posted on Thu 10 Nov 2016 3:35 PM
Security Council Visiting Mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola

On Friday (11 November), Council members will begin their visiting mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Angola. This will be the Council’s thirteenth visit to the DRC and its fourth to Angola; the most recent Council visiting mission to the DRC occurred in October 2013, while members last went to Angola in June 2003. All but the first visit to Angola (in 1992) were undertaken as part of the Council’s efforts to seek a political solution to the armed conflicts plaguing the DRC.

The Council decided to send the current mission to the DRC amidst growing concerns about a deep political crisis prompted by the delay in the presidential and legislative elections, and fears that the country’s president, Joseph Kabila, intends to stay in office beyond his constitutionally mandated term that will expire on 19 December. The DRC elections had been scheduled for 27 November, yet delays in the start of the electoral process, which would need to include a census to update voter registration, have for months led to deepening suspicions on the part of the opposition and large sectors of the general population that Kabila intends to stay in office beyond the end of his current, second term.

The four-day visiting mission will start in Kinshasa, continue to the eastern part of the country, notably Goma and Beni, where conflict-related violence has been prevalent, with a final day in Luanda. In the DRC, the delegation plans to meet with the President, the Prime Minister, congressional leaders, members of the opposition, and representatives of civil society. In Luanda, the Council plans to hold talks with Angola’s President José Eduardo dos Santos, in his capacity as President of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, as well as with congressional leaders and members of the diplomatic community accredited to Angola.

In undertaking the mission, the Council wants to present the actors on the ground with strong and united messages aimed at helping to work out a compromise that would create a truly inclusive dialogue process leading up to fair, fully democratic elections and a peaceful transfer of power in the DRC. While members have had diverging views on the nature of the crisis and what may or may not constitute undue interference in internal constitutional matters by the Council and other international actors, there seems to be consensus about the need to apply pressure on both the government and the opposition to compromise and find middle ground to end the political impasse.

The visiting mission takes place in the context of rising tensions in the DRC during the past several months over the political future of the country. Although Kabila has so far never publicly revealed his plans, the DRC Constitutional Court on 11 May decided that the constitution permits the president to remain in office until the installation of the newly elected president. With the electoral process failing to start, leading DRC opposition parties formed a coalition named “Rassemblement” in June, with a goal of having Kabila leave office when his second term ends on 19 December.

On 1 September, a national dialogue on elections began with the assistance of an AU-appointed facilitator. The dialogue, however, has only been joined by a few opposition groups and has been boycotted by several of the main opposition groups that formed the “Rassemblement”. On 18 October, participants in the national dialogue on elections signed an agreement on a new electoral calendar. According to this agreement, provincial, parliamentary and presidential elections would be held in April 2018 and Kabila would remain in office until the installation of a newly elected president, while a prime minster from the opposition would be appointed in the interim.

The ICGLR and the Southern African Development Community have expressed support for the agreement. However, several concerns have been raised by other international actors and by the opposition. Particularly sharp criticisms arose from the stipulation that the elections would be postponed by more than a year and a half, and from the fact that nowhere in the agreement is it clear that Kabila would not be a candidate in the elections.

Council members will most likely express concern over recent acts of violence and urge all political parties, their supporters and other political actors to refrain from further violence. During most of this year, members of the political opposition, civil society activists and journalists have been targeted for harassment, threats and arrests. Acts of civil disobedience and peaceful demonstrations have been suppressed, including with deadly violence. A 19 September anti-Kabila rally turned into violent clashes between participants and government forces that over two days claimed several dozens of lives, including four policemen.

The violence at this rally and at other locations in the DRC prompted a 21 September press statement in which Council members expressed deep concern about the violence and urged all political parties, their supporters and other political actors to address their differences peacefully. In the statement, members further called on the Congolese authorities to exercise maximum restraint in responding to protests.

Since the issuance of this statement, government repression has continued. According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, several public political meetings in Kinshasa were suppressed last weekend and at least 32 activists have since been arrested. Over the weekend, the two most listened-to radio outlets in the DRC, the UN-backed Radio Okapi and Radio France Internationale, had their signals jammed in Kinshasa.

Council members will probably express deep preoccupation with the continuing violence in the east of the country. The visit will provide an opportunity to assess the security situation in the DRC and MONUSCO’s ability to implement its mandate in this context. Despite the deployment of what is today the largest and costliest UN peace operation, the DRC has continued to be extremely unstable, with poor governance and, in its vast eastern territory, rampant abuses of the civilian population by combatants on all sides and widespread human rights abuses, including torture, targeted killings and arbitrary arrest.

Members will most likely raise with MONUSCO issues related to accountability for sexual violence perpetrated by peacekeepers, as addressed in Council resolution 2272 of 11 March, as well as challenges to the mission’s application of the human rights due diligence policy.

In Angola, members will primarily want to receive a readout from the 26 October summit meeting of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region and to assess the political and security developments in the region, in particular in the DRC, with a view to engaging with and supporting the ongoing regional efforts related to peace and stability in the DRC. On their part, the members of the Council delegation will present to the Angolan interlocutors the results of their visiting mission to the DRC.

The visiting mission to the DRC may be signalling an intensification of Council engagement with and attention on the DRC. The current dynamics and the concept of the visit appear to be evocative of some of the elements from the initial decade of Council’s DRC engagement—exemplified by annual visits with complex, strategic and far-reaching agendas that included, in addition to fact-finding, elements of mediation, advocacy and intervention. Regardless of what agreements and understandings may be achieved during the mission, the Council’s ongoing close attention in the next period may help bring results on the ground.