Doubts Surround Implementation of New Year’s Eve Deal
Nearly two weeks after a major political agreement was reached in the Democratic Republic of Congo, there are more questions than answers regarding how the deal will be implemented, whether there’s real political will on the part of President Joseph Kabila and other political leaders to implement the accord, and whether we’ll see a real reversal of the climate of repression.
Soon after the deal was signed, senior officials from Kabila’s ruling coalition said they had signed the agreement “with reservations,” particularly regarding the need for greater inclusivity. Some also asserted the agreement wasn’t constitutional because it explicitly prevents a referendum to change the constitution. That has raised concerns about whether Kabila is really committed to leaving power, the core issue at the heart of the political crisis. And while Kabila reportedly told the Catholic bishops he is committed to implementation of the deal, he has yet to make a public declaration or sign the agreement himself.
The new prime minister, Samy Badibanga, and several other members of the new government appointed on December 18, as well as the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) opposition party, also haven’t signed on.
A new prime minister from the opposition Rassemblement coalition, as called for in the agreement, has yet to be appointed, and it seems there has been little progress toward reaching an agreement on the timetable for implementation of the deal and details on how the follow-up committee will function.
Meanwhile, there has been little progress towards ending government repression against critical voices. As the coordinator of the Filimbi citizens’ movement lamented, “the sharing of power seems to have taken precedence over confidence building measures.”
Seven Congolese media outlets close to the opposition and Radio France Internationale (RFI) in Kinshasa remain blocked.
LUCHA activist Justin Mutabesha was released on Monday, after 32 days of detention in Goma. The Filimbi activist Carbone Beni was released on Wednesday, after 29 days of secret detention in Kinshasa, first at a military camp and later at an intelligence agency detention center. But at least nine other pro-democracy youth activists remain in detention, including LUCHA activists Jean-Paul Mualaba Biaya and Nicolas Mbiya Kabeya in Mbuji-Mayi, Fabrice Mutsirwa, Jacques Muhindo, Faustin Dunia, and Glody Ntambwe in Goma, and Compte à Rembours (“Countdown”) activists Chris Shematsi, John Ngandu and Samuel Bosasele in Kinshasa.
During a press conference Monday attended by Human Rights Watch, the citizens’ movement Filimbi accused government officials of trying to co-opt their movement by organizing a press conference in their name. LUCHA has also decried similar measures. Some of the activists held in detention were reportedly pressured, threatened, or offered money to work for the intelligence services or the ruling coalition as a condition for their release.
A number of political leaders are also still in detention or have yet to be officially cleared of charges, including the seven so-called “emblematic” cases discussed during the dialogue.
On Monday, police intervened twice before and during a press conference in Kinshasa organized by lawyers of opposition leader Franck Diongo, sentenced to five years in prison on December 28, following a hasty trial. Several armed policemen arrested two party members, beat up several other Diongo supporters, and destroyed posters and pictures. The police spokesperson says one police officer was wounded in the incident.
On January 5, opposition leader Gabriel Kyungu was summoned to court to verify the authenticity of a video transcript of a meeting during which he allegedly insulted the president. Two days later, he was reportedly prevented from leaving Lubumbashi for a flight to Kinshasa. The provincial parliament of Haut-Katanga had voted on December 27 to lift his parliamentary immunity. Kyungu has been repeatedly harassed since leaving the presidential majority in September 2015.
Government officials and security forces should drop charges and release activists and others arrested because of their political views or peaceful activities, open banned media outlets, and end all harassment of pro-democracy activists and the political opposition. Justice for past repression is also critical.
Kabila could help address remaining doubts and suspicions clouding the New Year’s Eve deal by signing the agreement himself and making a public commitment to abide by its provisions.