Citizens took to the streets last week in cities throughout the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in response to proposed changes to the country’s electoral law that would lead to an unconstitutional extension of President Joseph Kabila’s presidency. The protests mark a continuation of the political and social unrest in the African state that often manifests itself surrounding the trade of 3TG conflict minerals—tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold.
Joseph Kabila has been president of the country for the past 14 years, with his final term set to end in 2016 with the election of his successor. However, a change recently introduced to the country’s electoral laws by Kabila himself would require a countrywide census to be completed before the next election to reflect updated voter registration lists. Opponents allege that it is simply a last-ditch attempt to sustain his presidency past his final term deadline since census proceedings in the country the size of Western Europe would take years.
In response to the proposed electoral changes early last week, opposition leaders urged citizens to mobilize and protest the suggested amendments. Citizens gathered in protests all around the country for four days to express their dissent for the changes. According to The Guardian, students at Kinshasa University shouted “Kabila get out” in the face of police forces standing by.
According to coverage from Human Rights Watch, the protests quickly turned violent as the government security forces turned to “unlawful and excessive force” in reaction to the protests. Human Rights Watch confirmed 36 people dead in Kinshasa and an additional four killed in protests in Goma. Of these, the campaign group asserts that at least 21 people were fatally shot by security forces. Opposition leaders were also arrested arbitrarily while the government shut down all Internet and text message communication on January 20 only partially restoring it two days later.
Following multiple days of protest and unrest, the Senate passed an amended version of the law reiterating that the Constitution’s electoral timeframe would not be disrupted and that the election would not be reliant on census completion.
These mass demonstrations signal popular opposition to Kabila’s presidency and present evidence to suggest that Kabila’s powerbase may be eroding. It is critically important that the 2016 elections are conducted in accordance with the country’s espoused commitment to democracy. As a global powerhouse of highly valued minerals (including the 3TG conflict minerals), it is essential that the minerals trade in Eastern DRC is overseen and managed by a head of state who is dedicated, transparent, and accountable. An empowered population with trust in the electoral system through free and fair elections is critical to reaching a conflict-free DRC. A conflict-free minerals trade is dependent on the legitimized and trusted government necessary to achieve a conflict-free DRC.
Through supply chain innovations in conflict-free sourcing, the trade in conflict minerals and the overall security situation in the East is finally transforming after years of mineral-fuelled rebel conflict. The current unrest is confirmation of the need for conflict-free supply chains, and proof that more than ever these initiatives must be supported and advanced by the country’s next executive in order to continue the progress made to end the deadly conflict in the Eastern DRC.