KINSHASA, Congo — Protests in the Congo have turned violent in the capital city, Kinshasa, in response to the possibility of a national census, which if carried out, would delay the expected 2016 presidential elections and keep President Joseph Kaliba in office.
Human rights organizations have said that the protests against the proposed census have been violently suppressed by the police. There have been reports that the police have used live ammunition and dozens are dead but the government has disputed these claims. There have also been reports of looting of shops and offices perceived to support the government.
Clashes have been reported throughout the country, in particular in the eastern city of Goma at the Katindo military camp and at the vice governor’s office.
Protestors throughout the city have created barricades with burning tires and thrown stones while security forces have been firing shots into the air and utilizing tear gas. One protestor has said that the presidential guards, who are expected to manage the protests, have supported the police.
Human Rights Watch has reported excessive use of force from the police and government against the demonstrators. The organization has also seen police and Republican Guard soldiers taking away shot bodies in efforts to hide evidence of killings.
Internet connections and text messaging services were blocked by the government although fixed-line Internet connections were later restored.
Proposed legislation has provoked protest due to the difficulty of conducting a national census in the country. The census would take many years to be fully carried out, essentially allowing President Kaliba to bypass the constitutional limit of two terms and remain in office until after the census would be completed. Now, the senate has unanimously voted to remove the census provision from the election law draft that had passed the lower chamber, the House of Representatives. The amended law no longer requires a census to be held before elections in 2016.
Following the cooldown of the clashes, opposition leaders have called for the release of protestors still detained. According to a government spokesman, approximately 400 people were arrested and 100 were released immediately.
The protests have exposed rifts within Mr. Kabila’s ruling coalition and inspired the opposition, increasing the likelihood of unrest during election time. However, while Mr. Kabila’s attempt to continue presidency has been a point for rallying all of the Congo, that universal support is expected to evaporate as the intentions of President Kabila and his possible successors becomes clearer.
This is especially concerning for the opposition group as the outcry against President Kabila’s actions does not necessarily imply support for their group or the eventual candidate they chose to support.
For now, this burst of violence has abated but much more could happen in the future as the president’s coalition and the opposition prepare for the elections in 2016.
– William Ying