SADC Should Press to Resolve the DR Congo Crisis
This Saturday, Southern African Development Community (SADC) heads of state and government will meet in Swaziland. The subregional organization, which includes the Democratic Republic of Congo, should use this meeting to help resolve the political and human rights crisis in Congo.
On February 24, SADC foreign ministers called for the urgent nomination of a new prime minister in Congo and for a rapid application of the New Year’s Eve deal. With the appointment of the new government and implementation of the deal still largely stalled, regional heads of state and government should reiterate this call strongly and clearly.
They should also call on the Congolese authorities to quickly and fully implement the confidence-building measures agreed upon in the deal. Those include releasing and dropping charges against political leaders and activists targeted because of their peaceful political views or activities and opening barred media outlets.
On February 22, Congo’s Roman Catholic bishops warned that the political deadlock coupled with the escalation of conflict in parts of Congo could “plunge [the] country into an uncontrollable chaos.” Violence has intensified across the country in recent months, leaving several hundred people dead, including in the Kasai provinces, Tanganyika, North Kivu, and Kongo Central, as well as in the capital, Kinshasa. “Is it only by accident that this [intensified violence] occurs in this pre-electoral period?” the bishops said, adding that they feared “a design with the aim of delaying or preventing” elections.
On February 25, the United Nations Security Council called on all stakeholders in Congo “to redouble, in good faith, their efforts towards a speedy conclusion of the ongoing talks on the ‘arrangements particuliers’ of the agreement.”
The United States, which played a major role in pressing for elections and defending human rights during the Obama administration, has been rather silent on Congo under President Donald Trump. The US could, and should, be doing more, including a new round of targeted sanctions against abusive officials. As the Washington Post recently put it, “another explosion of bloodshed in Central Africa” is “something that even an ‘America First’ president should want to stop.”
The European Union, meanwhile, made a strong call for urgent implementation of the New Year’s Eve deal in its March 6 foreign affairs council conclusions on Congo. Foreign ministers also instructed High Representative Federica Mogherini to start the process for new targeted sanctions, looking at “those responsible for serious human rights violations or for incitement to violence and those who would obstruct a consensual and peaceful solution to the crisis.”
It is time for regional leaders to take a stand. Their engagement last year played a role in pressing President Joseph Kabila and others to accept the Catholic Church-mediated agreement. But continued, high-level engagement is needed to ensure that the agreement holds and that credible elections are organized, and to prevent an already explosive situation in Congo from deteriorating even further.