Strategic Pressure: A Blueprint for Democratic Change in the DRC


Democratic Republic of Congo authorities should immediately and unconditionally release nine Congolese human rights and pro-democracy activists wrongfully detained for their participation in peaceful activities, 45 Congolese and international human rights organizations said today:

The nine activists are among hundreds arrested since 2015 as part of the Congolese government’s widespread crackdown on people who have opposed President Joseph Kabila’s effort to remain in power beyond his constitutionally mandated two-term limit, which ended in December 2016. In addition to human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists, the government has targeted political opposition leaders and supporters, journalists, and people suspected of having links to the political opposition. Many have been held for weeks or months in secret detention, without charge and without access to families or lawyers. Some allege that they were mistreated or tortured and some are suffering serious health complications. Many were put on trial on trumped-up charges…..

Authorities released several of those arrested in Lubumbashi after a few hours, but five were transferred to the prosecutor’s office and accused of “provocation” and “inciting disrespect for public authorities”: Timothée Mbuya (right), president of Justicia, one of Lubumbashi’s main human rights organizations; Jean Mulenda, activist from the citizens’ movement Struggle for Change (LUCHA); Jean-Pierre Tshibitshabu, an activist and journalist at Radio Télé Kabekas (RTKA); Patrick Mbuya, a human rights activist and a member of l’Amicale des Jeunes Congolais Bomoko (AJC BOMOKO); and Erick Omari, who said he was a bystander.

“The Congolese authorities have thrown activists in jail for joining peaceful protests calling for elections and for Congo’s constitution to be respected,” said Ida Sawyer, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should release them immediately and ensure that all Congolese have the right to peacefully demonstrate and express their political views.”

The signatories and activists include partners of the National Endowment for Democracy.

An effective strategy to support Congolese civil society should focus on achieving a democratic transition to begin to break the cycle of the corrupt, violent state while also pushing for key structural reforms and immediate conflict mitigation steps in the Kasai region and the east, says a new report from the Enough Project. The international community, regional states, and the private sector should work on four tracks:

  • Use financial pressure to change the Kabila regime’s cost-benefit calculations to hold a democratic transition. …
  • As more pressure is applied, support negotiations to create a path to credible, timely elections and Kabila’s exit from the Presidency. …
  • Enact targeted measures to help resolve conflict in Kasai and eastern Congo. …
  • Combat corruption by pushing for transparency reforms of state-owned mining companies. …

Four key developments in Congo make the deployment of this strategy timely, the report contends:

1) The Dec. 31 deal signed by the government and opposition offers a clear roadmap and benchmarks for a democratic transition;

2) There is now a near consensus in the international community and Congolese civil society that the Kabila regime is thwarting democracy and stability, and Angola plus several African former heads of state have joined that consensus;

3) Significant further financial leverage is available to influence the process which has not yet been utilized, and the regime’s leaders and business partners could lose access to the global banking system if that financial pressure is applied by governments and banks;

4) The powerful Catholic Church in Congo, which helped negotiate the Dec. 31 accord, is now telling the population to stand up to the regime, combined with increasing activism by Congolese pro-democracy civil society. This means that there is new space for democratic resistance to the regime, as many Congolese were previously waiting while the bishops negotiated, providing further internal pressure on the government.


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