The last presidential election in 2011, when Joseph Kabila won, is disputed. The presidential candidates who lost the election, Étienne Tshisekedi (Union of Democracy and Social Progress) and Vital Kamerhe (Union of National Congolese), banned from political circles. The veteran Tshisekedi (83), who has long been in house arrest in Kinshasa, has recently been hospitalized in Brussels with serious illness. Kamerhe has since feared for his own life and spent most of his time abroad to gather support from Western countries, including Norway.
In 2011, local elections for the present eleven provinces, including Kinshasa as an urban province, were never held. Instead, the centralized regime is behind the appointment of local governors and mayors of Kabila’s party. Towards the end of 2014, there were political movements to decentralize power and get the promised local elections in the big cities. President Kabila has signed a new law, among other things, to increase the number of provinces to 26, which is interpreted as an attempt to reduce the power of some governors, such as Moise Katumbi (Katanga). Congo-Kinshasa is called Democratic Republic of the Congo today.
At the same time, Kabila has sought to amend the Constitution so that he can stand as presidential candidate again in 2016. The proposal met with strong opposition in parliament and among students and activists, who in January 2015 engaged in protests in Kinshasa, Goma (North Kivu) and Bukavu ( south Kivu). These were severely beaten by rebel police, and the number of people killed varies between 12 and 42 depending on the sources.
The sitting government has chosen to hold a national dialogue, which has met with strong opposition, including from the political opposition under Moïse Katumbi, former governor of Katanga province. The authoritarian tendencies create great dissatisfaction, represent major challenges for the country, and in January 2016, memorials were held in the cities of Kinshasa, Goma and Bukavu for those who lost their lives during the previous demonstration. There are many indications that the 2016 election will be postponed and that Kabila continues as president, either in the same government or in a transitional government.
Economic growth has been well above the average for developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa, measured at 9 percent in 2014. However, the trend says little about the internal distribution of goods, and a closer look at the statistics shows that Congo is well below its neighbors when applies to the gross national index (GNI) and purchasing power parity (PPP) per capita.
Most of the country’s income is related to raw material extraction (forest, minerals and oil). Value creation from infrastructure projects, construction of roads, schools and hospitals is growing, and although the largest construction contracts have most often gone to Chinese companies, there is a great need for local labor.
Players from home and abroad who invest in mineral extraction face difficult political conditions and a banking system characterized by high risk and a lack of transparency. In addition, the distribution of financial resources and investments is inadequate. Smaller elite groups in Katanga Province and Kinshasa often trade directly with individual players such as Dan Gertler or companies with a somewhat fringe reputation, and money is often invested in foreign funds to avoid tax.
The so-called “Obama Act” ( Dodd-Frank legislation) has been an attempt to create a more transparent economy and prevent so-called “conflict minerals”. Although several experts support the law, it is also criticized for contributing to the abuse of the mineral economy by the military in Congo. The issue of mineral extraction is very complex and will, in all likelihood, present major challenges when it comes to ensuring fair trade in Congo.
Other important but under-reported parts of the country’s value creation are food and service trade (such as telephony), taxation and money transactions internally and across borders, as well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and donor funds.
Social conditions and the conflict situation
The conflict situation in the north-eastern and eastern regions (the provinces of Orientale, Maniema, northern Kivu and southern Kivu) is worrying. The armed groups range from bandit groups of 10-20 members to larger guerrilla groups with a centralized structure. According to a survey conducted by the Congo Research Group in 2015, there are about 70 armed groups in the country, a doubling from the previous survey in 2014. This primarily indicates a fragmentation in the military and political landscape rather than a doubling of separate groups and soldiers. In the years 2013-2015, several massacres and executions of civilians were reported by the Uganda Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) group in Beni, north-east of Congo. The many protracted and unresolved conflicts have also created the basis for groups called “Raia Mutomboki”, in Norwegian “Furious citizens”. These are self-defense groups that managed to chase away the so-called FDLR (Democratic Forces for Rwanda Liberation) in the South Kivu region. Since then, the group has been divided into several factions with extensive use of armed force and taxation of civilians.
In January 2014, the UN operation MONUSCO was launched, when the intervention brigade and the Congo military (FARDC) launched a massive attack on an armed group called the Forces Nationales de Libération (FNL), originally a group of Hutus who fled Burundi after political repression from their homeland. One such attack tactic under the auspices of the UN was a new form of “peacekeeping”, which arouses debate about the principles and methods to be used to protect civilians. If the attacks prove unsuccessful, confidence in the UN will be weakened.
Freedom of speech is severely restricted in the Congo, and the intelligence apparatus (ANR) suppresses and arrests regime opposites daily. In 2014, 26 people were arrested in Kinshasa, including a foreign journalist and an American diplomat, during a peaceful debate meeting supported by the US embassy. A number of journalists, researchers, activists and students in Congo work for a more peaceful and open society, which is a source of hope. Christianity and religion are also central, and religious leaders and networks are working to create better opportunities in education, health and faith.