11 dead in Democratic Republic of Congo protests

Demonstrators are allegedly killed by security forces as opposition activists accuse President Joseph Kabila of trying to hold onto power despite end of his term in office.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Democratic Republic of Congo security forces have been facing off against protesters.

Updated Dec 21, 2016

At least 11 people died as gunfire erupted during protests on Tuesday in Democratic Republic of Congo against longtime President Joseph Kabila's as his term of office expired at midnight on Monday.

Opposition activists have accused Kabila of trying to cling to power by letting his term run out without an election to choose the next leader, which has not witnessed a peaceful change of power since its independence in 1960.

The DR Congo's freshly named premier, Samy Badibanga, on Tuesday urged people to stay "calm" and security forces "to show discipline and restraint."

"I want to issue an appeal for calm," he said at a media conference where he also called for restraint by security forces, after violence broke out due to President Joseph Kabila's decision to name a new government instead of stepping down when his mandate ended.

Dozens of troop carriers patrolled Kinshasa, a megacity of 10 million people, on Tuesday and police officers and paramilitary forces were evident in other cities as they have been since Sunday. (Reuters)

Shots rang out in the capital Kinshasa, where at least nine people were killed, and there was sustained gunfire in the country's second-largest city, Lubumbashi, where two died - including a policeman who was lynched by an angry crowd.

The UN's large DR Congo mission, MONUSCO, said it was probing reliable reports of dozens of deaths and voiced alarm over the arrests of 113 opposition leaders and civil society activists in just four days.

South African police fired rubber bullets on Tuesday at scores of protesters outside the DR Congo embassy in Pretoria who were demanding Kabila step down, a spokesman said.

Gunfire was heard overnight and tensions remain high. The capital city Kinshasa ground almost to a halt on Tuesday, with people staying at home as groups of youths burnt tyres and built barricades on the streets, AFP reporters said.

Political crisis might undermine fragile peace

Speaking to TRT World, Africa analyst Fidelis Mbah said on Monday that opposition parties have avoided calling for protests for fear of stoking violence like that which claimed 53 in September, but "the people themselves are actually the ones who are mobilising" and "leaflets have been circulated around the country urging people to take back their streets."

Mbah explained that because the DR Congo’s constitution bars Kabila from seeking a third term, some people feel he may be trying to postpone elections until he can change the rules.

A presidential election was originally set to take place in November 2016, but with the support of the country’s constitutional court Kabila has called for it to be delayed until April 2018.

Residents chant slogans against President Joseph Kabila in Kinshasa, as United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo patrol the area. (Reuters)

If Kabila does seek to change the constitution to remain in office, he would be following in the footsteps of neighbouring Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza and Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

But people opposed to Kabila are not likely to take such a move lying down, leading to fears the current crisis could spark a conflict like that which took place between 1996 and 2003, which killed millions, sucked in neighbouring armies, and saw armed groups clash over the DR Congo’s mineral wealth.

Mbah said, "The political crisis might even worsen the already fragile peace in the country."

Considering recent events, it seems this is already happening. On Monday, DR Congo chief diplomat Barnabe Kikaya said militia fighters raided a jail in the north-eastern city of Butembo, trying to free prisoners and triggering clashes that killed a South African UN peacekeeper and a police officer.

TRTWorld and agencies