U.N. human rights experts calling for an end to the ban on political protests in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but DRC police have continued to enforce the ban by strengthening their presence to deter any unauthorized political activity or groups, according to a Nov. 3 article from AfricaNews.com.
Citizens have been holding political protests in the DRC since late September after concerns about the possibility that the upcoming presidential election, scheduled for Nov. 27, would be delayed until 2018. Since protests began, at least 48 people affiliated with the protests have been “shot, burned, stabbed and beat to death,” according to an Oct. 21 Washington Post article.
Fears that protesters had in September are coming true since the government announced the presidential election has been postponed to April 2018, and DRC President Joseph Kabila will presumably remain in office until then, according to an Oct. 16 Al Jazeera article.
The government said holding the election posed a financial problem and then said there were logistical issues with the electoral register, according to the Al Jazeera article.
These are not reasonable excuses for the government to postpone an election, but if this is what is preventing the election from taking place, the U.N. should consider stepping in with facilitation or funding to ensure the elections are held. The Congolese people are begging for the democratic process to prevail and are literally being shot down.
The people in the DRC have been banned from protesting this blatant violation of their right to elect political officials, and the government has even blamed the protesters for the violence and deaths.
It is important that the Congolese people can voice their concerns about the postponement of an election, especially when Kabila’s favorability is low and the country is ready for political change.
Kabila constitutionally cannot run for a third term, but a recent poll done by the Congo Research Group included him as an option when asking, “For whom would you vote if elections are held by the end of this year?” Only 7.8 percent of the 7,545 surveyed between May and September said they would vote for Kabila again.
People must be able to make their grievances known during a time of political unrest, and the government should have an obligation to listen to them and take them into consideration.
“Given that the country is in a hotly disputed election period, people should be given more space, not less, to express their democratic freedoms,” said a Nov. 3 statement from U.N. human rights experts.
The Congolese government has greatly failed its citizens in this regard. The space available for democratic freedoms is shrinking rapidly.
It is hard to determine which is worse: the violence, the oppression of the Congolese people or the prevention of the democratic process. In all scenarios, the citizens’ rights are violated and their voices silenced.
There is obvious dissatisfaction with Kabila and his presidency. Even if people adored him, constitutionally he cannot run for a third term. Illegally keeping himself in office through a postponement of the election only increases the unrest and instability in the country, and if Kabila really had the best interests of the DRC in mind, he would step down and allow for the first peaceful transition of power in DRC history.