Congo Hits Back After Botswana Blames President for Crisis

Updated on
  • Protests, violence have flared as Kabila remains in office
  • Botswana’s claims the most strident yet from an African nation

Joseph Kabila, center,  in Kinshasa on April 5, 2017. 

Photographer: Junior D. Kannah/AFP via Getty Images

The Democratic Republic of Congo reacted angrily to Botswana’s claim that President Joseph Kabila’s decision to remain in power is stoking instability in the vast central African nation.

Congo’s communications minister dismissed as “nonsense” Monday’s comments from Botswana, which represented the most strident criticism yet of Kabila by an African government. It comes as militia violence flares in Congo’s restive east, exacerbating countrywide insecurity that’s forced 5 million people from their homes.

Botswana shouldn’t interfere in Congo’s internal affairs, Lambert Mende said by phone from the capital, Kinshasa, accusing its government of “trying to please some powerful friends.” The European Union, U.S. and Switzerland have imposed travel bans and asset freezes on Kabila allies including Mende for alleged rights abuses and blocking the electoral process.

Kabila, who’s ruled since 2001, was due to step down at the end of his second term in December 2016 after the election of a successor. The vote was postponed and Kabila has remained in office, sparking regular protests in which dozens of people have been killed by security forces. Kabila’s perceived illegitimacy has also become a rallying cry for some eastern militias, while conflict in the central Kasai region has claimed thousands of lives since August 2016.

‘Lost Control’

The statement from Botswana’s Ministry of International Affairs said Congo has a “worsening humanitarian situation mainly because its leader has persistently delayed the holding of elections, and has lost control over the security of his country.” It said the international community should “put more pressure” on Congo’s leadership to relinquish power.

Congo “condemns this way of behaving from a partner and member state” of the Southern African Development Community, its Foreign Affairs Ministry said later Tuesday. The country is “resolutely engaged” in holding elections now scheduled for December and the process is “irreversible,” it said.

Opposition parties are split over whether to support that timetable for the presidential and parliamentary votes. Kabila is barred from running again, but opponents accuse him of planning to alter the constitution and renew his mandate.

The electoral commission will ask political parties to nominate their presidential candidates later this year, Mende said. “This is when the world will know whether Kabila is standing or not.”

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