Congo Risks More Violence Amid Politics Deadlock, Group Says

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  • Crisis Group warns of more unrest if no political consensus
  • UN peacekeeping chief this week warned of ‘tipping point’

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s political stalemate and economic downturn are increasing the risk of violence in Africa’s biggest copper-producer, the International Crisis Group said.

With the end of President Joseph Kabila’s second term approaching and “the absence of a consensus agreement, the risk of further violent confrontation increases,” the Brussels-based group said in a report released Thursday.

The warning comes in the wake of fatal clashes between security forces and protesters in the capital in September. This week, the head of the 18,000-strong United Nations mission in Congo said the crisis is approaching a “tipping point” and the UN may be unable to protect the population.

Congo, a source of key minerals including cobalt and tantalum, has never had a peaceful transition of power. Kabila, who’s ruled since 2001, was due to step down in December after a vote scheduled for Nov. 27. The country’s electoral body has said the poll can’t be held before November 2018 as new voters must be registered. While some political parties have joined African Union-facilitated talks on a Kabila-led interim administration, most of the opposition is boycotting, insisting that he step down when his second term ends Dec. 19.

September Violence

Opposition demonstrations on Sept. 19 turned violent as protesters clashed with security forces and buildings were torched in the capital, Kinshasa, leaving at least 53 people dead, including four police officers, according to the UN.

Congo’s government on Tuesday put the death toll at 32 and defended the actions of the security forces, blaming the deaths on “criminal” elements within the opposition that sought to destabilize the country. “The insurrection was planned,” Interior Minister Evariste Boshab told reporters in Kinshasa.

“Actors on all sides appear more and more willing to resort to violence to achieve their ends,” Maman Sidikou, the head of the UN peacekeeping force in Congo, told the Security Council in New York on Tuesday. “The tipping point towards grave violence could arrive very rapidly.”

The main opposition coalition has vowed more protests until Kabila agrees to step down, a call it intensified after authorities on Sunday arrested the deputy secretary-general of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress for his role in organizing September’s demonstrations.

Falls in the prices of copper, oil and other key exports have reduced the Congolese government’s revenue, raising pressure on the local currency and driving up inflation. The franc has fallen 22 percent on the black market since the end of last year, reaching 1,197 to the dollar at the start of October, undermining purchasing power in Congo’s largely impoverished cities and increasing popular frustration, according to the Crisis Group.

“As in past periods of popular revolt, there is now a merging political crisis and economic downturn,” it said.