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DR Congo president Joseph Kabila may remain in power past his constitutionally mandated two-term limit if the December election is delayed, say Jason Stearns of the Congo Research Group and Kambale Musavuli of Friends of the Congo

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SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo has expelled Jason Stearns, the Director of the Congo Research Group at New York University. He was expelled after he published a report linking Congo’s army to the massacre of civilians. Stearns was also quoted in a Bloomberg article about the Panama Papers concerning the holdings of the President’s sister Janet Kabila.  Joining us now to unpack the situation in the DRC is Jason Sterns the researcher who was just expelled from the country and Kambale Musavuli. Jason Stearns is CIC senior fellow and Director of the Congo Research Group at New York University as I said and he’s also a former coordinator of the UN Panel of Experts on the Congo. And Kambale Musavuli is the Student Coordinator and national spokesperson for the Friends of the Congo. I thank you both for joining me today. JASON STEARNS: Thank you. KAMBALE MUSAVULI: Thank you. PERIES: So Jason let me begin with you. I mentioned your reports that you have made recently but why do you think you were expelled from the Congo? STEARNS: It’s a bit difficult to tell to be honest with you. I had a long sit down with senior intelligence officials, government officials, and they mentioned several things. They were not happy with the report that we put out on Beni which is where the massacres took place. As you said we said that certain members of the Congolese army were involved in these massacres. They were also not happy in general with some of the research that I have been conducting in the DRC related to the very contentious election process that is currently going on. So they never said we are expelling you for reasons 1, 2, and 3. They just said they were not happy with several of the things that I had been doing.  They never mentioned the Panama Papers to me although that has been mentioned in the press and by several other contacts in the Congolese government. So it’s not entirely clear. It’s also frustrating to me that the reasons that they gave, their understanding in particular of the report that we put out on Beni does not reflect actually the contents of our report. We don’t say the Congolese government was responsible for the massacres. That’s their accusation against us. We simply say that certain members were involved and the Congolese government should investigate. PERIES: And Kambale do you have some context here in terms of what these incidents are and other thing going on in the country leading up to the elections at the end of the year? Tell us why this is happening? MUSAVULI: It’s hard to know why it’s happening. But the report that the Congo Research Group published is really important because the locals for years have been screaming for help around what’s happening there. We’ve had people that we know personally who have been killed in the region, even family members who have been killed there. Every time killings have happened in and around Beni, every time the local population has always shared with us that they do not believe that this is being committed by a rebel called ADF; the Ugandan rebel group in the Congo who some people connect them to Islamic extremists.  So to see the report coming and saying yes we do have a couple crimes committed by ADF. But now all those crimes being committed there is being committed by ADF. Some Congolese soldiers are implicating those killings. Just to even make it even much more personal a colleague of mine with whom we cofounded the website was just assessing the military weeks ago, where 4 soldiers of the Congolese army [inaud.] at 1 am at night and shot them dead. His last words were why are you killing me, from what we hear there. So the killing has been targeted. The people have called for an investigation of those killings. But there’s been a lack of political will on the part of the Congolese government to really investigate what is happening. This a symptom of a government that lacks legitimacy.  That because of the lack of legitimacy of the government, they are perpetuating the conflict for reasons I’m going to point out. One there is a lack of trust on the part of the Congolese population. I mentioned there is a lack of political will to address the issue of this on the part of the Congolese government. As you can see they use military force against population protesters in the Congo. Not the same force to actually stop the rebel group and there is a lack of capacity to integrate former rebels into the Congolese army. And the last one that I will say that is really a symptom of this government is the lack of leadership to exercise authority in those territory where we see now even local communities are localizing security forces and they are also perpetuating the conflict. PERIES: Now Jason the constitution as it stands prohibits Kabila from running for another term. So obviously all these incidents that we are talking about are a lead up to that. Is there any possibility that the extension can be done in terms of his ability to run again in an election, can be done by way of a constitutional amendment like other countries have done? STEARN: So I think that first of all to set the context a little bit, elections that are supposed to be held at the latest, the results are supposed to be made available at the latest by December this year. So it Kabila could step down. These are extremely critical for the consolidation of peace in the Congo. These would be potentially the first time ever in the Congo’s history that there would’ve been a democratic peaceful transfer of executive power. First time ever a standing President would stand down after democratic elections and hand over to another President. That’s the context and I think given the fact that the country’s coming out of two decades of war, that’s an extremely important moment for the country. That’s just to give you the context.  It’s now clear that it is almost impossible given to the new delays in the electoral process for elections to be held by the end of this year in a transparent fashion the way they’re supposed to be. The main contention, the main problem here is that the electoral rolls, the voting register that includes all of the names of the people who are supposed to vote needs to be revised and redone. It’s chalk full of irregularities and that’s going to be very difficult to do by the end of this year. So we’re looking at an extension. We’re looking at a prolongation. Kabila is not allowed to stay in power according to the constitution for longer than that.  Not only that but article 220 of the Congolese constitution actually bars him from changing the clause that only allows him to stand for 2 mandates. So he is hemmed in, his hands are tied constitutionally. It’s very difficult for him to change the constitution in order to get another term in office. Now there is a legal, you could say, tug of war going on in the Congo over the interpretation of what happens if elections cannot happen by the 19th of December. What happens on the 20th of December if you do not have a new elected President? The allies of President Kabila say that the constitution says that he can stay in power until a new President is elected. The opponents and I would say the preponderates of legal analysts in the Congo say that no it in fact he is bound to step down and it would then be the President of the Senate who would take over and the elections would have to be held at the latest, 90 days afterwards. So we’re in this phase now of turmoil, of legal haranguing, of in-fighting within both the ruling coalition as well in particular with the opposition. Very uncertain where this is going to all end up. PERIES: And Kambale what options do the Congolese people have in terms of their elections and is there a way in which they can be voiced in terms of upholding the constitution here? MUSAVULI: The Congolese people have been very active to let the current government know the satisfaction. We can look at last year in January 2015 where young Congolese mobilize in the capital city of Kinshasa to stop the Congolese government for specifically the parliament for introducing an electoral law that will have mad Kabila stay for longer. They wanted to introduce a law that will call for a consensus before the Presidential election. But the people went to the streets. Hundreds to say, thousands went to the streets and shut down the city for about 2 weeks. So seeing that, it’s clear that the people are rising up and will continue to do so. They did the same earlier this year with different activities taking place. Soccer games, Congo winning, letting the President know that we know that your mandate is over and mobilizing more.  The challenge that the people are going to face is, they’re facing a regime that is not afraid to kill its own people. They will deploy military to shoot up peaceful protesters. So that’s my biggest fear is how the rising of the Congolese people, of the Congolese population, as they face military force that will stop them from rising up. How can we provide them with support? By shining the light on the story as we are doing now. We’re letting the media know and people around the world know how critical 2016 is for the Congolese people. As we say it is the new dawn for the Congolese youth. I believe they will succeed. PERIES: Kambale what other leadership are there in terms of the upcoming elections and who can stand for legitimate elections and the political ambitions of some of the people in the country? MUSAVULI: You’re asking me a very difficult question. To name names of people who can lead the country. Believe more so in the process. We need to have a transparent process. Same thing here in the United States where we have Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton going out speaking to the American people about why they should be President of the United States. Similar things need to happen. We have politicians on the ground who are active. But I want to see them go to villages. I want to see them go to communities in the Congo talking to the people about why they should support them. So we still fighting to have a process. There are leaders in Congo. But they have an unfair advantage as the system has some models that may make it hard for representative government but we can achieve that. PERIES: Jason Stearns, Kambale Musavuli, thank you so much for joining us today and we’ll keep following this story and I hope you join us. And Jason I hope you sort out your visa and return as soon as possible. Thanks for joining us. STEARNS: Thank you. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.  


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A native of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is a leading political and cultural Congolese voice. Based in Accra, Ghana, he is a policy analyst with the Center for Research on the Congo-Kinshasa.

Jason Stearns is Director of the RVI's Usalama Project, which documents armed groups in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Jason has worked in the DRC since September 2001, when he volunteered at a Bukavu human rights organization, Héritiers de la Justice (Heirs of Justice). He went on to work for the International Human Rights Law Group and the United Nations peacekeeping operation, MONUC.