There is widespread fear that attempts by the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s president, Joseph Kabila to cling to power could lead to violence.
Following the concerns, US officials are pushing for sanctions against President Kabila’s government allies, but the decision is being held back by Europe’s uncertainty over the matter.
Recent development in the country indicates that the situation is delicate especially after a key opposition leader was charged with plotting a coup d’état by hiring mercenaries. Consequently, the opposition leader, Moïse Katumbi, a former close ally of the president was charged hours after he announced he would run for president in the November elections.
According to Congo’s constitution, Kabila is ineligible after serving two elected terms, but critics accuse the African leader of trying to remain in power beyond the constitutionally permitted terms.
This the opponents say is being done by employing tactics such as delaying the poll or even changing the constitution to remove the term limit, as done by several other African leaders.
Scuffles erupted last January after Kabila tried to change the constitution. While the plot failed, the chaos left about 40 people dead.
Just recently, the Constitutional Court ruled that the head of state could remain in a caretaker capacity beyond the expiry of his second term since he took office in 2001. According to his government, the November elections could be delayed as the electoral commission has no capacity to organize for the vote on time. The delay could last 16 months.
Last Saturday, Henri Mova Sakani allegedly said that there is a possibility of a constitutional referendum on the number of terms Kabila can serve.
In a bid to force the DR Congo leader to abide by the constitution, opposition leaders called on the United States to impose sanctions on the president and his top aides.
"We believe that the imposition of sanctions will force Joseph Kabila to reconsider his position and to leave power on the 19th of December this year," said Olivier Kamitatu, a leader of the G7 opposition coalition said in a meeting with Reuters on Monday. "It's high time to block this man," Mr Kamitatu was quoted by Daily Mail as saying.
Sanctions may not be the best option
Already, Kamitatu and four of his colleagues are in Washington to lobby for sanctions and are expected to hold a hearing today (June 8, 2016). The sanctions on Kabila and his inner circle, including his security chief and justice minister, and others involved in crackdowns on the opposition could include travel bans, and freezes on US assets, the opposition leaders told Reuters.
"If we organize sanctions against Kabila and his clique, we can get good results for democracy," Kamitatu said.
But Europe is hesitant of imposing the sanctions yet.
Without the European back-up, sanctions may have little impact as it is argued that most of the Congo’s officials have assets in Europe.
A European diplomat based in Kinshasa, said sanctions work best when they “serve as a warning, not having to be implemented."
Although Britain is among those in support of the sanctions against Congo, a former Belgian colony, Spain, and Italy are reluctant, diplomats say.
Other EU states are concerned over the efficacy of the sanctions arguing that the sanctions "would put him [Kabila] in a corner right now and actually make him more defiant and probably make it even more complicated to have ... substantial dialogue," Reuters reported.
On its part, the Congo government feels they are being sidelined. In a statement last month, the government through the foreign minister Raymond Tshibanda denounced the "selective application" of sanctions threats. According to Mr Tshibanda, other countries such as Rwanda and neighboring Congo Republic, already changed their constitutions to allow leaders stand for third terms, and they have not had sanctions imposed on them.
Image credit: Stan Honda/AP