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Democratic Republic Of Congo Battles An Electoral Crisis


The Democratic Republic of Congo is in the midst of an electoral crisis. The presidential election was supposed to be held next month, but the country's election commission says that a lack of funds and logistical obstacles will prevent a new poll from being held before December of 2018. And that means President Joseph Kabila would remain in power for more than two terms, and that would violate the country's constitution.

There have been protests and the opposition has been met with threats, violence and arrest from authorities. Mvemba Phezo Dizolele, a lecturer from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, joins us in our studios. Mr. Dizolele, thanks very much for being with us.


SIMON: The head of the U.N. mission in the DRC told the U.N. Security Council this week that the country is entering what he called a period of extreme risk to its stability. Why is this moment so critical?

PHEZO DIZOLELE: I think it's critical because, you know, we have had a lot of protests in the streets, especially in Kinshasa, the capital, which actually led to a lot of deaths. If you ask the government they will say that about 17 people have been killed, including police officers. And one of them was actually set ablaze. But if you ask civil society groups they will say that number is much bigger. These people are simply fighting for the respect of the constitution.

President Kabila has been in power for 15 years. He came to power after his father was assassinated. He served five years and then after that a new constitution was put in place via a referendum. He was elected. But the Constitution only allows him two terms, five years each. And now he's trying to wiggle his way to stay for longer.

SIMON: And is he using government to try and stay in control of the government?

PHEZO DIZOLELE: Absolutely - he's using the military. He's using security forces, intelligence services. So now I think he's just trying to slide through, what the Congolese call glismo (ph), kind of slippage. By that I mean, the government has not funded the electoral commission. And if the election commission doesn't have money...

SIMON: Well, that makes it hard to hold an election.


SIMON: And that's the idea?

PHEZO DIZOLELE: That's exactly the idea and that's where we are today. So you kind of keep the country in limbo. And you say, as long as there's no election then I get to be president.

SIMON: Have there been any calls for President Kabila to be investigated, forced to step down, impeached, put on trial for violating the constitution?

PHEZO DIZOLELE: There's some quarters that call for that. For the most part though, at this time, the Congolese simply want him to respect the Constitution. If he were to respect the Constitution and step down, this would be the greatest part of his legacy. It will be the first time that a president in Congo has transferred power to his successor in a peaceful manner.

SIMON: What form is the opposition taking at this particular point, and is there is any concern that if they're frustrated peacefully they might resort to other means?

PHEZO DIZOLELE: So at this moment we have a semblance of a dialogue going on between some opposition parties and the president. But in the process, the government has actually restricted political space, which means people are being arrested. People are disappearing. People are being killed. And that's gives the opposition very little choice but to take to the streets. We can expect to see more violence if the government does not make arrangements to have an inclusive dialogue. So we are in for a long haul.

SIMON: Mvemba Phezo Dizolele of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Thanks so much for being with us.

PHEZO DIZOLELE: Thank you, Scott. It's a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.