Briefing on DRC and Burundi

Democratic Republic of Congo

Date | 18 November, 2018

Tomorrow (19 November) the PSC will hold a briefing session on the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Burundi. Although DRC was the focus of the session when the monthly program of work was issued, Burundi was added following the high level regional visit that the Commissioner for Peace and Security, Smail Chergui, undertook to DRC and Burundi.

It is expected that the Council will receive a briefing from Chergui focusing on his recent visit to the two countries. Basile Ikouebe, AU Special Representative for the Great Lakes Region and Head of AU Liaison Office in Burundi is expected to provide statement.

On Burundi, the briefing is expected to provide updates on the prevailing the political, security, human rights and socioeconomic and humanitarian situation in Burundi. During his visit to Burundi, Chergui met with the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Defense and the Interior. He also met, on an informal basis, the First Vice-President of the Republic, Gaston Sindimwo. Chergui was unable to meet with President Pierre Kkurunziza, despite the initial agreement for the meeting.

Since the last PSC meeting held in September 2018, one notable development have been the failure of the 5th round of the EAC led Inter- Burundian dialogue that the facilitator, former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, scheduled for 25 October 2018. The delegations of the government and the ruling party the National Council for the Defense of Democracy – Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) boycotted the talks. Government spokesperson stated that they needed to receive the list of participants and the agenda for the talks, insisting that no other issues other than the roadmap towards the 2020 elections shall be discussed.

In the past rounds, the government refused to recognize and engage in talks with some of the major opposition groups. In particular, the government rejects the opposition coalition Conseil National pour le respect de l’Accord d’Arusha pour la Paix et de l’État de Droit (CNARED, or National Council for the Respect of the Arusha Agreement and Rule of Law) claiming that they are associated with the May 2015 failed coup.

In the briefing, it would be of interest for the PSC to hear from Chergui on the outcome of the discussions he held in Bujumbura. In the light of the 19 September communiqué of the PSC, other issues on which member states would like Chergui’s reflections include the fate of the Inter-Burundian dialogue, the finalization of the long stalling conclusion of the Memorandum of Understanding relating to the operation of the AU human rights observers and military experts deployed to Burundi.

On DRC, it is expected that Chergui’s briefing will be accompanied by that of the Special Representative of the Chairperson of the AU Commission and Head of the AU Liaison Office in the DRC, Ambassador Abdou Abarry. During his visit, Chergui met, among others, with the President Joseph Kabila. The visit focused on the political situation in the country focusing in particular on the preparations for the national elections. Other areas addressed include the deteriorating security situation in eastern DRC and the efforts for combating the spread of Ebola.

In the briefing to the PSC, it is expected that much of the focus would be on the preparations for the holding of the general elections scheduled for December 2018. There are two issues that are of major significance in this regard.

The first relates to the need and prospect for holding free and fair elections. Apart from the logistical and technical preparations that should be put in place, this would entail that
there is an even playing field and that the elections are conducted free from actions or omissions that undermine the credibility of the elections. Despite some of the positive steps notably the announcement that President Joseph Kabila will not stand for the election, concerns abound.

Confidence in the electoral process remains very low. Opposition and civil society raise major concerns about the independence and impartiality of the Electoral Commission. There are also concerns around the integrity of the voter roll With respect to the voting machines, there are concerns that it is susceptible for tampering, particularly if its reliable use is not adequately tested and independently verified. Major opposition parties as well as civil society organizations urge the Electoral Commission not to use the machines.

Other areas of concern, which would be of interest for the PSC, include reports of restrictions on political and civic freedoms including prohibition of public events and their adverse impact on the electoral process. There are reports of attacks against opposition groups and restriction of and heavy-handed response to protestors. Members of the opposition blame the security forces of using disproportionate force and arbitrary arrest. The resultant tension means that the country continues to witness recurring political instability.

In the light of the various issues surrounding the preparations of the elections, an issue on which PSC members would wish to get updates on the role of election observers.
Despite the challenges, there does not seem to be a call for the postponement of the national elections. In an interview to RFI on 16 November, Chergui warned that ‘delaying the elections would put us in a lot of uncertainties. It is to be recalled that the elections have already been postponed two times since 2016.

As part of the briefing, Chergui is also expected to update PSC members on the Ebola outbreak in DRC and ongoing efforts for addressing the outbreak. In this context, an issue of particular interest for the PSC is the implication of the dire security situation in eastern DRC both for the effort to address Ebola and for the planned elections.

The expected outcome is a communiqué. While on Burundi the communiqué is likely to reiterate the points raised in the communiqué of the 794th session of the PSC including on the stalling inter-Burundian dialogue and the finalizing the MoU on AU human rights observers and military experts, on DRC it is expected to highlight the need for the holding of the elections as scheduled under conditions that guarantee free and fair elections.


Briefing on the DRC

Democratic Republic of Congo

Date | 12 July, 2018

Tomorrow (12 July), the Peace and Security Council (PSC) of the African Union (AU) will hold a briefing session on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The meeting is expected to receive a briefing from the Special Representative of the Chairperson of the AU Commission and Head of the AU Liaison Office in the DRC, Ambassador Abdou Abarry. The Peace and Security Department will also make a statement, with the Department of Political Affairs providing update on preparations for the December 2018 elections. Representatives of the DRC, South Africa, representing the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), Gabon as chair of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), Africa 3 members of the United Nations (UN) Security Council (UNSC), the UN and the European Union (EU) are also expected to make statements at the session.

The political instability and the insecurity in the DRC show no sign of improvement. Both are intertwined with the uncertainties around the elections scheduled for December 2018. The main focus of tomorrow’s briefing is the preparations for the holding of the general elections scheduled for December 2018, already postponed two times since 2016. There are two issues that are of major significance in this regard.

The first relates to the need and prospect for holding free and fair elections. Apart from the logistical and technical preparations that should be put in place, this would entail that there is an even playing field and that the elections are conducted free from actions or omissions that undermine the credibility of the elections. In this respect, concerns are being expressed in respect to the treatment of opposition parties, civil society organizations and lack of respect for freedom of association and assembly. There are reports of attacks against opposition groups and restriction of and heavy-handed response to protestors. The confrontations between protestors and the government security forces is resulting in more violence further complicating the possibility of the talks between the government, the opposition and members of the civil society including the Catholic Church. Members of the opposition blame the security forces of using brutal and disproportionate force. The resultant tension means that the country continues to witness recurring political instability.

Also significant in relation to the credibility of the elections are concerns around the voter list, the use of the voting machines and the mechanisms for verification of the credible use of voting machines if they would be used for the election. Given the lack of confidence being expressed around the voter list, the major issue is whether the provisional voter list would be made available for verification and scrutiny by the electorate. Opposition and civil society also raise major concerns about the independence and impartiality of the Electoral Commission.

With respect to the voting machines, there are concerns that it is susceptible for tampering, particularly if its reliable use is not adequately tested and independently verified. Major opposition parties as well as civil society organizations urge the Electoral Commission not to use the machines. Apart from urging the full implementation of the Saint Sylvester’s agreement of 2016, the Catholic Bishops congress of 15-16 February called for the international certification of the new electoral voting machines. Despite the assurance that the Prime Minster gave that the digital voting system could help the election to run smoothly and in record time, the problems recently experienced when testing the system underscore the need for certification and putting in place mechanisms able to address technical problems of the digital voting system that may derail or put in doubt the credibility of the planned elections. There is no indication that the Electoral Commission plans to heed the calls for such independent verification. The second area relates to the uncertainty around President Kabila’s plans. Apart from the loss of legitimacy of the government and protesters’ determination of putting pressure on the government for implementing the Saint Sylvester’s agreement of 2016 on political transition, uncertainty over President Kabila’s plan to honour the constitutional term limit underline the political tension. Lambert Mende, DRC Information Minister clarified the position of the government on 5 February, saying that President Kabila will not run for re-election.

In the past two months indications have emerged that the President’s party and supporters are orchestrating efforts for extending the term of the President. However, his party, cabinet and the interest groups surrounding the government are taking actions and decision that indicate the possibility of Kablia running for another term. One of such decisions was made last month by the cabinet, which unanimously approved the creation of a ‘grand political electoral coalition’ the Common Front for Congo (FCC), naming Kabila as its ‘moral authority’. Although what the President may end up doing remains uncertain, it is possible that the courts may be requested to pronounce themselves on the question of term limits. Failing such options for overcoming term limits, other possibilities include the postponement of the elections.

The possibility of the prosecution of Moise Katumbi, former governor of Katanga Province and now an opposition with strong following will have a serious negative impact on the credibility of the judiciary and the electoral process. Jean-Pierre Bemba, former leader of the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC) was recently acquitted from charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court. His release and possible entry to the political sphere and the presidential election will radically change the dynamics of the race.

Understandably members of the opposition, civil society organizations including the Catholic Church are calling for adherence to the 2016 Saint Sylvester Agreement, which bars the president from standing for election. The international and regional pressure is mounting on Kabila not to stand for the presidential elections scheduled in December 2018. At the regional level, Angola has sent clear message urging Kabila to adhere to the constitutional term limits. It remains uncertain if there could be unity of action on the part of relevant regional actors. Indications are that the government may rely on the central Africa region to dampen opposition to third term, this being a region where extension of term limits is seen to be common.

The nominations of official presidential candidates will open in less than two weeks and will stay until 8 August 2018. AU Commission Chairperson, Moussa Faki and UN Secretary-General were scheduled to travel to DRC earlier in the week. In a sign of rejection of the role of international engagement, they were unable to undertake the joint visit due to lack of confirmation of their meeting with President Kabila.
The question of the non-extension of President Kabila’s term is not simply an issue of constitutionalism and rule of law. The other aspect of the question is the availability of workable exit strategy for the president. As such, the resolution of this crisis depends not only on the constitutional dimension of this issue which ensures compliance with the terms of the Saint Sylvester’s agreement but also on crafting a strategy that offers realistic exist for Kabila.

Given the request of the PSC for the AU Commission Chairperson to establish a coordination mechanism bringing together regional and international actors that will facilitate policy coordination and mobilization of coherent support, tomorrow’s PSC session offers an opportunity to consider steps taken in this respect and the prospect of establishment of an international contact group.

In terms of regional dynamics the regional ramifications of the deteriorating security situation is of direct concern to DRC’s neighbors in the PSC particularly Angola, Congo, and Rwanda. One of the factors that shape the dynamics in the PSC is the divergence in the nature of the relationship between DRC and its neighbors and the interest of its various neighbors. In terms of sub-regional organizations, SADC is most active. SADC also sent a mission of Electoral Technical Committee and Political Assessment Mission. But SADC has recently abandoned its plan for opening an office in DRC and deploying a special envoy.

In the absence of a clear strategy shared by neighboring countries, SADC, UN and the AU both on the preparation of credible elections according to the electoral calendar and on workable exit for President Kabila, it is unlikely that this PSC session would go beyond reiterating existing AU positions on the resolution of the political crisis. The expected outcome of the session is a statement.


PSC Briefing on DRC

Democratic Republic of Congo

Date | 13 March, 2018

Tomorrow 13 March 2018, the Peace and Security Council (PSC) will hold a briefing on the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Apart from the possible statement from Ambassador Smail Chergui, the African Union (AU) Commissioner for Peace and Security, the PSC expects to receive a briefing from the Chairperson of the AU Commission and Head of the AU Liaison Office in the DRC, Ambassador Abdou Abarry. Others expected to make statements include the DRC and representatives of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), UN, Africa 3 members of the United Nations (UN) Security Council (UNSC) and the European Union (EU).

The political situation in the country

There are at least two issues that PSC members expect to deliberate on with respect to the political situation in the country. The first concerns the rising political instability resulting from the tension between the government and opposition groups and protesters. The other relates to existing concerns regarding preparations for the holding of the general elections scheduled for December 2018, already postponed two times since 2016.

With opposition groups and civil society organizations mobilizing pressure against President Laurent Kabila and the government’s authoritarian drift increasingly resorting to repression and heavy-handed security responses, the country continues to witness recurring political instability. What triggered the most recent tensions and protests in various parts of the country was the failure to respect the previously agreed upon deadline of December 2017 for the holding of the presidential election.

Nine people died and ninety eight others were injured as security forces responded with violence to the protest that the Catholic Church called on 31 December 2017. In another wave of demonstration on 21 January 2018, six people were reportedly killed, sixty-eight injured and one hundred twenty one others were arrested, triggering strong condemnation including from the AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat. Most recently, government crackdown on protests that the Catholic Church called after Sunday service on 25 February led to the death of two people in Kinshasa and Mbandaka. According to the UN Mission in DRC (MONUSCO), thirty seven others were injured and more than one hundred arrested.

Apart from the loss of legitimacy of the government and protesters’ determination of putting pressure on the government for implementing the Saint Sylvester’s agreement of 2016 on political transition, uncertainty over President Kabila’s plan to honour the constitutional term limit underline the political tension. Lambert Mende, DRC Information Minister clarified the position of the government on 5 February, saying that President Kabila will not run for re-election. Despite lingering suspicions that the President could extend his term should he find an opportunity for effecting constitutional term limit, such clear statement from the government affirms commitment to the Saint Sylvester’s agreement that bars the President from standing for another election.

The question of the non-extension of President Kabila’s term is not simply an issue of constitutionalism and rule of law. The other aspect of the question is the availability of workable exit strategy for the president. As such, the resolution of this crisis depends not only on the constitutional dimension of this issue which ensures compliance with the terms of the Saint Sylvester’s agreement but also on crafting such a strategy.

As part of the process for creating conditions for the holding of the elections in December 2018, the implementation of confidence building measures, as has been urged by the AU and the UN, would be important. In this regard the PSC session would discuss steps taken in releasing or suspending trial of members of the political opposition arrested for their political actions in the past few months and during the course of 2017. There are also expectations on the widening of the political space, respecting opposition activity and allowing the media and civil society to operate without repression.

With respect to the steps being taken to implement the new electoral calendar issued in early December 2017, until recently the government did not give firm guarantee that the general elections would be held as planned in December 2018. During the 26 January 2018 press conference he held after five years, President Kabila raised his concern that the cost of the elections would be ‘exorbitant’. In an interview that he gave to Reuters on 8 March 2018, Prime Minister Bruno Tshibala stated that ‘I confirm that in December this year the Congolse people will be brought to the ballot boxes’. While this statement is welcome, it is of interest to PSC members that the electoral commission (CENI) clarifies the details of the budget required for holding the elections and the source of funding. This is important for any discussion for external financial and logistical support to the electoral process.

It is to be recalled that DRC also blamed the delay in the elections on the challenges faced in finalizing the voter registration process. This exercise has been completed in all the 26 provinces of the country, including those that experienced major insecurity such as the Kasai region. In this regard, the PSC expects to receive updates particularly in relation to its earlier call on the government to submit, upon completion of voter registration, the bills on the convening of elections to the two houses of parliament for their timely adoption.

In terms of the operational details for convening the national elections, another area of interest relates to the impact of the electronic voting system on the timeline and conduct of the election. Apart from urging the full implementation of the Saint Sylvester’s agreement of 2016, the Catholic Bishops congress of 15-16 February called for the international certification of the new electoral voting machines. Despite the assurance that the Prime Minster gave that the digital voting system could help the election to run smoothly and in record time, the problems recently experienced when testing the system underscore the need for putting in place mechanisms able to address technical problems of the digital voting system that may derail or put in doubt the credibility of the planned elections.

Given the request of the PSC for the AU Commission Chairperson to establish a coordination mechanism bringing together regional and international actors that will facilitate policy coordination and mobilization of coherent support, tomorrow’s PSC session offers an opportunity to consider steps taken in this respect and the prospect of establishment of an international contact group. In this regard, the plan of a joint visit that the Chairperson of the AU Commission and the UN Secretary General are anticipated to undertake offers unique opportunity to ensure the government’s commitment for holding the elections without further postponement and within the terms of the Saint Sylvester’s agreement of 2016. If it is undertaken following consultation with regional and international actors, this could also be the basis for exploring discussion on exploring workable exist strategy with President Kabila.

The security situation

In the context of the political uncertainties that emerged in the country following delays in holding national elections, DRC has also witnessed resurgence of rebel or militia groups and armed confrontations during the course of the past year. Both the number of armed groups and incidents of fighting have spiked. In terms of major violence the region that witnessed major violence has been the Kasai region. On 26 February, security forces repelled attack by alleged Kamuina Nsapu militants in this region, with the ensuing clash reportedly leaving one soldier and fourteen others dead. Conflict between Hema and Lendu communities escalated in Dungu area, Ituri province leaving sixty to one hundred people dead in 2018 and forcing in mid-February some 27,000 people to flee to Uganda.

While the spike in number of armed groups and armed fighting affect various parts of the country spreading at least across 10 provinces, more than 120 groups are reported to operate in the east and south east of the country. Armed groups such as Mayi Mayi Yakutumba have become increasingly active. On 15 February, the army reported killing forty eight members of armed group Mai Mai Yakutumba in South Kivu province, forcing some combatants to flee to Burundi and recapturing large areas.

In recent months, most significant incidents of fighting involved the armed group known as the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). This is the group that is believed to be the perpetrator of the attack on Semuliki in North Kivu that killed fifteen MONUSCO soldiers on the 8 December 2017. Despite a 12 February seizure by DRC army of the ‘grand bastion’ of ADF in Mwalika, fighting continues between DRC army and the ADF in the Mbanu-Kamango-Eringiti axis.

Inter-ethnic clashes also create further sources of insecurity in the country. In February, interethnic violence between the Lendu and Hema groups led to sixty fatalities in less than one week, causing unrest among the local population and leading to humanitarian concerns. Clashes between ethnic Hutu on one side and Nande and Hundu groups on other on 25-28 February left sixteen civilians and seven militiamen dead in Rutshuru territory, North Kivu.

The deterioration in the security situation that the above developments have caused has generated one of the worst humanitarian crises in the country. The UN has declared the country a Level three emergency, characterised as worst of the worst crisis. With an average of 5,500 people fleeing their home daily, DRC is reported to be the country most affected by conflict displacement for a second year in raw. The number of displaced people has exceeded 4.1 million people, more than in Syria. The UNHCR reported significant surge in the number of people from DRC seeking refuge in neighboring Burundi, Uganda and Tanzania.

Given that the deteriorating security situation carries regional consequences, it is of direct concern to DRC’s neighbors in the PSC particularly Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda. One of the factors that shape the dynamics in the PSC is the divergence in the nature of the relationship between DRC and its neighbors and the interest of its different neighbors. While Rwanda requested investigation into incursion on 13 February by Congolese army into its territory (during which three Congolese soldiers were killed), Uganda and DRC launched joint military operation against armed groups along their common borders. In terms of sub-regional organizations, Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) is most active. It has appointed former Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba as a special envoy to the DRC and dispatched various missions in 2017. Most recently on 3 February, SADC announced that it would open a liaison office in DRC. While it is clearly active, SADC is also seen as being sympathetic to President Kabila.

In the absence of a clear strategy shared by neighboring countries, SADC, UN and the AU both on the preparation of credible elections within the electoral calendar and on workable exit for President Kabila, it is unlikely that this PSC session would go beyond reiterating existing AU positions on the resolution of the political crisis. The PSC would welcome the idea of the joint mission of the AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat and the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.