By Tafi Mhaka
While the setting for this African drama may not be as striking and fantastic as the fictional continents of Westeros and Essoros, the grim realism of a bloodthirsty quest for total supremacy amid a struggle for freedom from repression – remains the primary leitmotif.
Hundreds of people have been killed in violent protests in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), as a military backed political actor from a powerful family fights to stay in office, all without a popular constitutional mandate to support his claim to power.
Seeing the political drama unfolding in the DRC ominously begs the question: Why is Africa – and the world at large – content to sit back and watch people dying for the benefit of Joseph Kabila? Although Kabila has no legitimate claim to be president right now, save for a contentious judicial order appointing him Interim President until fresh elections are held in 2018, his long-term game plan appears to centre on not holding elections at all, or in the best case scenario for Kabila and his securocrats, making sure the next elections are held in a climate of fear or war, which he can manipulate to his advantage and extend his dogged hold on power.
The Congolese government initially said it could not afford to hold elections scheduled for November 2016 and had to seek a postponement. Then the Electoral Commission claimed it required more time to update the voter’s roll in another twist to the elective plot.
The African Union (AU) has been disconcertingly silent on the political debauchery Kabila is engaging in, and has instead chosen to call on the different actors in the DRC to have “faith” in the peace process led by the National Episcopal Conference of Churches of Congo (CENCO), in a press statement issued by the Peace and Security Council of the AU on 26 December, 2016.
The AU has failed to condemn Kabila’s prolonged stay in office or the ban on demonstrations in place in Kinshasa. Neither has it censured Kabila for the deaths of civilians in protests in the capital and Lubumbashi as well – nor the blocking of social media applications like WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook by Congolese authorities in December.
Does the AU need a brief and timely reminder of the military dictatorship the late Mobutu Sese Seko established in the DRC under the guise of a homegrown democracy? The body appears reluctant to openly interrogate the facade of legitimacy and democracy Kabila and his cohorts have presented to the outside world for a good number of years.
In a report on the DRC, New York-based advocacy and human rights group, Human Rights Watch said: “In late 2011, opposition party members and supporters, human rights activists, and journalists were threatened, arbitrarily arrested, and killed during presidential and legislative election periods.”
Why does the AU believe Kabila will not resort to his regime’s vehemently anti-democratic actions of 2011 again? If serious and sustained pressure is not brought to bear upon this power hungry regime, Kabila has the political and legal instruments to engineer more than a five-year term in office for himself. He might rival Mobutu and dominate politics in the DRC for 32 years as well. Who can stop the kleptomaniac Kabila from having his way? The AU seemingly lacks the appetite to rally against a long standing member of its conservative ranks – just as there are loud and escalating calls for African nations to dessert the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2017.
Instability in the DRC, especially in the eastern part of the country where a number of rebel groups are based, has the potential to unsettle neighbouring central African states and increase the number of refugees fleeing the country. As of February 2015, 467 102 Congolese refugees were living in neighboring countries. This is according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
Worryingly, an investigative report released by Bloomberg News Agency on December 15, 2016 claims Kabila and his family members – this includes his sister Jaynet and brother Zoe – have amassed hundreds of millions of dollars from interests they hold in telecommunications, mining, energy and banking firms.
There is a lot at stake for the big man in the Congo. So Kabila and his cabal will not go away easily – or go down – without a big fight.