Dispatches from the Field: Meetings in Kinshasa with President Kabila, Government Officials, Political Parties, and Civil Society Organizations
Today (Saturday, 6 October) was an extremely busy day for Council members, with a series of meetings with senior government officials, opposition and pro-government political parties, and civil society organizations.
Meetings with Government Officials
The back-to-back meetings culminated at the end of the day in a meeting with President Joseph Kabila. Ambassador François Delattre (France), one of the co-leads of the visiting mission, said at a press conference that the Council had signalled its willingness to support the electoral process in the run-up to the December election. It seems that during the meeting, Kabila said that while the Council delegation had come to discuss the elections and security, he would have preferred a conversation about development. Stating that elections are not a solution but only part of a solution, he underscored the importance of stability, development, and the consolidation of the democratic process after elections. With regard to a question about the potential deployment of international observers for the elections, he said that this was a decision for the CENI, while adding that if the DRC required assistance with the elections, it would make its wishes known. Kabila also said that MONUSCO has done a good job in responding to the outbreak of Ebola in eastern DRC.
Earlier in the day, Council members met with Prime Minister Bruno Tshibala, and Vice-Prime Minister, Minister of Interior and Security Henri Mova Sakanyi as well as other senior government officials at the “Hôtel du Gouvernement.” Tshibala began the meeting by welcoming the Council and introducing Sakanyi. Two of the co-leads of the visiting mission, Equatorial Guinea and Bolivia, spoke on behalf of the Council. The Deputy Permanent Representative of Equatorial Guinea, Job Obiang Esono Mbengono, said that the Council would do all it could to help the DRC during this critical moment in its history. He said that it was important that the DRC adhere to the current electoral calendar, despite the outbreak of Ebola, attacks on humanitarian personnel, and other sporadic challenges. He expressed the Council’s confidence in the DRC’s capacity to conduct the upcoming elections successfully, while reaffirming the Council’s respect for the country’s independence and sovereignty. The Deputy Permanent Representative of Bolivia, Veronica Cordova Sopria, underscored the importance of promoting peace and stability in the electoral process and noted that the meeting was an opportunity for a fruitful exchange of views.
A key issue that some Council members raised in the meeting was the need for the government to promote confidence-building measures during the electoral process. In this regard, while noting that the government had taken some constructive steps in preparation for the elections, some members emphasised the need to permit peaceful protests, freedom of expression, and the release of political prisoners.
Regarding the elections, the messages from both Tshibala and Sakanyi to the Council were similar to those of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) yesterday. They emphasised that the elections would be held according to the current electoral calendar, despite challenges that the country was facing with regard to security, and expressed confidence in the voting machines. In response to concerns about the narrowing of the political space, Tshibala said that where a member of the political opposition committed a crime, that individual had to be held accountable by the justice system. He further noted that individuals with dual citizenship were not entitled to run for office, apparently to dispel the notion that such persons are being unjustly prevented from participating as candidates.
Meetings with Opposition and Pro-Government Parties
After returning to the hotel, Council members met with representatives of the political opposition. The opposition members indicated that they would ultimately support one presidential candidate and a single programme in the upcoming elections. While willing to engage in the electoral process, they nonetheless said that it needed to be inclusive, and maintained that former Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba and Moïse Katumbi should be able to run in the presidential elections. (Bemba, whose conviction by the ICC for war crimes and crimes against humanity was overturned on appeal on 8 June, was declared ineligible to participate on the basis of the ICC finding him guilty of witness tampering, a decision upheld by the Constitutional Court on 19 September. Katumbi, a former governor of Katanga province, missed the 8 September deadline to register as a candidate as he was blocked from entering the DRC.) The opposition representatives further stated that they did not support the use of the voting machines in the elections, preferring paper ballots instead.
Later in the day, Council members met with representatives of the Common Front for Congo (FCC), which consists of parties from the ruling coalition. The FCC said that the electoral timeline should be respected and that they wanted to strengthen democracy in the country. An FCC representative emphasised the importance of Kabila not running for a third term, and accused the opposition of trying to undermine the elections.
Meetings with CENCO and Civil Society Organisations
The National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO) also met with Council members. CENCO representatives noted that there were some positive developments with regard to the elections, including Kabila’s decision not to pursue another term, the establishment of a list of candidates, and an opposition demonstration held on 29 September in Kinshasa. However, they expressed the view that popular media was monopolised by the government, a view contrasting sharply with the FCC’s on media access. Furthermore, it was noted that apart from the 29 September rally, demonstrations had been blocked. One CENCO representative suggested that the Security Council could request specific confidence-building measures from the government, including that all parties have equal access to the media and that restrictions on peaceful demonstrations be lifted. CENCO also expressed concern over the lack of consensus in the DRC on the use of voting machines. One CENCO representative suggested that paper ballots be used and international observers be deployed to monitor the elections. CENCO noted that it was training national electoral observers and hoped to have 40,000 in place by the elections.
One Council member noted that there seemed to be a lack of trust regarding the elections and asked if CENCO would be prepared to play a mediating role should tensions rise in the conduct of the elections. One of the CENCO representatives responded that CENCO would always be ready to play such a role by fostering reconciliation between the ruling party and the opposition, as it has done by mediating the 31 December 2016 agreement.
The Security Council held two separate meetings with civil society organisations: one focused on the security and humanitarian situation (which included a video-conference with participants in Beni and Goma) and a second focused on the elections.
During the first of these meetings, one of the civil society representatives noted that the DRC has the largest number of internally displaced persons of any country in Africa. He stated that civil society was grateful for the assistance it received from UN agencies and non-governmental organisations, and appealed for more funding support for national organisations, since they continue operating in dire security situations, while international organisations may leave under such conditions. In response to the insecurity in parts of the DRC, at least two civil society representatives called for MONUSCO to be more robust in protecting civilians, with one observing that insecurity in Beni now is a “real calamity”, while another called on the Council to expand its targeted sanctions against the DRC.
One female civil society representative spoke about the impact of sexual violence against women in the DRC. She noted the important economic role played by women in the country, and observed that when women are victims of violence, there are detrimental effects to the economy.
The current Ebola outbreak was raised during the discussion on the humanitarian situation. One civil society representative noted that more medication and equipment should be deployed to the affected region and that the population needed to be better informed about the risk of Ebola. The speaker added that MONUSCO needed to address insecurity in the Ebola-affected area, as the difficult security environment was detrimental to response efforts.
In the civil society meeting on electoral issues, some civil society representatives said there was a lack of confidence in the CENI. One questioned whether enough voting machines would be deployed for the elections, whether the CENI had the means to deploy them, and whether the requisite security would be provided for voting equipment. He added that there is a lack of awareness among the population of why to vote and how to vote. Another civil society participant similarly added that not everyone knows how to use the new voting machines, which contributes to the trust deficit between the CENI and the population.
Tomorrow, their final day in the DRC, Council members are expected to have a series of meetings with MONUSCO, including a briefing from MONUSCO staff on the humanitarian situation and discussions with key field offices and sector commanders via video-teleconference.