Congo’s Government Appoints Commissioners to Run Provinces

President Joseph Kabila appointed special commissioners to govern 21 new provinces in the Democratic Republic of Congo until elections can be held, in what critics describe as part of a strategy by the ruling party to retain power.

The president, in a decree issued Thursday, also nominated two deputies in each province to manage political and economic affairs.

Congo, the world’s largest cobalt miner and Africa’s biggest copper producer, plans to hold a series of elections over the next year culminating in a presidential vote in November 2016. Provincial governors were scheduled to be elected through indirect polls in October, but the votes were delayed.

Kabila’s administration has said the special commissioners are temporary, though it hasn’t given a new date for gubernatorial elections. It has justified the move as a response to a ruling by the Constitutional Court in September that the government could take “exceptional measures” to maintain stability and security in the new provinces.

The new provinces were created in July, when the country’s 11 administrative regions were divided into 26. The decentralization process is outlined in the 2006 constitution, though Kabila only ordered its implementation in March.

Votes to elect new provincial assemblies scheduled for Oct. 25 were also missed. The government hasn’t provided a reason.

Government opponents including Vital Kamerhe of the Union for the Congolese Nation have said the decentralization process and the congested election schedule are intended to create confusion and delays that will allow Kabila to hold on to power next year beyond the end of his second and final term, according to the constitution.

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