DRC June 2017

Kabila looking increasingly isolated as regional players withdraw support

President Joseph Kabila (2001-present) is increasingly isolated among key regional allies, including Angola, due to the ongoing political instability and suspected delays to the electoral process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Angola, the primary regional supporter of Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) president, Joseph Kabila (2001-present), appears to be withdrawing support. Kabila relies on the support of regional allies to retain power, and Angola withdrawing support would be a major blow for the regime’s stability. During the First Congo War (1996-1997) and the Second Congo War (1998-2003) neighbouring countries played a major role in the unseating of DRC leaders Mobutu Sese Seko (1965-1997) and the current president’s father, Laurent Kabila (1998-2001). Angolan president Jose Eduardo dos Santos (1970-present) is Joseph Kabila’s longest standing ally, however it has begun to express frustration with the president. 1 Angolan foreign minister Georges Chitoki publicly questioned a statement by the DRC government on 30 May that the conflict in the Kasai-Central region, which borders Angola, had been resolved:

"On one side, we are told that the question of the succession of the kingdom of Kasai has been resolved, on the other, we (still) see people who arrive (in Angola) having been treated badly.” 2

Angola withdrew military training support for the DRC military in December 2016, and has backed calls for an international investigation into the Kasai conflict by the United Nations (UN), which the DRC government openly opposes.3 The conflict has led to thousands of refugees fleeing to Angola. Angola still criticises sanctions by the United States (US) on senior figures in the Kabila administration, but has voted for harsher UN measures from its seat on the UN Security Council (UNSC).4 Other senior figures within Angola are now speaking out against Kabila. Sindike Dokolo, the husband of Isabel dos Santos, the president’s powerful daughter, and a DRC citizen told the media on 21 June that he urged the Catholic Church and student leaders to mobilise against Kabila.5 While he said he was commenting as a private DRC citizen, his proximity to the president means that the comments were sanctioned by the state. He justified his call, saying that:

"We underestimate Congo's capacity to destabilise the region…we are playing with matches on a barrel of explosives and that worries me a lot."

Other African countries are hesitant to publicly criticise DRC, as it sets a precedent for increased internal interference in African affairs. However, senior former African leaders issued a statement on 16 June calling on Kabila to organise elections within 2017.6 Nine former heads of state including former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, former South African president Thabo Mbeki (1999-2007), former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo (1999-2007) and former presidents of Ghana, Benin, Tanzania, Botswana, Cabo Verde and Mauritius.7 The statement said that the DRC political situation:

“represents a threat to the stability, prosperity and peace of the Great Lakes region, and indeed for Africa as a whole.” 8

The wider international community continues to criticise the Kabila regime. The UN started an investigation into violence and alleged war crimes in Kasai-Central province perpetrated by both the Kamuina Nsapu Militia and the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) on 23 June.9 The DRC government opposed the investigation, but at the last minute told the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) that it would support it, provided the DRC justice system oversaw the outcomes of the investigation.10 The influential Roman Catholic leadership group, the Conférence Épiscopale Nationale Congolaise (Cenco), released a report on 18 June claiming at least 3,500 people had died in the region since June 2016, and accusing both sides of committing war crimes including the mutilation of infants.11

A shift in foreign policy by Angola towards DRC would represent a fundamental rebalancing of power within the region. Without the support of the Angolan administration, Kabila is highly vulnerable to other regional powers that are less friendly to his cause, notably Rwanda and Uganda. Angola appears to have run out of patience within Kabila to keep the country under control. The lack of support is weakening Kabila’s position already – hence the last minute support for the UN investigation into the Kasai conflict, that Angola backed. As the deadline for organising elections at the end of the year draws closer, Angola may apply further pressure for the president to step down. However, its primary concern is stability – not democracy – meaning that it could support a handover without an election. The other option is Angolan disinterest, meaning that Kabila could not count on support if, like in the 1990s, the FARDC turns against him and starts pillaging in the capital. This worsens the security outlook for businesses in DRC.

1. [Jeune Afrique, 21 Jun 2017.]
2. [RFI, 30 May 2017.]

3. [Jeune Afrique, 21 Jun 2017.]

4. [RFI, 30 May 2017.]

5. [Jeune Afrique, 21 Jun 2017.]

6. [Kofi Annan Foundation, 16 Jun 2017.]

7. [Kofi Annan Foundation, 16 Jun 2017.]

8. [Kofi Annan Foundation, 16 Jun 2017.]

9. [Reuters, 23 Jun 2017.]

10. [Reuters, 23 Jun 2017.]

11. [Radio Okapi, 18 Jun 2017.]

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