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Africa’s least loved leader marches on 0

DR Congo’s Joseph Kabila has gained some international and domestic support for his plan to stay in power until at least 2018. But some inconvenient truths expose his lack of popular legitimacy. If elections were held this year, only 8% of people in the Democratic Republic of Congo would vote for President Joseph Kabila, according to a recent survey.

Since he came to power in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2001, Joseph Kabila has ruled from the shadows through emissaries and proxies. His will is usually obscured from all but his inner circle. However, one aspect of his thinking that has become clear is that the secretive president intends to hold on to power beyond 19 December, the end of his second term.

According to the constitution, there were meant to be elections this month, but ever since it became apparent that the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) would fail to organise them on time, it was expected that Kabila would seek to prolong his mandate.

His ambition became unmistakeable this May when the Constitutional Court ruled that the incumbent could stay in office until a new president is elected. Aware that preparation for the polls was at an incipient stage, the court effectively granted Kabila several additional years of dubious legitimacy.

The decision was still more controversial because the president’s opponents − many of whom have taken to the streets in recent months at considerable risk to themselves − accuse his government of deliberately undermining CENI in order to delay the elections.

Kabila wins support at home and abroad

Until recently, the court’s position that Kabila could stay in power while the country waited for elections had found little support outside the obedient ranks of the majorité présidentielle (MP), Kabila’s political alliance. But that changed on 18 October when six weeks of cross-party talks came to an end and a deal was signed by the MP, an opposition faction led by Vital Kamerhe (who finished third in the 2011 presidential election) and a group of civil society organisations.

The accord, which was facilitated by the African Union, resolved that: Kabila can hold on to the presidency until the election of the next head of state; elections (presidential, legislative and provincial) will take place in late April 2018; and a government of national unity will be formed to manage the transition with the new prime minister coming from the opposition. Kamerhe is the favourite but by no means a certainty to claim this post.

A week later, Kabila and his new agreement received a vote of confidence from his regional peers. At a high-level conference in Luanda, Angola’s President Dos Santos declared the signing of the Congolese agreement “a cause for celebration” and the summit’s concluding statement congratulated the Kabila for having convened the dialogue.

For Jean-Lucien Bussa, the opposition’s spokesperson during the dialogue and a contender for the prime minister’s office, joining the negotiations was the only responsible course of action. “On 19 December, we will not have had elections. It’s impossible. What should we do? Be caught out or find a way out of the crisis?”, he asks.

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By William Clowes

Photo credit: Getty Images

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Direttore Responsabile Stefano Arduini