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  October 18, 2016

Opposition Calls for a General Strike As Congolese President Wins Election Delay

The usually bustling streets of the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital were mostly empty on Wednesday as the opposition has called for a general strike after the president was awarded a two-year election delay
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Maurice Carney is a co-founder and Executive Director of the Friends of the Congo. He has fought with Congolese for over twenty years in their struggle for human dignity and control of their country.  Mr. Carney worked with civic associations in West Africa providing training on research methodology and survey. He served as the interim Africa working group coordinator for Reverend Jesse Jackson while he was Special Envoy to Africa.   He has provided analysis on the Congo for Al Jazeera, ABC News, Democracy Now, Real News Network, Pambazuka News, All Africa News, and a host of other media outlets.


JAISAL NOOR, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.

In news from the Democratic Republic of Congo, the majority of opposition parties have called for a general strike on Wednesday after the Constitutional Court agreed to delay the presidential elections set for November. The ruling allows, in principle, for President Joseph Kabila to remain in office till April 2018. Kabila was due to step down in December when his two term mandate expires and his opponents say they fear he intends to first prolong his term in office and then change the constitution to enable himself to run again. Most opposition parties have boycotted the talks between government and opposition and call for a general strike to put pressure on Kabila. There are likely to be further angered because the court appeared to breach its own quorum rules in reaching Monday’s decision.

Well now joining us to discuss this from Vancouver is Maurice Carney. Maurice is the Executive Director and cofounder of the Friends of the Congo.

Thanks so much for joining us.

MAURICE CARNEY: It’s a pleasure to be with you today.

NOOR: So we wanted to start off by getting your response to the decision of Congo’s high courts delaying the election and the opposition has called for a general strike on Wednesday.

CARNEY: In regard to the Constitutional Court, accepting a case from the Independent Electoral Commission where it basically ruled that President Kabila - it basically ruled that elections can be delayed through 2018. The ruling is predictable. No one is surprised at the ruling. Probably what some people are surprised at is the way it unfolded in that there are 9 members on the Congo Constitutional Court. In order for you to take up the case, you have to meet a minimum of 7, a quorum. Earlier, over the weekend, I believe 6 judges were prepare to rule but there wasn’t a quorum and then another judged dropped out so only 5 could be gathered.

The Constitutional Court make an [extra disciplinary] decision by basically saying that this situation is urgent, therefore we don’t have to meet a quorum and 5 judges are going to rule on whether or not the elections can be delayed, which is preposterous. It violates its own regulations in order to lay down and dictate that pretty much everyone knows is coming from the presidency. This all happened at the same time that the dialogue that President Joseph Kabila initiated with a small faction of the opposition forces inside the Congo because the bulk of the opposition forces boycotted his dialogue. The dialogue that was facilitated by Edem Kodjo of Togo, came to a conclusion yesterday as well.

So it seemed like this was orchestrated where you had a dialogue coming into a conclusion and basically the dialogue says that the results of the dialogue are President Kabila can stay in power beyond December 19th, until elections are organized, presumably in April 2018 and that came right around – on the same day that the Supreme Court ruled that Independent Electoral Commission could actually bypass December 19th of this year and hold elections in 2018.

NOOR: And it was less than a month ago that there was widespread violence against the opposition by the Congolese military. Something like at least 32 people were killed. There’s footage of the opposition headquarters being burned across the country. The opposition is calling for a general strike tomorrow and we have footage of the violence and we’re going to be playing it. How strong is the opposition right now? Because the Congolese government has shown willingness to use violence to crack down on it.

CARNEY: Yea that’s been the pattern of the Congolese government. January 2015 when the youth rose up in the streets. They killed about 4 dozen of the youth and that is the Joseph Kabila’s security forces. Then on September 19th and 20th of this year, according to the United Nations, some 50 people were killed by Joseph Kabila’s security forces. Hundreds were injured and even more were arrested. So the Kabila regime, even though it initiated dialogue, what it has done, is it has talked on the one hand with a small wing of the opposition and it has fought on the other hand with a larger wing of the opposition that have gone into the streets to demonstrate that have held and organized general strikes like the one we’re going to see tomorrow.

So one can say he successfully divided the opposition to date because one of the key figures that is in the dialogue with Joseph Kabila is Vital Kamerhe. Many believe that if he had not joined President Kabila in the dialogue, then the dialogue would’ve been DOA, dead on arrival. So because now you have Vital Kamerhe being in the dialogue with Joseph Kabila and you have the African Union and even the United Nations, applauding the signing of the dialogue yesterday, Joseph Kabila has won a small victory to date. The small victory was successfully signing the dialogue that’s supported by the African Union and supported by the United Nations, dividing the opposition where he had a small segment of the opposition on his side and also by virtue of his solidifying those elements and getting the Supreme Court to put a stamp of approval on it. However, a flaw that stamp of approval of theirs, he now has that legitimacy that he can take beyond December 19th.

Now the key factor and the wild card is really the Congolese people. How they’re going to respond. The Congolese people are the last line of defense. Because really the institutions, the Independent Electoral Commission, the Constitutional Court, they’re really instruments for Kabila to use as he sees fit. So whatever decisions that are made that come out of those institutions is basically predictable. But what is not predictable is how the nature and the scope of the response that we’re going to see from the Congolese people. Between now and December 19th, that’s going to be put to the test. The Congolese people are going to rise to the level to resist Joseph Kabila, for all intents and purposes installing a dictatorship against the will of the people.

That’s really what it comes down to. That’s really what’s at stake right now. This is critical, not only for the Congo but for the region and the continent as a whole. Especially considering Congo’s significance on the African continent and as things unfold in the Congo, they tend to reverberate throughout the continent. So if you look where Congo is in the region, in Central Africa, you have Burundi, you have Rwanda, you have Uganda, you have Republic of Congo. They’ve all had presidents who’ve entrenched themselves and the big question is, would Joseph Kabila be successful in doing that himself and consolidating power much like the presidents in the neighborhood.

NOOR: And it’s worth mentioning that throughout Congo’s history, since its independence, it’s not had a peaceful transition of power and you mentioned that the UN and the African Union signed off on this so called dialogue as you said. But we know the European Union foreign minister said on Monday they’d prepare economic sanctions against Congo. What should the role of the US be? Because we know they were lobbyist here, Congolese lobbyist on behalf of the Congolese government, lobbying against economic sanctions over the past month saying they would not be productive. What should the US role be right now?

CARNEY: Yea the stakes are very high and a lot of this is playing out in Washington. Not by accident because since Patrice Lumumba, since the United States overthrew Lumumba who was subsequently assassinated, no leader has risen to power in the Congo without the backing of the United States. So Congolese politicians are keenly aware of this. So you see for example, one of the main figures who is now in the opposition, a former ally of Joseph Kabila, Morris Katumbi hiring a lobby firm in Washington to lobby on his behalf. We see Joseph Kabila himself recently hiring a lobby firm I believe about $875,000 to hire the BGI group. It’s a lobbying firm here in Washington that’s founded by Hailey Barber, former Republican Governor of Mississippi.

So you see a number of Congolese politicians being paraded around Washington. In fact, both the head of the Independent Electoral Commission and one of Kabila’s major diplomatic advisors were at the Atlantic council just last week. So you have a situation where these lobbying firms representing different Congolese factions are vying for or positioning themselves to get the United States to either accelerate the price that it is putting on Joseph Kabila and members of his regime. Or slow it down a bit.

So right now the US is moving slowly. It’s sanctioned a couple or 3 individuals within Kabila’s regime. But you have the members of the US senate, members of the house are calling for more sanctions. But let’s be clear. The United States has been and to a large extent, remains a part of the problem because the United States welcomed Kabila in 2001 when he took over from his father. Without the stamp of approval of the United States, Kabila would not have been president of the Congo at that time. The United States reported Kabila in 2006 when they had the first elections. The United States, there’s a report that was published by the International Crisis Group, I believe around 2007 or so where it’s entitled Congo consolidating the peace. It lays out the role the United States played in basically laying out the structure so that Joseph Kabila will almost certainly become president of the Congo in 2006. Again in 2011 when Kabila cheated, changed the constitution and appropriated elections, elections that were fraudulent. United States endorsed those elections as well.

So as the Washington [Post editorial board] stated earlier this spring, the US has been part of the problem from the jump. And even today within the region, the US has been reluctant to pressure its allies who have done what Kabila’s trying to do right now. For example, in Uganda with Yoweri Museveni, been in power for over 30 years. Paul Kagame who wins elections at 95 and 93% of the votes and just had a referendum that would extend his stay in power indefinitely and the US has been almost silent or [tipped] in its response to these neighboring countries. So Kabila probably rightly believes, well if you are doing the same for Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, why not allow me to manipulate the instruments of the state so that I can remain in power.

So the US has been a part of the problem even though they’re giving lip service and they’re maybe sanctioning individuals right now. But it may be too little too late because what we see is a consolidating around Kabila from the African Union, even the UN and next week the Southern African Development Community, SADC, will be meeting in Luanda Angola and they’re likely to come on board and support and endorse the dialogue that was signed off on yesterday and used as a legitimate argument for keeping Kabila in power, the Constitutional Court ruling that says that elections can be delayed as was requested by the Independent Electoral Commission.

NOOR: Alright Maurice Carney, thanks so much for that report. We look forward to having you on again. We’ll give a recap of what happens on Wednesday. The opposition has called for a general strike and also we’re going to discuss a little bit of what you talked about, the US relationship to Paul Kagame because it was in the WikiLeaks emails of John Podesta that had been released recently and it hasn’t gotten much discussion so we’re going to have you on back again soon to talk about all that and more. Thanks so much.

CARNEY: Absolutely, love to discuss that. Those emails basically validate what has been known in public for a very long time. So it’s good to see that’s what been discussed in private actually coming to light and that may help to indicate to the American public, how deeply involved US government and US officials are in the affairs of the Great Lakes region of Africa.

NOOR: Alright, for our viewers we’ll have that segment coming up soon. Thank you so much for joining us.


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