Small Protests Falter in Face of Repression in DR Congo
Security forces fired teargas and arrested over 80 people to break up or prevent small demonstrations across the Democratic Republic of Congo yesterday. Opposition parties had called for protests against the failed implementation of the New Year’s Eve agreement, a power-sharing deal mediated by the Catholic Church last year after President Joseph Kabila refused to step down from power at the end of his two-term limit.
Yesterday in the capital, Kinshasa, daily life came to a near stand-still in the morning with many shops closed and roads largely empty. Small groups of people attempted to protest in Kalamu, Kimbanseke, Lemba, Limete, Masina, Matete, Ndjili, and Ngaliema neighborhoods, but they were quickly dispersed by security forces, who in some cases fired teargas on groups of protesters. Some protesters in turn threw rocks at the police. At least 40 people were arrested across Kinshasa, around a dozen of whom were released by the end of the day.
Security forces arrested at least 12 people in Bukavu; 10 in Kindu; 10 in Lubumbashi; seven in Kongolo; five in Mbuji-Mayi, and four in Kamina. Forces also beat protesters in Kamina, wounding at least six people. Small protests in Bunia and Mbandaka were dispersed without any arrests reported. In Beni and Kananga, opposition parties decided against a protest and instead called for a ville morte – literally a “dead city.” Numerous shops remained closed, and many people stayed home. Local activists reported unusually high numbers of security forces deployed in other cities, including in Kananga, Kisangani, Bandundu, and Kikwit.
The national police spokesperson, Col. Pierrot Mwanamputu, said on Sunday that “the police will prevent all non-authorized and politically motivated demonstrations across the territory.” Congolese authorities have repeatedly declared unjustified bans on political protests led by the opposition, further shrinking the country’s democratic space.
The relatively low turnout during yesterday’s protests seems to have been due in part to the fear of government repression, as well as the fatigue of protesting with little tangible results. Scores of people were killed during political protests last September and December. Pro-democracy youth activists and others say yesterday’s protests could have been bigger if it were about telling Kabila he needs to step down, but people aren’t willing to risk their lives about a fight over posts in a transitional government.
On Friday, Kabila nominated Bruno Tshibala, a former opposition leader, to be the new prime minister. Tshibala had been dismissed from the main opposition party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), in early March. Many viewed his appointment as a violation of the New Year’s Eve agreement, which calls for the prime minister during the transition to be chosen by the Rassemblement opposition coalition. The European Union, Belgium, and France all raised concerns about his appointment and called for full implementation of the December deal. The EU also warned that they stand ready to impose additional targeted sanctions against those responsible for serious human rights abuses.