New massacres in mineral-rich region
As president Joseph Kabila continues to manoeuvre to prolong his mandate the DRC (Congo-Kinshasa) is facing new political and social explosions.
The first national day of protest against the president for a long time was planned for Thursday May 26 and also by Congolese in exile. In the end, demonstrations were banned in all cities but Kinshasa, the capital. There thousands took part in the march. They were met by police who fired tear-gas and attacked the demonstrators. According to human rights groups, 59 protesters were arrested.
In Goma, the capital of North Kivu in the east, demonstrators defied the ban and clashed with the police. One demonstrator and one police officer were killed. Reports from other cities still remain to be circulated. New days of protests will most likely be set in the near future.
There are also reports of new massacres in eastern Congo. Fifty civilians were killed recently in a new massacre in the Beni region in North Kivu. Up to 1,000 people have been killed in the last 18 months. Responsibility has been placed on the ADF, a Ugandan Islamist force with ties to al-Shabaab in Somalia.
Recent studies, however, have shown that the ADF has not acted alone. Local human rights groups say the massacres took place with the support of the state Congolese army.
A well-known dissident religious leader in Beni, Vincent Machozi, who was murdered in March, had for a long time accused the regime in Kinshasa of supporting the population being driven away from the region, where there are large deposits of coltan, a crucial element in new technologies such as mobile phones.
War and armed conflict in the Congo is usually about mineral wealth, with neighbouring countries such as Rwanda involved in the conflicts.
In Congo Kinshasa as a whole, attention is focused entirely on the presidential election. Already last year large demonstrations and protests took place when it became clear that Kabila was trying to get through a third term, something that is not allowed under the constitution. Students and young workers who communicated in networks participated in the protests and had contact with similar groups in Senegal and Burkina Faso. It scared the Kabila regime, especially when they had seen the role of youth in the revolution that brought down the president of Burkina Faso.
The president put in special troops from the Republican Guard. The protests were brutally crushed and leading opposition politicians were imprisoned. Youth meetings were broken up and activists were jailed or disappeared. A mass grave was discovered just outside Kinshasa.
One demand in the demonstrations was that electoral rolls from 2011 must be adjusted so that young voters were included. Now CENI, the electoral authority that works closely with Kabila, says that will take 18 months. In practice it means presidential elections that according to the constitution should be held at the latest in December, will be postponed with no new date set. The constitutional court has rubber stamped that Kabila can stay in power.
In the 2011 election, according to most analysts, the regime used electoral fraud to deprive veteran Etienne Tshisekedi of the largest opposition party UDPS the victory. The situation in Congo is similar to the situation in Burundi, where President Nkurunziza extending his mandate for a third term led to an uprising in which over 430 people were killed and 250,000 forced to flee.
The African Union envoy, Edem Kodjo of Togo, has so far taken Kabila’s side. Already in 2011, the corrupt AU claimed the elections were democratic.
The struggle in the Congo is about democratic rights that are closely linked with the activities of multinational companies and the imperialist states’ looting of the country in alliance with the president. New mass movements must be built to overthrow the president and his army-based regime, including governors. There is an urgent need for a democratic and socialist movement that fights for a programme that includes plans to take the country’s wealth to into public hands and to have a government of democratically elected representatives of workers and poor people.