What’s behind the violence in the DRC?

Fears grow that recent violence could lead to armed conflict in the DRC, which is the world's largest coltan producer - a main mineral for mobile phone production.

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Demonstrators point a broken billboard showing the face of Congolese President Joseph Desiree Kabila during an opposition rally in Kinshasa on September 19, 2016.

Updated Sep 24, 2016

It was a deadly week in the Democratic Republic of Congo that has left dozens dead in violent protests over elections. Opposition parties want presidential elections to take place this year. The nation’s electoral commission said it will only be able to hold elections next year, citing a lack of funds.

The President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Joseph Kabila delivers his remarks during the opening ceremony of the Paris Agreement signing ceremony on climate change at the United Nations Headquarters in Manhattan, New York, U.S., April 22, 2016.

President Joseph Kabila’s term in office ends on December 19, 2016. He has ruled the nation for 15 years, taking over from his father who was assassinated in 2001. According to the DRC's constitution, a president can only serve two consecutive five-year terms.

Kabila has remained silent about his intentions. His supporters have called for a referendum to vote on term limits. Opposition parties have called this a stalling tactic.

People take to the street during an opposition rally in Kinshasa, on September 19, 2016.

What happens in the central African state is integral to the region and the rest of the world. Fears are growing that political instability could lead to armed conflict in the country, that could destabilise the region.

Investors are also following the events closely. DR Congo has some of Africa’s largest copper reserves, as well as significant deposits of cobalt, zinc and coltan, a key component which is used to make mobile phones.

The government said that at least 32 people were killed this week but opposition parties said the figure could be three times higher.

Congolese opposition supporters chant slogans during a march to press President Joseph Kabila to step down in the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital Kinshasa, September 19, 2016.

On Monday, the DRC's main opposition parties called a nationwide demonstration to call on Kabila to vacate his position when his term ends in three months time. The rally had been planned to start in the afternoon in the capital Kinshasa, but turned violent. Stone-throwing youth clashed with riot police.

Demonstrators gather in front of a burning car during an opposition rally in Kinshasa on September 19, 2016.

Flares are launched by DRCongo Police forces during a demonstration in Goma on September 19, 2016

The clashes left 17 dead according to officials. The opposition and Human Rights Watch accused security forces of using excessive force.

Ida Sawyer, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch said:

Today's march shows that the security forces have not switched their tactics and are still clamping down on anyone opposed to Kabila. 

Analysts predict the elections will be delayed at least until July 2017. The country needs time to register more than 30 million voters in a country that has similar size to Western Europe and has one of the worst transport and communication networks in the world.

Picture taken on September 20, 2016 in Kinshasa shows the entrance of offices of the main opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) party which were torched overnight and early on September 20, 2016.

On the first day of unrest, two people were burnt alive when the headquarters of four opposition parties were touched.

The opposition claimed a military squadron was responsible for the attacks, but the government denied involvement.

"We were sleeping when men came and forced in the door," said Jean Toumba, a member of an opposition party who was sleeping in the office when the attack happened. "I saw men in military uniform," Toumba said.

An injured Congolese opposition supporter walks outside the headquarters of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) during violent protests to press President Joseph Kabila to step down, in Kinshasa,September 20, 2016

The violence continued on Tuesday. More than 10 police stations were set on fire and several petrol stations were damaged by angry protesters who national police spokesman Pierre-Rombaut Mwana-Mputu called "insurgents."

A woman passes a burnt out ATM after violence erupted due to the delay of the presidential elections in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016.

Congolese civilians walk past a house and vehicles which were burnt during anti-government protests to press President Joseph Kabila to step down in the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital Kinshasa, September 21, 2016.

The DRC has long suffered from what is referred to as “Africa’s World War,” which involves six countries in the region. More than five million people lost their lives in the war between 1994 and 2003.

A woman looks at the body of a man killed during election protests in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Monday, Sept. 19, 2016.

Kabila has used the war to his advantage by portraying himself as a guarantor of stability in the country, despite ongoing attacks by several militant groups in eastern Goma and Kivu.

People wait on trucks for the Congolese army convoy to start in order to insure security in face of a wave of civilian kidnappings between the villages of Kiwanja and Kanyabayonga,in the troubled southeastern part of the province of North Kivu.

A courthouse administrator from the in the capital’s Ndjili district, who only gave his name as Francois, said that although he personally does not have a problem with Kabila, the people of DRC "want him to say publicly that he does not plan to run for another term and for the president who succeeds him to bring jobs for the people."

TRTWorld and agencies