Congolese President's Refusal To Step Down Sparks Deadly Protests

Dec 21, 2016
Originally published on December 21, 2016 5:23 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In one of Africa's largest countries, the Democratic Republic of Congo, there has been two days of violent clashes between police and protesters. At least 20 people have been killed. Hundreds of people have been arrested. This is because President Joseph Kabila was supposed to step down this week. His term has expired. He has given no sign of leaving, though. Instead, he's postponed the election to replace him. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is monitoring these developments from her base in Dakar, Senegal.

Hi, Ofeibea.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Greetings.

SHAPIRO: The Democratic Republic of Congo was supposed to hold elections this year. What happened?

QUIST-ARCTON: The opposition say that President Kabila manipulated the process and thwarted the holding of elections because he wanted to stay in power. Then there was a violent crackdown in September when opposition protesters took to the streets to say you have got to go by your deadline, the constitutional end of your mandate, on the 19th of December. But 10 minutes before midnight on Monday, President Kabila announced a transitional government - 74 ministers, three vice presidents and not with the agreement of the main opposition but with a minor opposition coalition.

SHAPIRO: Now, Kabila says there will be elections in 2018. Do Congolese people believe that will happen?

QUIST-ARCTON: Many do not. They feel that the whole point of what he's doing is to try and extend his rule, and it's not just the opposition in Congo. You have the U.S., the U.N. The State Department said this week it's greatly disappointed by President Kabila's failure to organize elections and to state publicly that he will not run again or seek to change the constitution, and that's what many believe that he wants to do so that he can hold onto power. Many say that the Kabilas have huge business interests in a very wealthy country and that's why he doesn't want to step down.

SHAPIRO: Now, with these protests, the violence, the arrests, Catholic bishops are trying to mediate between protesters and the government. How's that going?

QUIST-ARCTON: Well, they adjourned on Saturday and resumed today, Ari, because some of the bishops had to go to the Vatican to go and talk to the Pope about the crisis in Congo. Now, Pope Francis has appealed to the Congolese and their leaders to make peace. Today the Catholic bishop mediators are saying that they hope that there will be a peace deal between the president and the opposition by Christmas. Many Congolese are saying they don't see that happening and they feel that the president is just going to sit tight and try to hold on.

SHAPIRO: Congo went through a long civil war that ended in 2003. Are there fears that this political crisis could mushroom into another wider conflict?

QUIST-ARCTON: That is the main concern of Congolese and Congo's partners outside, including the U.S., and the fact that the crisis in Congo spilled over the borders and drew in about nine other African countries has people frightened. There is still a conflict going on in the east, still instability in the east. Congo is an extraordinarily rich country, and yet most people live in poverty. The Congolese are saying they have had enough of that. Kabila has not been able to change that. It's time to give somebody else a chance, and they do not want to go back to war.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton in Senegal. Thank you.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure, Ari. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.