posted on Sun 13 Nov 2016 1:38 AM
Dispatches from the Field: Council Meetings in Kinshasa

Having arrived on Friday evening in the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Council members embarked on a busy schedule of meetings in Kinshasa. On the night of their arrival, members had a two-hour briefing and discussion with Maman Sambo Sidikou, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and the mission’s senior officials.

The meeting with MONUSCO provided Council members with a detailed update on developments since Sidikou’s most recent Council briefing on 11 October. Political tensions and socio-economic problems have persisted. Participants in a national dialogue on elections that had begun on 1 September with the assistance of an AU-appointed facilitator signed an agreement on 18 October that outlined a new electoral calendar. Under its terms, provincial, parliamentary and presidential elections would be held in April 2018, and President Joseph Kabila would remain in office until the installation of a newly-elected president. But the national dialogue only included a few political groupings and was boycotted by most of the opposition. While the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and the Southern African Development Community have expressed support for the agreement, the opposition and various international actors have raised concerns about the length of the postponement of the elections (that, according to the Constitution, were supposed to be held this month) and about the agreement’s silence on whether or not Kabila would seek another term.

Ahead of the Council’s visiting mission, regional leaders had sought ways of addressing the growing crisis at the 26 October ICGLR summit in Luanda. . The President of the Congo, Denis Sassou-Nguesso, and the President of Angola, José Eduardo dos Santos, pushed for Kabila to include in the national dialogue agreement the “Rassemblement”, a broad coalition of opposition parties formed in June with a goal of having Kabila leave office when his second term ends on 19 December. Leaders of the National Episcopal Conference of Congo, known by its French acronym CENCO, were asked to mediate between the different key actors in the DRC with the goal of achieving an agreement, and thus avoiding further popular protest and much feared bloodshed. CENCO had initially participated in the national dialogue, but has suspended its involvement after the violent suppression by the government of the 19 September demonstrations against delay in the electoral process which resulted in more than 50 deaths. CENCO did not then sign the 18 October agreement, but agreed to undertake an effort to find a way to reconcile the different political concerns and make the national dialogue inclusive and fully representative of the DRC political spectrum.

The Council schedule on Saturday (12 November) consisted of back-to-back meetings with all the major participants in the current process, running from 7 am to 8.30 pm. Council members met with the following actors:
• Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo and several of his aides;
• President Joseph Kabila and several Cabinet Ministers;
• leaders of CENCO;
• leaders of “Rassemblement”;
• leaders of the Mouvement de Libération du Congo (MLC), which also boycotted
the national dialogue – a party formed by Jean-Pierre Bemba, convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the ICC, and currently serving an
18-year sentence;
• Vital Kamerhe and six other members of the opposition who participated in the
national dialogue;
• leaders of the Presidential Majority, a parliamentary grouping supportive of Kabila; and
• representatives of non-governmental organisations.

In all the meetings, Council members stressed the need to consider the national dialogue as a first step for an agreement that would be inclusive and lead to a fully democratic electoral process. An overarching concern was seeking ways to avoid violent reactions likely to be prompted by the 19 December expiry of Kabila’s second and, under the constitution, last term in office, by establishing a clear, broadly accepted electoral calendar and instilling confidence that Kabila would not seek another term in office.

In meetings with government or pro-government actors, members raised concerns about violent repression of peaceful assembly and demonstrations, violations of freedom of the press (most notably, but not limited to, the jamming of the UN-backed Radio Okapi and Radio France Internationale), and the large number of political prisoners. They called on the government to take confidence-building steps such as lifting media restrictions and releasing political prisoners. In meetings with the opposition, they argued for the need to compromise on both sides of the political divide.

Over the day, Council members made references to points raised in other meetings, conveying messages between the different groups, some of which would not necessarily welcome being in the same room.

At the end of the day, the co-leads, Permanent Representatives Ambassador Ismael Abraão Gaspar Martins (Angola) and Ambassador François Delattre (France), held a press conference attended by several dozen members of the media. They stressed the Council’s resolve to work in the DRC in a preventive way, their eagerness to find solutions for the country that would be consistent with the constitution and ensure a peaceful political transition, and their commitment to on-going engagement with the country and support for its peacekeeping operation, MONUSCO.

Today (13 November), the Council delegation will visit the east of the country with a particular focus on Beni, an area in North Kivu with the highest number of civilians killed by armed groups and the most severe security problems in the country. On Monday, delegation members will hold meetings in Luanda, with President dos Santos and members of the diplomatic community accredited in Angola.