The postponement of elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo does not come as a surprise, analysts say. The country seems fated to slide into a deepening crisis.
There has been no official announcement yet, but a delay of presidential elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) seems increasingly likely, after statements by the president of the electoral commission, Corneille Nangaa. The elections, originally scheduled for November 2016, have already been postponed once, in what was then seen as an attempt by President Joseph Kabila to hold on to power.
Kabila's second and last mandate expired in December 2016. A compromise reached with several opposition parties allowed him to stay on in power only until elections take place. But Kabila has not made a secret of his wish for a third mandate, for which he would have to amend the constitution. The prospect has fueled protests which resulted in several dead.
A huge challenge
Analyst Ben Shepherd from the London-based think tank Chatham House did not dismiss out of hand the opposition's contention that Kabila is again playing for time. But he also found several valid technical reasons for a postponement which would not, in his view "come as a surprise." Shepherd pointed out the significant challenge of organizing elections in such a huge country. Several million voters needed to be registered, but registration has been interrupted in places like the Kasai provinces because of recurring violence.
The elections are also very expensive. The Kinshasa government recently mentioned a need of at least $1.8 billion (1.5 billion euros). "They said fairly clearly that they didn't have the money to finance it," Shepherd told DW.
Increased pressure on Kabila
The Chatham House analyst does not see an immediate risk for the country's stability, should the elections not take place this year as scheduled. Despite significant public protests and the low level of public support for Kabila, the country has "no group with legitimacy, authority or capacity to mobilize large numbers of people," Shepherd said. The late opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi's Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) split, after only a faction agreed to join the governnment of national unity brokered by the country's Catholic Church. "The rest of the opposition has failed over numerous attempts to come to a compromise position which might allow them to unify behind one candidate." Protests will likely increase "but won't gain sufficient momentum to create a risk to the stability of the Congolese state," Shepherd added.
Nevertheless, the outlook for the DRC is bleak. According to Ben Shepherd, economic conditions are deteriorating and inflation is on the rise. "It is getting more difficult for ordinary people to buy food," the expert said. The government increasingly lacks funds to pay state employees, including security forces. And the DRC's neighbors are losing patience with Kabila.
The Angola angle
This is especially true of Angola, until now Kabila's most reliable and powerful ally in Africa, Chatham House analyst Alex Vines told DW. With general elections scheduled for August, Angola's leaders are looking for calm and stability. All the more so since President Jose Eduardo dos Santos will step down after more than three decades in power, making internal changes inevitable, even if his MPLA party wins the polls as expected.
Thus, the growing refugee crisis on the border owing to violence in the Kasai region comes at a particularly onerous time. While it is unlikely that Angola will intervene militarily as it did in the late 1990s – in support of Joseph's father, the late President Laurent-Desire Kabila - Vines believes that Luanda is seriously weighing up its options. "Nothing definitive will happen before Angola's elections in August. But with a new government in Luanda, Angola will certainly increase political pressure on the DRC," Vines told DW.
Whether Kabila will bow to any pressure remains to be seen. "The signs are not good that the Congolese who lead will be coherent enough and forward thinking enough to come to a political deal that enables the country to move forward to a real election any time soon," Ben Shepherd said.