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Friday, 13 October 2017

Strong leadership from SA needed to ease tensions in DRC

  SAIIA
Strong leadership from SA needed to ease tensions in DRC photo © UN Women/Flickr

The electoral commission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) this week announced that elections will be postponed until 2019. Elections originally scheduled for December 2016 were pushed back by a year in an agreement struck on 31 December 2016, to accommodate government concerns around an updated voters’ roll with the growing urgency of holding elections.

Political violence has been on the increase as more Congolese become wary that President Joseph Kabila is employing delaying tactics to remain in power beyond his constitutional mandate. Scores of protestors have been taking to the streets in Kinshasa and other parts of the country, leading to violent clashes with government forces. More unrest is likely in the wake of the electoral commission’s announcement, escalating tensions and potentially destabilising the region.

On 15 October 2017 President Jacob Zuma, who is also chair of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) this year, will visit Kinshasa, to discuss 'issues of peace and security in the Great Lakes region, particularly the situation in the DRC'. Until now, SADC (and South Africa) have taken a laissez-faire approach to events in the DRC, limiting its interventions to expressions of support for government’s leadership on the electoral process.

This week’s announcement however, signals a change in the region’s assessment of the situation, and it is hoped that President Zuma will use the opportunity to employ stronger measures to spur the Kabila regime into action. In the past, South Africa has played a strong facilitating role under the leadership of former president Thabo Mbeki – and it can do so again.

The road to sustainable peace for any post-conflict country is littered with challenges, as over half of these countries relapse into war. South Africa and SADC have an obligation to ensure that principles of democracy, governance and the rule of law are entrenched for the long term sustainability of peace in the DRC. A strong, prosperous and peaceful DRC is in the interests of all.

Our recent work on the DRC: