Time for Concerted Action in DR Congo

What’s the issue? President Joseph Kabila’s apparent determination to remain in power threatens to prolong the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) political stalemate. Having subverted the December 2016 Saint Sylvester agreement that set out a path toward elections, the regime is increasingly confident while the opposition grows weaker and more divided.

  • Why does it matter? The DRC is already among the world’s worst humanitarian crises. Violence has been intensifying across several provinces and the risk of further escalation is high. A rapid implosion would have dire consequences for stability in the DRC and its neighbours.

  • What should be done? Western and regional powers need to redouble efforts to encourage a peaceful transition. The recently-announced electoral calendar provides an opening for reinvigorated international engagement, ideally behind the Saint Sylvester principles. The Congolese opposition and civil society should engage in, not boycott, the political process.

Executive Summary

The political impasse in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues, and violence has been rising in several provinces throughout 2017. Yet the regime of President Joseph Kabila appears determined to stay in power by postponing elections. It has outmanoeuvred the opposition and international actors alike. The blockage carries grave dangers for Congolese and regional stability; the longer the crisis drags on, the harder it will be to pick up the pieces. To minimise these risks, Western and African powers need to overcome their inertia and forge consensus on how to pressure President Kabila. Revising international coordination mechanisms for the DRC could help. A joint Western and African approach should focus on advancing election preparations based on the recently published electoral calendar while actively pushing to open political space and eventually establish the confidence necessary to carry out a credible and peaceful vote and to maintain stability in its aftermath.

Since the signing of the 31 December 2016 Saint Sylvester agreement, which stipulated that elections should occur in 2017 and that President Kabila should leave power, the regime has dug in, weakening the opposition through attrition. In contravention of the agreement, it now controls the government and the agreement’s national oversight committee, as well as the electoral commission. It has no grand strategy for staying in power, nor does it need one. The Kabila regime’s control of state finances and key institutions, the opposition’s weakness following the death of its historic leader, Etienne Tshisekedi, and dwindling international attention have allowed it to subvert the agreement’s implementation.

Although the opposition coalition platform, the Rassemblement, has remained relatively coherent, it is weak and has been losing traction with a restless population. It is now calling for the establishment of a transitional government without Kabila at the end of 2017, an outcome that has no chance of occurring. The opposition’s weakness along with the regime’s repressive tactics has opened space for armed groups. Insurgencies, massive prison breaks, and vicious or clumsy security force reactions have all grown throughout 2017. There are tentative signs that armed groups are attempting to coordinate their positions, which could become a serious threat to the region’s stability. At least ten provinces now are in the grip of armed conflict, resulting in one of the world’s most complex and challenging humanitarian crises. Neighbours, particularly Angola and the Republic of Congo, are worried by renewed or potential refugee surges into their territory. It is a vicious cycle: as the government’s grip on power loosens, it increasingly uses heavy-handed tactics and disregards the rule of law while invoking the unrest to justify election delays, all of which only further fuels discontent.

The electoral commission, after months of delay, finally has produced its electoral calendar, with presidential polls now scheduled for 23 December 2018 – a full year beyond the Saint Sylvester deadline. Left on its own, the government is likely to drag out electoral preparations even longer. International actors have been unwilling to engage more actively, partly out of frustration at the parties’ intransigence, partly due to their own differences over how to pressure the government. Many Western powers have become more critical of the regime, with the European Union (EU) and U.S. sanctioning nearly two dozen officials. In contrast, African heads of state generally have acquiesced as the government violates the spirit and terms of the Saint Sylvester agreement and tend to dismiss Western sanctions as ineffectual. Although neither Western nor African powers hold homogenous views, these broad divides allow the government to forum shop and portray pressure as a form of neo-colonialism. The sheer number of actors involved, including a multitude of regional organisations, adds to the problem.

The starting point is for both Western and African powers to recognise that the direction in which President Kabila is driving the country poses the gravest threat to its stability, notwithstanding the uncertainty that a transition would bring. Even if many believe the current regime is highly unlikely to willingly leave power, working toward elections and a more open political environment remains vital. International actors share an interest in holding President Kabila to the Saint Sylvester deal’s main principles – notably the effective organisation of elections, no constitutional amendment to allow President Kabila to remain in office and an opening of political space and respect for human rights – which still offer the best route out of the crisis.

Behind closed doors, African leaders recognise the dangers, but the forces of inertia are more complex to overcome. The result: continued public support for Kabila on the continent provides his regime breathing space. Western powers should redouble efforts to overcome differences with their African counterparts, listening to their concerns and, for now, refraining from further sanctions. Even united, it would not be easy for Western and regional powers to nudge Kabila toward a transition and the DRC out of its current predicament; divided, the prospects are close to zero.

One option to reinvigorate and sustain regional and international diplomacy around the DRC would be to set up a smaller group of envoys, composed of the institutions that have initiated the group of experts for electoral support – the African Union (AU), UN, la Francophonie, EU and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) – preferably along with the U.S. Ideally, then, a consensus position would involve active African and Western diplomacy to promote the following:

  • Adherence to the electoral timeline and a transparent elections budget. The recent publication of a feasible timeline – one that gives the opposition time to organise ahead of polls – is an opportunity for active engagement. International actors involved in electoral preparations, including the UN as well as regional groups and the EU, should monitor adherence to the calendar and warn against unjustified slippage. The government and electoral commission (CENI) should make it a priority to clarify and detail the funding of the process. The CENI should also rapidly clarify the financial and operational impact of its proposed semi-digital vote. Any option proposed should include a thorough and open assessment of its impact on the timing of elections. Parliament urgently needs to adopt relevant electoral legislation. Electoral legislation as well as other legal initiatives should avoid restricting political space.

  • Implementation of previously agreed confidence-building measures. The government should establish a credible process to assess the legality and validity of the prosecution of several opposition leaders. It also should allow peaceful political protest, party activity and free media reporting. International actors, including regional ones, should pressure the government to this end. Recent initiatives, such as a restrictive law on civil society, run counter to the spirit of the Saint Sylvester and will hamper the transparency of the electoral process.

  • Opposition parties’ intensified engagement in the process. Rather than boycotting talks or refusing to engage on key issues such as the electoral calendar, opposition figures should intensify their engagement in the process, including by actively challenging the regime’s manipulation of the judiciary. The opposition should transform its narrative and address key social and economic questions, proving their relevance to a restive citizenry. They also should start preparing their party structures and base for upcoming elections.

Last, international actors, including the UN, have to be prepared for a potential short-term deterioration of the situation. The UN Security Council should give careful consideration to the recommendations of the September 2017 strategic review of the UN Mission, especially regarding greater flexibility in force deployment and human rights monitoring. The risk of violence escalating over the coming months is high and international actors, including the UN, should be prepared to manage the consequences as best possible.

Nairobi/Brussels, 4 December 2017


On 31 December 2016, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) ruling political party coalition known as the Alliance of the Presidential Majority (hereinafter “the Majority”) and the opposition signed the “Comprehensive and Inclusive Political Agreement”, commonly known as the Saint Sylvester agreement. Mediated by the Congolese Catholic Church, it came about under pressure both from the street and international actors. By clearly stating that elections should be held in 2017 and that the constitutional provision on presidential term limits should not be changed, it appeared to answer the question dominating Congolese political life: how to organise a democratic transition of power with an unwilling incumbent.

Over the next eleven months, the Majority controlled implementation to suit its agenda of further elections delay (glissement). It has exploited its opponents’ weakness and divisions and profited from a largely passive international community. The 5 November electoral calendar has now officially confirmed additional delay with polls planned for 23 December 2018 and the presidential inauguration scheduled in January 2019.While tension is rising throughout the country, there are few signs that either opposition or international actors have the capacity to shift the status-quo.

The talks that led to the Saint Sylvester agreement were the most recent in a series of dialogues following the defeat of the M23 insurgency in 2013. The Majority sought to use these earlier rounds to stay in power beyond the end of President Joseph Kabila’s second and, according to the constitution, final term in office in 2016. However, it was far from plain sailing: talks did not produce an adequate consensus to amend the constitution and in January 2015, surprisingly large popular protests, sparked by government plans to implement an expensive and time-consuming census before it would hold elections, ended any illusion within the Majority that it could quickly engineer an outcome allowing the president to run for a third term. Shortly thereafter, fractures emerged within the Majority: then-Katanga Governor Moïse Katumbi left it in 2015, followed by parties that would form the “Group of Seven” (G7) opposition coalition.

The regime’s crack-down on Katumbi and the G7 provided them with some credibility and sympathy among a public desperate for change.

Initial attempts to bring together these break-away elements and more established opposition and civil society groups faltered. This changed in June 2016 at a meeting in Genval, Belgium, when newcomers, including Katumbi, and established opponents, including Etienne Tshisekedi and his Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), joined forces, creating the Rassemblement. It demonstrated strength by mobilising massive crowds on 29 July 2016 when Etienne Tshisekedi returned to Kinshasa after a long absence in Belgium. Although it does not include the entire opposition, the Rassemblement became its centre of gravity.

International actors strongly supported President Kabila following the 2006 elections, but the chaos of the 2011 polls fed doubts as to the country’s direction. The DRC government regained some sympathy in 2012 and 2013 when it fought the M23 insurgency, which was backed by neighbouring countries. This led to the Peace and Security Cooperation Framework Agreement (PSCF) signed in Addis in February 2013 and based on the following trade-off: DRC’s neighbours promised not to interfere in the country’s affairs, while Kinshasa committed itself to democratic reforms. Backed by international actors, the PSCF remains the most recent high-profile international commitment to peace in the DRC and the region. Since then oversight and support for its implementation has lost momentum as the DRC has become bogged down in a seemingly interminable political and constitutional crisis.

Through an analysis of the contentious implementation of the Saint Sylvester agreement this report looks at the intertwined sources of political tension and violence in the DRC throughout 2017. It analyses the international and regional response and argues that, the election delay notwithstanding, there is an urgent need for renewed national and international engagement around some core principles – notably the effective organisation of elections, no constitutional amendment to allow President Kabila to remain in office and an opening of political space and respect for human rights – to prevent the crisis from growing and potentially engulfing the region. It is based on fieldwork throughout 2016 and 2017 in Addis Ababa, Brussels, Goma, Kananga, Kinshasa, Kisangani, Lubumbashi, New York and Pretoria. It builds upon a series of commentaries and op-eds published since December 2016 and is part of a series of publications on the DRC’s broader electoral process.

II.Boxing in the Shadow of Saint Sylvester

As the political temperature rose in early 2016, the African Union (AU) Commission launched an initiative in support of a national political dialogue led by a member of the AU Panel of the Wise, former Togolese Prime Minister Edem Kodjo. From the start, it was deeply distrusted by the opposition and civil society. Although boycotted by the Rassemblement, the talks took place under Kodjo’s leadership between 1 September and 18 October. The disconnect between these talks and mounting tension on the ground became obvious when security forces violently repressed protests in Kinshasa and the influential Episcopal Conference of the Congolese Catholic Church (CENCO) walked out of the discussions. An agreement eventually was signed on 18 October but it lacked comprehensive opposition and international support. During a 26 October 2016 meeting of the PSCF international follow-up mechanism in Luanda, Kabila came under pressure from several regional leaders, notably Angola’s (now former) President José Eduardo dos Santos, to negotiate a more inclusive agreement. On 29 October, the presidency entrusted the CENCO with a good offices mission.

While the bishops brought their moral weight to the table, this eleventh hour attempt was driven mainly by increasing pressure from international actors – including the imposition of sanctions – and from the population, particularly in the form of street protests on 19 and 20 December. All opposition parties participated in the talks, but Etienne Tshisekedi kept a safe distance, as did President Kabila. The Rassemblement insisted on power sharing (in particular allowing the opposition to choose a prime minister), elections in 2017, guarantees that the constitution be respected, more political space (including ending the prosecution of Moïse Katumbi and other political leaders), greater media freedom and reform of the Independent Electoral Commission (CENI). On 31 December 2016, nearly two weeks after the legal end of Kabila’s second and last term, the parties signed the agreement.

A.The Agreement

The Saint Sylvester “Global and Inclusive” Agreement comprises four main pillars that:

  1. Confirm the integrity of the 2006 constitution, which prohibits the incumbent president from seeking a third term, while acknowledging that Kabila would remain in power until his elected successor is installed;

  2. Introduce a concrete, albeit adjustable, deadline for elections to be held by the end of 2017;

  3. Include the opposition in a power-sharing agreement for the transitional period while remaining vague on how it would be established; and,

  4. Introduce an inclusive oversight mechanism and platform for talks among all political actors, dubbed the National Council for Monitoring the Agreement and the Electoral Process (CNSA), to be chaired by the president of the Rassemblement, Etienne Tshisekedi.

The agreement also foresees the “revitalisation” of the electoral commission and the lifting of restrictions on political activity, including ending the judicial prosecution of opposition leaders, particularly Moïse Katumbi. Moreover, it calls for a completely new voter roll and for presidential, legislative and provincial elections to be held simultaneously. Finally, the deal envisages further talks to agree on “special arrangements” for its effective implementation, including questions regarding the composition of the government, the procedure for the appointment of the prime minister and a timetable.

Although power-sharing is not new in DRC, the creation of a domestic mechanism to monitor election preparation alongside an opposition-led government in principle amounted to a fundamental power rebalancing. Implemented in full, it would have meant shared control over, and oversight of, the electoral process by placing Kabila’s nemesis, Etienne Tshisekedi, in a powerful position as head of the monitoring council (CNSA), and appointing an opposition prime minister who, among other things, would be responsible for budgetary processes. In other words, it would have forced the president and his political allies into an uneasy cohabitation with their rivals.

Conversely, however, it would also have made the opposition complicit in any eventual extension of the agreements’ 31 December 2017 deadline. Importantly, a splintered opposition with low levels of domestic support, many of whose leaders were in exile, was far from ready to confront the Majority. At different stages several key opposition parties privately acknowledged that they would need two years to prepare politically for elections.

The agreement was widely and rightly welcomed. Still, it contained several inherent deficiencies: it allowed the president to retain full control of the security forces; the Majority, determined to extend its time in power, retained multiple means of generating delays; and the electoral timetable was highly ambitious – to the point of being unrealistic – particularly given the absence of clarity on how to reform the electoral commission, the difficulties in finalising the electoral roll and the question of finance. A generalised institutional inertia – exacerbated by the fact that most potential candidates are complicit in and benefit from the prolonged glissement – compounded these problems. Finally, with the signing of the agreement, domestic and international pressure on the regime noticeably diminished. This allowed it to undermine implementation while the opposition, plagued by internal dissent, lost its focus.

B.Non-consensual Implementation

On 1 February 2017, Etienne Tshisekedi, the only opposition leader with the charisma to bring massive crowds onto the streets, passed away. His death fundamentally changed power dynamics in favour of the regime and left the Rassemblement in disarray. Several members joined a dissident group (dissident Rassemblement), led by Joseph Olenghankoy.Tshisekedi’s own party, the UDPS, proved particularly ill-prepared for his demise. It split into several factions, some of which rejected the transfer of leadership to Etienne’s son Felix. A formal party conference has yet to be held.

Implementation suffered another blow when the Catholic Church – under increasing pressure from the Majority – abruptly stopped its mediation and gave the political initiative back to President Kabila. Exploiting both opposition disarray and international inattention and passivity, the Majority quickly moved to interpret the agreement in its favour.

On 7 April, following a few days of consultations boycotted by the Rassemblement, President Kabila appointed Bruno Tshibala as prime minister of a new, extended government. Tshibala had been evicted from the UDPS the previous month after joining the dissident Rassemblement. By choosing Tshibala, Kabila avoided flagrantly appointing a supporter while clearly violating the agreement’s principles, which required that the Rassemblement itself nominate the prime minister. Three weeks later, in talks overseen by the speakers of both houses of parliament, the Majority and several smaller opposition parties (including the Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC) agreed on the special arrangements for the agreement’s implementation.On 22 July, parliament approved the installation of the national monitoring council (CNSA) bureau and the appointment of Joseph Olenghankoy, leader of the dissident Rassemblement, as its chair.By continuing to work with parliament – even though it had reached the end of its legal term on 17 February 2017 – the Majority aimed to give the impression that state institutions continued to function under constitutional authority.

The Rassemblement and the church denounced the Majority’s unilateralism. On 9 April, Felix Tshisekedi called for protests, but inexplicably then left for Addis Ababa. Clumsy communication about his absence, contributed to confusion. Security forces were deployed to deter protesters in several cities as a result, the marches failed to mobilise significant crowds.

The inclusion of dissident Rassemblement members in government left others out in the cold. Vital Kamerhe, who had risked his credibility as an opposition leader by participating in the AU dialogue, got only a single post in the new government to the dissatisfaction of many in his party.In July, he declined the post of CNSA vice president but, having made excessive overtures to the Majority, subsequently found other major opposition platforms, including the Rassemblement, initially hesitant to accept him back in their midst. The inclusion of newcomers also affected the Majority. The Union for the Development of Congo (UDCO), one of the few remaining parties in the Majority with a strong position in Katanga, lost its sole senior government position. Consequently, the influential Jean-Claude Masangu resigned as party president.

None of these expressions of protest had much of an impact. The Saint Sylvester agreement had been hollowed out, with no semblance of power-sharing and no platform for continued talks. The signatories have not implemented provisions to revitalise the electoral commission and undertake confidence building measures. Nor have they adopted legislation to formally establish the monitoring council.

The conversation among the government, electoral commission and monitoring council (CNSA) – all of which are dominated by the regime – has come to resemble a monologue. By the end of August 2017, the electoral commission, the government and CNSA launched the evaluation of the electoral process in Kananga. This has allowed the electoral commission to publish its long-awaited electoral calendar, with presidential polls scheduled for 23 December 2018. However, the current trio has little legitimacy.

C.The Regime Digs In

Over the course of 2017, the Majority has outmanoeuvred both the domestic opposition and international actors. It controls the budget and state institutions, including the electoral commission, and dominates both the narrative and the pace of the political process. Despite a clearly one-sided implementation of the agreement, it has managed to project the appearance of reason and constructive engagement. This resonates with some international actors eager for any semblance of progress and seeking entry points for engagement, notwithstanding widespread scepticism that the regime intends to leave power or organise credible elections.Paradoxically, the opposition, which has the most to gain from the agreement’s full implementation, has seemingly ditched it in favour of pushing for a transitional government without Kabila by the end of 2017, to be followed by elections.

Despite the DRC’s violent instability and fractious politics, the regime appears to be well entrenched. It is far stronger than the divided opposition, has suffered no major defection since 2015 and is more focused. Its internal coherence seemingly is based on a mix of fear, money and opportunism. However, occasionally this coherence faces a test. Upheaval in the Peoples’ Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD) and the wider Majority alliance on the draft electoral law, introduced by the government in November 2017, and in particular the electoral thresholds it introduces, demonstrates the regime’s unease when confronted with electoral uncertainties. The PPRD leadership sees the thresholds as essential for its electoral strategy – getting rid of the small parties.

The presidential family is central but so are others in the political system and the security forces. Some recently installed officials at both national and provincial levels, lacking legitimacy and sensing their tenure in power might be short-lived, have incentives to exploit their positions for personal gain. In Katanga’s mining sector, for example, systematic underreporting of production and opaque management are said to divert millions of dollars in annual revenue from the state treasury.

Self-assured, the regime has proved particularly inflexible regarding the fates of Moïse Katumbi and the G7, refusing to halt legal proceedings against them. Katumbi is a particular irritant; his conflict with the regime is both personal and strategic as he potentially could emerge as a serious threat. Accordingly, the Majority is determined to stop their former ally from building momentum and wants to make an example of him to stop others from decamping. So far, despite announcing several times that he would return to the DRC, Katumbi remains in exile in Europe, where the threat he presents to the regime is much reduced.

Because the Saint Sylvester is a Congolese agreement, international actors have no formal framework allowing them to push for its implementation and have failed to engage politically in a coherent manner since its signing. This is regrettable as there is evidence – notably the very achievement of the agreement – that the regime can give ground when under concerted pressure. Instead, it shows no sign of compromise.

In short, the Majority’s advantage derives less from its inherent strength than from its opponents’ and the international community’s weakness. It has no grand strategy to stay in power, but each additional month in power represents a small gain. When its initial attempt in 2015 to amend the presidential term-limits provision in the constitution was blocked by popular protest and dissent within its ranks, it turned to a glissement. Delaying tactics such as calls in September for a new political dialogue,were immediately dismissed as pointless by the church and the opposition.

The issue of the electoral timeline has proved vexing for international actors and the opposition alike. Genuine technical, budgetary and security reasons for delay are compounded by regime manoeuvres to further postpone a vote. The electoral commission, led by Corneille Nangaa, has steadily continued its activities, some constructive, others designed to delay and distract. In 2016 and 2017, it worked on the necessary update to the voter roll but took far longer than in previous elections; by September 2017, it had registered some 42 million voters. On 5 November 2017, after months of dithering, the electoral commission announced that elections would be held on 23 December 2018 and the newly elected president inaugurated on 12 January 2019. The CENI immediately warned that respecting the calendar would require meeting several budgetary and legal conditions and also depends on the external support to the process.

Since 2015, the DRC has slipped into a deep economic and budg etary crisis, which is likely to become the next pretext for delays. President Kabila and the government repeatedly and cynically express “concern” about the elections’ cost as compared to other necessary investments. The election budget comes to $1.3 billion, of which the first major step, voter registration, represents $400 million. To organise the three combined polls in 2018, the electoral commission would need approximately $550 million. Despite promising in 2016 that it would fund the entire process, the government has yet to clarify what it has actually disbursed. In the 2018 national budget, adopted on 14 November, 912.5 million Congolese franc, or 8.8 per cent of the total budget of 10.333 billion, is allocated to the polls. It is not yet clear whether it will effectively disburse this in time.Should it fail to do so, this will increase pressure on unenthusiastic donors, none of whom wants to be associated with what could turn out to be an unfair and non-credible process.

The longer the delay, the more space the regime will have to exhaust a disorganised opposition. Besides, were a successor to Kabila acceptable to the regime to emerge, he or she inevitably would assume, ahead of the election campaign, a position of considerable financial strength in relation to an opposition with dwindling resources. Delaying the vote also gradually undermines the credibility and relevance of the current institutional and constitutional framework, which could lead regime supporters to declare it void as a pretext for holding a referendum to change it and allow Kabila to extend his tenure in office. For the immediate future such a scenario remains unlikely and could provoke a split between Majority hardliners and a smaller faction that hopes to nominate a successor to Joseph Kabila. But Kabila allies, occasionally float it as an option.

D.Opposition Calls for Transition and Popular Mobilisation

Faced with regime intransigence, the Rassemblement is trying to regain the initiative. In July, it announced that it would renew efforts at popular mobilisation starting in October. Following its conclave in Kinshasa on 21 and 22 July, it organised a modestly successful two-day national strike on 8 and 9 August as poverty levels make it difficult for people to forgo two days of wages. The conclave included a call for citizens to stop recognising Kabila as president. It also announced sit-ins at the electoral commission’s offices and other acts of civil disobedience.

Civil society organisations have taken their own initiatives since mid-2017. The most visible is “les Congolais Debout”, initiated by Sindika Dokolo, son-in-law of former Angolan President dos Santos. Sindika’s family ties to the Angolan political and economic elite contribute to his aura and to the impression that the Angolan leadership at least acquiesces to his increasingly vocal opposition to Kabila. Sindika also has a close personal relationship with Moïse Katumbi. In August, Dokolo and older civil society networks, including Lucha and Filimbi, the two most established social movements, issued a “Manifeste du Citoyen Congolais”, which Rassemblement leaders subsequently signed. Drawing on Article 64 of the constitution, which calls on the people to oppose those who seek to violate it, its declared aim is to force out the regime and establish a transitional government without Kabila for at least six months, with the objective of quickly organising elections. Several civil society activists have proposed Dr Denis Mukwege, a respected campaigner against sexual violence, as a potential president for this period.

At this stage, focus has shifted anew to forging greater opposition unity. On 23 October, Vital Kamerhe and the UNC decided to pull out of the Tshibala government (although the minister concerned, Pierre Kangudia Mbayi refused to obey his party and remains as minister for the budget). From his cell in The Hague, Jean-Pierre Bemba, leader of another opposition party, the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC), also called for opposition unity. The Rassemblement, UNC and MLC all met together with Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, during her October 2017 visit to DRC. Finally, the main opposition parties all reject the new electoral calendar, but failed to adopt a joint communiqué.

Civil society and youth movements have been increasingly frustrated by the opposition’s failure to mobilise the population, including for street protests. In October, the opposition’s lone attempt was Felix Tshisekedi’s visit to Lubumbashi, which security forces heavily repressed. In the same month, youth activist platforms, including Lucha, organised protests in a number of cities; several activists were arrested and, during 30 October protests in Goma, five people were killed, including a policeman. Dynamics between the opposition and civil society platforms changed somewhat when on 15 November the Rassemblement joined a call initiated by social movements for countrywide protests against the electoral calendar. As was the case with previous attempts, the initiative failed to gather momentum.

Authorities prohibit protests almost systematically, often accompanied by stark warnings by police officials. In response, on 16 November, the EU delegation joined by the U.S., the Swiss and the Canadian embassies published a statement calling for the respect of publi