ARI on TwitterARI on LinkedinARI on FacebookARI on iTunesARI RSS Feed

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – Expert Briefing by Kris Berwouts

  • DRC’s constitution was promulgated on 18 February 2006 following a popular referendum on 18-19 December 2005. Although the government has yet to establish all of the institutions provided for in the document, Congo retains an executive presidency and a bicameral parliament consisting of a 500-seat National Assembly and a 108-seat Senate
  • While the National Assembly and president are elected by popular vote, the Senate is indirectly elected by members of the provincial assemblies. Following the division of Congo’s provinces in July 2015, there should be 26 assemblies (with Kinshasa returning 8 senators, the remaining 25 provinces each proposing 4)
  • Aside from the provincial assemblies, the Congolese government has yet to organise elections for governors and deputy governors, and a plethora of local government officials
  • Follow developments on Twitter using the hashtags #DRCElections#ElectionsRDC #Telema, #Ingeta, #Lucha#ByeByeKabila

A supporter of President Joseph Kabila’s PPRD party during a previous function.


Already delayed from November 2016, the vote scheduled to be held in the DRC during 2017 could mark the most significant political watershed since the presidential and parliamentary elections of 2006. Those polls marked the end of a dramatic decade shaped by complex regional dynamics, local disputes, and inter-state rivalry. Following the genocide in Rwanda, DRC endured two wars (1996-1997 and 1998-2002), with its eastern provinces becoming the frontline in “Africa’s First World War”. This vast conflict expedited the collapse of the state, ushered in a crisis of impunity and imposed inconceivable human suffering.

The 2006 vote was organised by a new electoral management body, the Commission électorale nationale indépendante (CENI), chaired by the Catholic priest, Apollinaire Malumalu. In the first multi-party polls since independence in 1960, Congolese cast ballots for a new national assembly and head of state on 30 July, with a presidential run-off held on 29 October 2006.

The victor was Joseph Kabila, who succeeded his father Laurent-Désiré Kabila as president after his assassination in January 2001. In the first round of voting, Kabila led the list of 33 candidates with 45% of the vote. His closest contender was Jean-Pierre Bemba, one of four vice-presidents, on 20%. Although Bemba managed to more than double the number of ballots he received in the second round (from 3.39 to 6.82 million), this was not enough to unseat Kabila (who received 7.59 million in the first round and increased this to 9.44 million).

Kabila was sworn in on 6 December 2006 as the first elected president of the Third Republic. Although he had stood as an independent, the Parti du Peuple pour la Reconstruction et le Démocratie (PPRD) which supported his candidacy received 111 of the 500 seats in the National Assembly; this was well ahead of Bemba’s rebel-group-come-party, the Mouvement pour la Liberation du Congo (MLC), with 64 seats. Supporters of Kabila formed the Alliance pour la Majorité Presidentielle (AMP), establishing control of over 300 seats. An upper house, the Senate, was indirectly elected by members of eleven provincial assemblies in January 2007, providing the PPRD with 22 of the 108 seats.

Despite his popular mandate, Kabila’s government was slow to repair the damage done to the Congolese state. Delays to security sector reform left the east of the country exposed to the activities of multiple armed groups. Members of Bemba’s MLC resisted their integration into the Congolese army, resulting in violence in Kinshasa in March 2007. Bemba left the country in April 2007 and was arrested by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for atrocities committed in the Central African Republic during 2002-03. He has since been found culpable for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by forces under his command, and sentenced to 18 years in prison, removing him from the political scene.

Bemba was not Kabila’s only political opponent to be sidelined from electoral competition. In January 2011, the government amended the electoral code to eliminate the need for a presidential run-off. This was ostensibly to reduce costs but clearly benefitted the incumbent. The vote held on 28 November 2011 stood in stark contrast to that of 2006. The sheer scale of electoral irregularities, and the degree to which results were contested, brought the country to the edge of implosion. Kabila won with 49% of the vote, but his closest challenger, Étienne Tshisekedi, leader of the Union pour la Démocratie et le Progrès Social (UDPS) refused to accept defeat and regards himself as the legitimate president. Unfortunately for him, nobody else does.

The 2011 elections should have consolidated a fragile democratic process; instead they demonstrated that the regime’s primary concern was consolidating its power. In recent years, Kabila has attempted different strategies to extend his reign; first by seeking parliamentary approval to amend the constitution in September 2014, and when this ploy failed, to alter the electoral law in 2015. This has given way to glissement, or “slippage” of the electoral calendar, ostensibly on the grounds that the government is not ready to organise elections. This strategy has been underpinned by the acceleration of découpage and the systematic non-disbursement of funds to the CENI. According to its constitution, DRC was due to hold elections during 2016, with President Kabila ineligible to stand for a third term. When this failed to transpire, the term of office of the president and parliament expired on 19 December. Fortunately for Kabila, the Constitutional Court had declared that the sitting president would remain head of state until he was replaced by an elected successor.

In September 2016, the regime instigated a national dialogue to establish the political foundations for the transition and an electoral road map.  A first agreement was signed on 18 October 2016, and as a result, opposition politician Samy Badibanga was appointed prime minister and tasked with forming an inclusive government. This surprised many Congolese, who had expected Kabila to reward Vital Kamerhe, president of the Union pour la Nation Congolaise (UNC) for his participation in the process. By appointing Badibanga, an outspoken member of Tshisekedi’s UDPS, Kabila drove a wedge between the opposition. Another political rival, Moïse Katumbi, a former governor of Katanga who resigned in protest at Kabila’s attempts to remain in power, has been forced out of the country on spurious legal charges.

Divisions among the opposition leaders led to a further round of dialogue convened by the Catholic bishops (under the Conférence épiscopale nationale du Congo, CENCO) and a new, more inclusive agreement signed on 31 December 2016. This included a commitment to hold elections before the end of 2017, and guarantees that Kabila would not stand for a third term or attempt to change the constitution. A new prime minister is due to be appointed, while other issues remain unresolved.

In a context where both the presidential majority and opposition are marked by divisions, and against a backdrop of previous agreements having gone unimplemented, questions remain as to the feasibility of the CENCO-brokered deal. There are parallels too with Mobutu’s final years: an increasingly unpopular president, opaque political processes, opposition fragmentation, a rapidly deteriorating economic situation, and high inflation. In the absence of a turnaround, the possibility of equivalent levels of plundering cannot be discounted

The achievements of the peace process since 2000 are at stake, and the possibility of widespread violence remains high. Kinshasa and other cities exude anti-Kabila sentiment. After 16 years in office, many Congolese have come to conclude that Kabila is either not capable, or not willing, to address socio-economic conditions and failures of governance.

A narrow focus on elite members of the security services deployed to larger cities has undermined the regime’s ability to anticipate or react to local conflict and violence elsewhere.  Across the Kivu provinces, tensions relating to ethnic identity and access to land have escalated significantly. In Beni, a string of massacres has taken place since October 2014, while similarly precarious situations exist between Rutchuru and Butembo and near Kitchanga.

Towards the end of 2016, several incidents took place in the Kasai (especially Kananga and Tshikapa) resulting in a large number of casualties. These incidents were unexpected in an historically peaceful region, but they point to the state’s inability to manage local conflicts between an ineffective local government and contested customary authorities. The unexpected outbreak of violence in Kananga risks being repeated elsewhere, threating the legitimacy of the Third Republic.



Kris Berwouts is an independent Congo analyst and consultant. His book, Congo’s Violent Peace: Conflict and Struggle Since the Great African War, is scheduled for release in July. Kris has worked on central and eastern Africa for nearly 30 years, having studied African languages and history at the University of Ghent. Until January 2012, Kris was Director of EurAc, the European network for central Africa. He tweets as @krisberwouts