This time a year ago, the citizens of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) were getting ready to cast their ballots in the long-awaited presidential election. Some of them never lived to see the changes in their homeland as they had been killed in numerous protests across the country both before and after the voting day.
With Joseph Kabila ruling the DRC for almost 18 years, delaying the election for two years was apparently an attempt to keep the power in his hands. The incumbent was due to resign at the end of 2016 after completing his second term in office. But Kabila stayed on having applied the guardian clause of the Constitution.
Among the other reasons, an Ebola outbreak and terrorism were mentioned as valid causes to postpone the election day. The last delay that saw the voting moved to 30 December 2018 was explained by the fire that had destroyed 80% of the voting machines allocated for the city of Kinshasa.
No wonder, many were fed up with that situation. As a result, opposition protests sparked all over the DRC as the pre-election campaign started on 22 November 2018. Most of them were violently suppressed by the law-enforcement forces leading to the protesters being injured and even killed. Let’s remember how it all happened.
On 11 December 2018, the unrest in Tshikapa, a city in the restive central Kasai region, started with the ransacking of the presidential party’s headquarters. The violence allegedly came after at least one person had been killed and more than 80 injured in weekend clashes in the city. An innocent woman lost her life on that Tuesday.
“The soldiers, who were supporting the police, opened fire to disperse the demonstrators. A woman who was selling embers at the Sokajik market was hit in the head,” one of the eyewitnesses stated.
Two more protesters died and 40 were injured after the police had attacked the opposition supporters at a rally in Lubumbashi, the second largest city of the DRC, the same day. They used water cannons and also opened fire to disperse the crowd. According to BBC, 15 supporters of opposition presidential candidate Martin Fayulu had bullet wounds.
Further frustration was escalated on 26 December 2018 by the postponement of voting until March 2019 in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo cities of Beni and Butembo and surrounding areas due to the risk of Ebola infection, and the western city of Yumbi due to ethnic violence. As the new president was supposed to be sworn in in January 2019, it was not clear how the late voting in these mostly pro-opposition areas would affect the election.
Apparently, this decision had been made by the authorities to rig the vote and make sure former Interior Minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary backed by Kabila would gain more supporters to cast their ballots compared to the opposition fans, especially those set to vote for Fayulu. At least one million eligible voters were to be neglected.
As a result, the next day, the protesters in Beni attacked a clinic where possible Ebola cases were assessed and the office of the agency coordinating the Ebola response. Some tents were burnt down, tables and chairs stolen. As reported by the Guardian, the police had arrived and fired live rounds and tear gas to stop the protesters.
There were rumours widely circulated on social media then claiming the attack had been organised with the help of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). The insurgents needed to fan the conflict in the area to provide Kabila with a formal excuse to either postpone or cancel the voting altogether in all three regions. Laurent-Désiré Kabila, the incumbent’s father who had also served as the DRC president before he was assassinated, was known for supporting the ADF militants and ignoring their arms supply in order to keep the neighbouring country of Uganda under strain and have a lever of pressure on its government.
Most probably, his son Joseph followed suit and continued to apply the same policy. The insurgency has been widely used by both Kabilas and current president Félix Tshisekedi to explain the country’s issues, including the problems in the fight against the Ebola virus, and to frighten the residents with a rampant crime.
Similar opposition protests were also soon recorded in Butembo where the participants barricaded major roads by using stones to block vehicles; however, there were no reports of any demonstrations in Yumbi. The BBC also confirmed tear gas had been fired to suppress the riot in another opposition stronghold – Goma, the main city in the eastern DRC.
The protests continued after the provisional voting results had been announced on 10 January 2019 naming Félix Tshisekedi as the winner. Fayulu challenged the outcome and accused Tshisekedi of colluding with Kabila. Fayulu’s supporters took to the streets of Kikwit straight away to oppose the election results.
“In the operation to restore public order today in Kikwit, two policemen and two civilian were killed. We also recorded 10 wounded,” city police chief General Dieudonne Mutepeke told AFP.
A day later, one more demonstrator was killed in Goma. There were also reports of several hundred students protesting against the result and being dispersed by tear gas in the town of Mbandaka. Some protests were registered in Kisangani.
More military and Republican Guard troops were deployed to fight the instability across the DRC raising the number of both civilian and police casualties.
“Since the 10th of January when the provisional results were announced, our office has documented 34 deaths, 59 people wounded and 241 arbitrary arrests,” the UN human rights office declared on 18 January 2019.
If you were a witness to those events or even participated in any of the mentioned protests, please take a minute and share your experience with us here: https://www.facebook.com/SouthernAfricanDC/. Our editor will read each message to compile a thorough report and tell the truth of what had actually happened.