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Democratic Republic of Congo

DRC's Kabila shores up power base, turning up heat on international broadcasters

DRC President Joseph Kabila was set to address parliament one day after the prime minister and the cabinet stepped down in a deal over delaying elections. There are to be new restrictions on foreign broadcasters.

Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)  Augustin Matata and the cabinet resigned on Monday as part of a deal that extends the tenure of President Joseph Kabila.

Kabila is supposed to step down when his mandate expires on December 19, but his ruling coalition and part of the opposition agreed last month to delay presidential elections until April 2018, citing logistical problems with voter registration.

The government's departure on Monday was expected to make way for a new cabinet which would include some of those opposition figures who agreed to last month's deal.

However, the main opposition bloc Rassemblement (Gathering), which has rallied around veteran politician Etienne Tshisekedi, has rejected the pact. More than 50 people died in street protests in September, which were aimed at increasing pressure on Kabila to resign.       

Targetting broadcasters

Meanwhile the government wants to ban all 24-hour foreign broadcasters, dpa reported on Monday. These stations had turned into "mouthpieces for the opposition," DR Congo's Communication Minister Lambert Mende said. Instead of being able to broadcast around the clock, these stations would be forced to secure air time on a piecemeal, hourly basis from local operators.

It is not yet clear how the new restrictions will affect Deutsche Welle (DW), which has partner stations in DR Congo. They broadcast DW programs in French and Kiswahili, some of which are up to three hours in length. DW does not have its own transmitting facilties for DR Congo, unlike France's RFI, the Voice of America  and the UN broadcaster Radio Okapi, which have 30 days to apply for permission to continue their operations.    

The decree on international broadcasters was announced by the DR Congo's government on Saturday as a delegation from the UN Security Council was arriving in the country. "We are concerned" by the decree Alexis Lamek, co-leader of the delegation, said.

He explained that his delegation had raised concerns about the political process in the DR Congo generally and had discussed  with the authorities "confidence building measures that seem necessary to us at this time."

The DRC has been in crisis since disputed elections in 2011 returned Kabila to office for a second term. The call for confidence building measures comes amid opposition allegations that Kabila was manipulating the electoral system to stay in power.  

The decree on international broadcasters "in no way goes in the direction of the confidence building measures we are talking about," Lamek added.

DR Kongo | Archivbild Radio Okapi in Kinshasa (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kappeler)

The DR Congo government accuses UN-funded Radio Okapi of a being a 'partisan station'

The government has been jamming the signal of Radio Okapi in the capital Kinshasa for more than a week. The frequencies used by RFI in Kinshasa and Lubumbashi have also been closed down. Both stations were intending to report on the banning of an opposition demonstration by President Kabila. 

Under the new decree foreign broadcasters would need the approval of the information ministry and would probably be required to keep an official representative in the DRC.         

David Smith, founder of Radio Okapi, told DW that Kabila is "evidently trying to see how far he can go in securing his hold on power."         

RFI's broadcasts have been jammed several times over the last two years, but Radio Okapi, which is part of MONUSCO, the UN mission in the DR Congo, was previously able to transmit its programs without hindrance.  

MONUSCO has more than 20,000 troops in the country protecting civilians and disarming dozens of rebel and splinter groups after two decades of conflict in the east of the country.

Laurette Misenga from the Congolese human rights organization "La Voix des san-Voix" (The voice of the voicelss) told DW the jamming of RFI and Radio Okapi was "an assault on  press freedom." She told DW "it is totally unacceptable in a country that call itself democratic."

Donor nations financing MONUSCO and Radio Okapi include members of the UN Security Council, but David Smith thinks sanctions over the jamming are unlikely."The UN mission is not as robust as it used to be," he said. Relations between MONUSCO and the government have cooled and it is possible that the UN "doesn't want to rock the boat."   

Christine Harjes and Daniel Pelz contributed to this report

      

 

 

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