The importance of a peaceful transition of power in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Paola Lazcano


The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) (formerly known as Zaire and the Belgian Congo, among other names) gained its independence in 1960. Despite its vast economic resources, in the form of mineral wealth, the extensive country of more than 80 million people has always been plunged into diverse forms of armed conflict and fragmentation, triggered by diverging personal and group agendas, political violence, and ethnic grievances. Thus, to try to understand the roots of the conflict and its development, the DRC can be framed as a perfect case study of the “greed vs. grieve” analysis (though realistically a mixture of greed and grieve is more accurate).

So far in its independent history, the country has never seen a peaceful transition of power. The first free elections in decades took place in 2006 with Joseph Kabila (DRC’s current President) wining the run-off vote. However, both the 2006 and 2011 elections, in which Kabila secured another term, were disrupted by accusations of fraud, armed clashes, and violent protests. Kabila himself first became president in 2001 after his father, was murdered. Laurent Desire Kabila, was the face of the opposition to Mobutu’s regime, and declared himself president when his Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (AFDL) won the First Congo War and Mobutu fled to exile. The AFDL was a Uganda and Rwanda backed coalition established to rally Tutsi minorities targeted by ethnic strife with Hutus and other groups in the country, as well as to destroy Interahamwe successors in DRC. Rebel leaders and DRC’s neighbors, particularly Rwanda and Uganda (which later on stopped supporting Laurent Kabila), have exploited clashes and grievances between ethnicities to further their own group agendas. This has given conflict in the DRC its uniquely complex nature in which a war of identities is a war of interests (including economic) of multiple parties.

Greed has also played its part in the DRC, with rebel groups and sides to the multiple conflicts in the country benefiting from the anarchy to exploit and control the mineral wealth, fuelling the conflict even more. This is the political economy of the war in Congo and some international enterprises have also benefited from this.

President Joseph Kabila has held power in the DRC for almost 18 years. In 2016, the Minister of Communications, Lambert Mende, had finally announced that Kabila would not seek another reelection, but instead would announce whom he would support as presidential candidate. Nevertheless, promptly the communication was revised to leave ambiguity as to whether the president would pursue power once again. With fierce opposition to the President seeking a third term, the elections that were supposed to take place in December 2016 were postponed due to an alleged lack of resources and other major impediments, keeping Kabila in power. This furthered tensions throughout the country and new clashes; however, elections might finally be held this December 2018 without Kabila running again.

What does this election represent for the present and future of the DRC?

On September 23, 2016, British newspaper “The Guardian” published an article by Congolese human rights activist Vava Tampa. In this article, Tampa mentions that “signs that the president wants to remain in office are unsurprising in a country where coups are more common than elections”. This gives us a hint of what this year might represent for the country. Way more than an election, which is sometimes considered as a huge advance towards an idea of democracy, a peaceful transition of power is important because consent and the sense of a single Congolese nation within multiculturalism has never been achieved in the country.

So many coups or attempted coups have taken place precisely because leadership and rule, starting from the colonial times to Mobutu, and to Kabila, have used fragmentation as a tool for elites to assert and maintain their power. Identity (ethnic based) groups through their political and armed factions have consolidated historical interests, ideologies and agendas that classify them and differentiate them from each other. Through war and rivalry their sense of identity and nation-hood has been shaped. This represents a huge challenge for democracy in a country with more than 200 ethnic groups and languages.

If the 2018 election is generally perceived as transparent and credible, a peaceful transition may have a chance. Nevertheless, such a diverse country depends on alliances to construct a serious opposition to Kabila’s chosen candidate, the Minister of the Interior Emmanuel Ramazani. Opposition is, yet, very divided, as strong opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba was not allowed to register as candidate (Bemba is a former warlord convicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity, whose sentence was overturned in 2018). A plurality of candidates strengthens Ramazani position. This, along with the use of electronic voting machines, has already raised serious concerns for people who believe the election can and will be rigged.

Any lack of credibility in the election, mixed with the opposition candidates’ invitation to their followers to be present at polling polls and to ensure that the election is fair, might spark violent clashes between parties on and after Election Day (particularly once the results are published).

Thus, an election will not support the DRC’s transition into a positive peace without a national project, without changing course.


Tampa, Vava (2016, September 23). No DRC Leader gives up power peacefully, so why would Joseph Kabila? Retrieved 26 November 2018, from The Guardian International Edition website: Documento en línea

Soi, Catherine (2018, October 2). DR Congo election concerns over vote rigging. Retrieved 26 November 2018, from Aljazeera website: Documento en línea

BBC News (2018, August 25). Jean-Pierre Bemba “cannot run for DRC President”. Retrieved 5 December 2018, from BBC News website: Documento en línea

Fecha de publicación: 14/12/2018