In the midst of one of the most raucous and unruly Presidential campaigns in recent American history, we talk freely about candidates taking up the cause of “angry voters” and pledging to “change the system.”

Beneath the bluster and puffery, though, is a deep belief in the American system that two (or perhaps three) people will be in the finals this fall for the general election and one of them will gain the requisite 270 electoral votes to be sworn in as our 45th President next January 20.

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Unfortunately, we are once again reminded that our deep democratic traditions do not exist everywhere in the world.  The latest example is the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where the incumbent president, Joseph Kabila, is using all-too-familiar tactics to tear up the constitution and illegally maintain power.

Under the DRC constitution, a president can be elected to not more than two five-year terms.  Kabila was first elected in 2006, was re-elected in 2011 and should be looking forward to a life of privilege in retirement.

But, Kabila is using well-worn tactics to remain in power, notably fomenting political unrest and using that turbulence to declare the nation is too unstable for him to step down.

It is not as if Kabila has been the overwhelming favorite of his countrymen.  In the DRC, if no candidate gets over 50 percent in the initial round of voting, the top two finishers face one another in a run-off.  In his first election, Kabila received less than 45 percent of the vote in the first round.  In the election of 2011, with four years to prove his value, he increased his minority vote by only four percentage points – to 48 percent.

As an example of his disdain for democracy, Kabila had his armed security forces break up a peaceful march on April 24 – a demonstration that was in celebration of “the day of commemoration of the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

One of the main draws of the demonstration was the participation Kabila’s principal political rival, Moise Katumbi. Katumbi is a wealthy businessman who was the Governor of Katanga Province in the south of the DRC.  A coalition of opposition parties has asked him to be their candidate for president.

However, during the weekend protest police and security forces set up blockades which barred access to the section of the DRC’s second largest city, Lubumbashi, where the rally was to be held.  When the crowd continued to build, the police charged with tear gas and reportedly with gunfire.

Sorting out competing accusations and nailing down what has transpired, as usual, has been difficult amid the fractured and suppressed communication network typical of the DRC and other developing countries.  However, a reporter for the French news agency, AFP, reported seeing tear gas attacks at a rally earlier in the week. The UN News Service reported that the head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) had “expressed serious concern about rising political tensions in some parts of the country.”

The U.S. Department of State does not give Kabila high marks for governance.  On its website the State Department points out “The D.R.C. faces challenges that include inadequate infrastructure and human resources, the government’s inability to project its authority throughout the country, rampant corruption, a limited capacity to raise and manage revenues, and the destabilizing presence of armed groups, particularly in eastern DRC.”

It is clear that without significant outside pressure to follow the rule of law, President Joseph Kabila has no intention of stepping aside and a generation of democratization in the Democratic Republic of Congo will be lost and the people of this central African nation will be sentenced to live in fear and poverty for the foreseeable future.


Rich Galen has been involved in Democracy Building in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Africa since 1989.