
Herman J. Cohen
About the author: Ambassador Cohen served in the U.S. Foreign Service for 38 years. His assignments in Washington included Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs under President George H. W. Bush and Special Assistant for African Affairs to President Ronald Reagan. Ambassador Cohen is also President of Cohen and Woods, an international consulting firm.
Photo Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak.