Congo, Democratic Republic of the: Government and Ongoing Instability

Government and Ongoing Instability

At the end of July, 2006, Congo held elections for president and the national and provincial legislatures under the new constitution. Voting was largely peaceful, but the vote count was slow and marred by irregularities. Joseph Kabila won 44% of the presidential vote with a strong showing in E Congo, but failed to win the required majority; his party won 111 (out of 500) National Assembly seats and formed a governing coalition. The inconclusive presidential results sparked violence between Kabila's partisans and those of Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, the former rebel and interim vice president who was the runner-up (with 20% of the vote) and did well in W Congo, and violence subsequently marred campaign leading up to the October runoff. The vote count was not completed until mid-November, but Kabila was elected, with 58% of the ballots, and again he ran strongly in E Congo. Bemba rejected the result and contested it in court, despite the assessment of the election by most observers as free and fair; Bemba's challenge was rejected, and Kabila's election confirmed.

Progess was made in disbanding a number of militias in E Congo in early 2007, but later in the year fighting broke out between army units that included former Tutsi militias and Rwandan Hutu militias based in the Congo. Subsequently the Congolese army moved against the renegade Tutsi units, and Nord-Kivu was torn by off-and-on fighting in the second half of 2007. In subsequent years, Nord-Kivu and Sud-Kivu continued to areas of recurring instability.

Meanwhile, in March deadly fighting erupted in Kinshasa between the army and Bemba's remaining forces, who had resisted disbanding. Bemba was accused of treason, while he accused the government of trying to kill him. He sought refuge in the South African embassy, and left the Congo in April.

In Aug., 2007, a border clash between Congolese and Ugandan forces occurred near the disputed Rukwanzi Island in Lake Albert; in September the nations agreed to demilitarize the island. A cease-fire agreement was signed by some of the groups in E Congo in Jan., 2008, but conflicts between some of the many armed militias there continued. In Aug., 2008, government forces attacked Congolese Tutsi positions in E Congo, and ongoing fighting led the Tutsis to withdraw from the cease-fire agreement in October. After Tutsi successes against government forces, the government accused Rwanda of sending its troops into the Congo, a charge Rwanda denied; there was evidence, however, of Rwandan support for Congolese Tutsis. Rwanda and Congolese Tutsis countercharged that the government had allied itself with Rwandan Hutu militias accused of genocide. By the end of October Tutsi forces had advanced to Goma, the capital of Nord-Kivu. Peace negotiations, mediated by Olusegun Obasanjo, the former president of Nigeria, began in Dec., 2008.

Meanwhile, in early 2008 there was violence between police forces and a religio-political sect (Bundu dia Kongo) in W Congo.; the sect was banned in March. In Dec., 2008, after Ugandan rebels led by Joseph Kony, based in and around Garamba National Park, in extreme NE Congo, failed to sign a peace agreement with Uganda. Ugandan, Congolese, and South Sudanese forces mounted a joint campaign against the rebels' bases that continued until Mar., 2009. The operation was only partially successful. Ugandan rebels continued to attack Congolese civilians in subsequent years, and the Ugandan military also continued small-scale operations in Congo against the group. Congo troops were included in a planned Ugandan-led four-nation African Union military force to capture Kony that was announced in 2012.

A joint Rwandan-Congolese operation (Feb.–Mar., 2009) captured Laurent Nkunda, the Congolese Tutsi leader, which led to his forces integration in the Congolese army and a peace accord between the government and the Tutsi. Local militia groups also signed integration agreements, but in 2010 some former rebels accused the government of failing to honor the accords. Some rebels in Nord-Kivu and Sud-Kivu did not integrate, and remained a problem in subsequent months. The troops were less successful against the Rwandan Hutu militia, who resumed their attacks against civilians after the operation's end; the Hutu forces were the target of UN-supported Congolese operations in subsequent months. Both government and rebel forces were accused of criminal behavior and human-rights abuses in the conflict. The UN ended its support for Congolese government operations in Dec., 2009, amid criticism from aid agencies for heavy civilian casualties and from a UN panel for a lack of permanent results against Hutu forces, but a new UN and government offensive against the Hutu rebels began in early 2010. In Oct., 2009, ethnic fighting began in NW Congo., and by Jan., 2010, some 120,000 had fled the area, most to the neighboring Republic of Congo.

Constitutional amendments approved in Jan., 2011, generally strengthened the president's powers, and the elimination of a presidential runoff was seen as designed to aid Kabila's reelection. Kabila was declared the winner of the subsequent election, in Dec., 2011, but the vote was marred by logistical shortcomings and other irregularities and by statistically evident fraud. The second place finisher, Étienne Tshisekedi, denounced the results and declared himself the winner, while observers declared that the election lacked credibility and that the real winner was unknown. In the parliamentary elections, Kabila's party lost a significant number of seats but remained the largest bloc; his coalition retained an overall majority.

In Apr., 2012, Gen. Bosco Ntaganda, who was accused of war crimes and threatened with arrest, mutinied in Nord-Kivu with his former ethnic Tutsi rebels and established a new rebel force, M23. Facing relatively weak government resistance, the group advanced through several towns until by July it was threatening Goma, the provincial capital. Congo, the United Nations, and independent groups accused Rwanda of aiding the rebels, a charge Rwanda denied, but the United States and others called on Rwanda to end aid to the M23 rebels. In November the rebels took Goma, but withdrew after regional nations called on them to pull back. Divisions in M23 led in Mar., 2013, to Ntaganda's ouster. He fled to the U.S. embassy in Rwanda, and was turned over to the International Criminal Court, where he was convicted of war crimes in 2019. Also in March the United Nations approved the creation of a UN Intervention Brigade for the Congo with a broader mandate to actively enforce the peace.

In mid-2013 there was renewed fighting between the army and M23, and beginning in August the UN's Intervention Brigade supported army forces against M23. During the first half of 2013 there also were a number of clashes between the army and local militias in E Congo. M23 suffered of a serious of defeats in Oct.–Nov., 2013, and declared an end to their rebellion; a peace agreement was signed in December, but in Apr., 2015, it was reported that possible former M23 members were again present in Nord-Kivu. Beginning in mid-2013, the Ugandan Islamist rebel group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) was active in Nord-Kivu, and attacks by and clashes with the ADF continued into 2020, with Congolese and Ugandan forces conducting joint operations against the ADF in 2018. In Dec., 2013, government and UN forces began operations against Rwandan Hutu rebels based in E Congo, and the government crushed attacks in Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, and Kolwezi by supporters of a self-styled religious prophet, Joseph Mukungubila. Congolese and UN operations against local militias and foreign armed groups in E Congo continued into 2020; the region was marked by an increase in militia violence beginning in 2017, and the UN peacekeeping forces' mandate was extended several times. Both Rwanda and Burundi have been accused at times of sending troops in support of various militias.

In 2014, Kabila supporters sought to amend to the constitution to permit him to seek a third term. Though those efforts were not successful, the formation (Dec., 2014) of a government that included some opposition members and a proposal to hold a census before the next elections were seen by some in the opposition as part of Kabila's maneuvering remain in office after the expiration of his term in 2016; the census proposal led to violent protests in Jan., 2015. Those suspicions were reinforced by delays in progressing toward local, provincial, and other elections, slated to occur before the presidential election. The delays were aggravated by the division of Congo's 11 provinces into 26, a plan mandated in 2006 but not put into effect by Kabila until 2015.

In September several senior political allies of Kabila who called on him not to extend his rule were dismissed from their posts. The year ended without the holding of local and provincial elections, originally planned for Oct., 2015. In May, 2016, Congo's constitutional court ruled that Kabila could remain in office if the presidential election were delayed. Also that month, the government accused Moïse Katumbi, the former governor of Katanga and an opposition candidate for president, of hiring foreign mercenaries, a charge apparently based on the fact that a security advisor to Katumbi was a former U.S. soldier, and the following month he was convicted of fradulently selling a property. Clashes between opposition demonstrators and security forces in Kinshasa left several dozen dead in September and opposition parties' headquarters were torched.

In October, the constitutional court approved delaying the presidential election until Apr., 2018, and Kabila supporters and some minor opposition groups reached a power-sharing deal to extend the president's term. In December Catholic bishops negotiated a similar agreement between more significant opposition groups and Kabila supporters that called for Kabila to step down and elections to be held by the end of 2017, but it was unclear if Kabila would adhere to the accord. Negotiations became more complicated after opposition leader Étienne Tshisekedi died in Feb., 2017, and Bruno Tshibala, who was expelled from Tshisekedi's party after his death, was appointed prime minister in April. A cabinet was formed in May that included a number of opposition leaders, but the main opposition bloc denounced the government for violating the December accord. In July, the electoral commission president said that a presidential election would likely not occur in 2017. The date subsequently was pushed back to Dec., 2018. A number of prominent opposition figures were barred in 2018 from running, and Kabila did not attempt to seek a third term.

Meanwhile, in mid-2016, a local leader in Kasai-Central prov., Kamwina Nsapu, began a rebellion against the central government. Kamwina Nsapu was killed in August, but his militia escalated its attacks, which spread to other provinces in the Kasai region; the conflict only ended toward the end of 2017. Government forces were accused of indiscriminate killings, and the militia was also accused of war crimes; several thousand persons were reported to have been killed.

Attempts to unite the opposition around a single presidential candidate—businessman Martin Fayulu Madidi—failed, and Fayulu, opposition leader Félix Antoine Tshisekedi, and regime hardliner Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary were the major candidates. The Dec., 2018, election was marred by irregularites, and several opposition strongholds were excluded from the voting due to an Ebola outbreak and ethnic unrest. In January, Tshisekedi was declared the winner. The Catholic church, which had deployed some 40,000 election observers, supported Fayulu's claim that he had won, but the constitutional court affirmed the reported results and rejected Fayulu's request for a recount. The Kabila's coalition won a majority of the seats in parliament.

In May, Tshisekedi named Sylvestre Ilunkamba Ilunga, a technocrat seen as aligned with Kabila, as prime minister. The Ebola outbreak in North Kivu and Ituri prov. worsened in 2019, aggravated in part by rebel militia attacks on health workers and facilities, ethnic volence, and by local mistrust of health workers. By June, 2020, when the outbreak ended, 2,280 people had died from Ebola; rebel attacks and ethnic violence continued to be a serious problem in the region. In Decemeber the president broke with Kabila, and subsequently he sought to form a new cabinet.

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