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Democratic Republic of Congo

Role for Berlin in salvaging DR Congo elections?

The fate of DR Congo seems to hinge on President Kabila's apparent bid to stay in power. Berlin is being asked to help resolve a crisis, as Congolese recall how it financially supported their elections in 2006.

No matter which radio station one listens to in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the main issue is the current political crisis and the dialogue which is attempting to resolve it. Everyone is hoping for a breakthrough. But after more than a month since dialogue between government and a section of the opposition began, many questions remain unanswered as the clock ticks toward December 19, the day when President Joseph Kabila term in office officially ends.

At the beginning of October, the electoral commission announced that elections would be postponed until December 2018. The commission said it would not be possible to register all voters and then prepare for a poll originally slated for the end of 2016.

Two of the country's most influential opposition politicians, Etienne Tshisekedi and Moise Katumbi, however, have rejected the postponement. Members of the "Rassemblement" or "Rally" platoform have already announced that they intend to show President Kabila the "yellow card" on October 19, followed by a "red card" on December 19, evidently in the form of street protests.

These announcements have raised fears among Congolese of further unrest. At least 53 people were killed in violent clashes between demonstrators and security forces in late September, according to the United Nations. Human rights organizations say the true death toll is probably much higher.

Germany touted as mediator

Opposition members of the "Rally" have so far rejected attempts by the African Union to mediate in the dispute over the date for the election. They see the postponement as an extension of Joseph Kabila's term. The Congolese constitution forbids a third mandate for presidents.

Kongo Abbé Donatien Nsholé (DW/D. Köpp)

Donatien Nshole would welcome German assistance because Berlin is familiar with DR Congo's problems

A way out of the crisis is not in sight. For this reason, the word "Germany" seems to be cropping up frequently in discussions with political and civil society actors. "Germany can do a lot," says Abbe Donatien Nshole, a representative of DR Congo's Catholic Church, which has withdrawn from the national dialogue. "One of the challenges is the lack of money. With sufficient funds, it would be possible, for example,to procure several kits of election materials simultaneously," Nshole told DW.

Aware of problems

It was the absence of election materials that triggered crisis, because voter registration can not take place without them. The government and the electoral commission have made it clear that the state does not have sufficient funds to pay for the materials. Registration of voters has only just started, but with a population of more than 75 million, the process is not expected to be finished  until July 2017. Only then could the electoral commission begin to prepare for the election.

"If you do not want to hold elections, you will not be in a hurry to find the money you need," says Abbe Nshole. This is where Germany could perhaps help: "Whoever wants the elections to be held as quickly as possible, can make a contribution," Nshole said. One doesn't have to spell out to Germany and other partners what is required  "They are aware of the problems here and know what they can do to assist."

Kongo Senator Moise Nyarugabo (DW/D. Köpp)

Senator Moise Nyarugabo would also welcome German financial support for the elections

Previous German involvement

Unlike, Belgium, the former colonial power which the Congolese government is currently embroiled in a diplomatic tug-of-war, or France, Germany enjoys high regard in the DR Congo. The 2006 election, which was won by Joseph Kabila, was given extensive backing by the international communnity. Germany played a leading role in this bid to strengthen the democratic process in the DR Congo and this included a substantial financial commitment.   

The German foreign ministry's Africa Commissioner, Georg Schmidt, is in Kinshasa on a fact-finding mission in which he is talking to various actors in the crisis. "It would be good if he met all the key players and listened to everyone and then gave impetus to the discussion," Stanley Mbayo Pelesa, a parliamentary deputy and member of the government coalition, told DW. "Germany has a lot of influence in Europe and the Germans are dependable. If Germany gets inolved in something, then it does so in order to find a solution," Mbayo Pelesa said.

Moise Nyarugabo, an opposition senator and participant at the ongoing dialogue, has two wishes. Firstly, that Schmidt persuade the opposition factions led by Tshisekedi and Katumbi to participate in the dialogue and seek a solution together and secondly that Germany becomes financially involved again as it did in 2006. "We must be able to finance all preparations - without exception," Nyarugabo said. "Otherwise, we won't be able to meet the deadline set by CENI [electoral commission]. If we had more money, we could even meet the deadline ahead of time, but we would need double the funds."

Demokratische Republik Kongo - Ausschreitungen in Kinshasa (Getty Images/AFP/E. Soteras)

Deadly clashes pitting police against demonstrators hit DR Congo in September as the oppostion demanded Kabila's resignation

Human rights 

Georges Kapiamba, President of the Congolese Association for Access to Justice (ACAJ), stressed that Schmidt should use his presence in the country to publicly condemn violations of human rights and the repression of individual liberties. "He should also insist that the Congolese Constitution be respected, and that people should be allowed to vote in an election and under peaceful conditions as soon as possible, thereby permitting  political change and the appointment of a successor to President Kabila." he said.

Congolese who possess the necessary funds are trying to get their families out of the country before December when more protests and acts of government repression are expected. Parliamentary deputy Pelesa said Germany's Africa Commissioner should be aware that DR Congo has nine countries as neighbors. It's like sitting on volcano and one should move with the utmost caution. He also had a message for the opposition which they will probably find unpalatable. "It would be better to agree on a meager deal rather than search for the perfect solution and  then find that everything blows up in one's face," he said.  

 

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