Congo’s president won’t relinquish his power

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly called Zaire, has been a center of unrest in Africa ever since its independence in 1960.

It may be heading in that direction again as its president, Joseph Kabila, tries to extend his constitutionally-limited two five-year terms beyond the scheduled 2016 presidential election. In taking that course he is seeking to follow in the footsteps of other African presidents-for-life, including Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, Cameroon’s Paul Biya and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame.

He would also be emulating his country’s famed long-term tyrant, Mobutu Sese-Seko, in power for 32 years until he was overthrown in 1997 by Kabila’s father.

Joseph Kabila was welcomed by some to power when he succeeded his father, assassinated in 2001. He was then elected president in 2006 and re-elected in 2011, in a relatively democratic election.

Now he is taking advantage of the DRC’s chaotic governmental situation to stay in power. He first argued that a census was necessary before the election.

He is also proposing that the country be reorganized, from 11 to 26 provinces, a long and tortuous process, before the 2016 presidential contest can take place. The government is also complaining that it is $900 million short in financing the election, which it claims will cost $1.4 billion.

Advocates of democracy, including the United States, oppose any postponement of the presidential election on any grounds. America has offered to contribute $30 million toward the enterprise if Kabila steps down.

The problem is that trouble in the Congo, with a population of 70 million and borders on nine countries, has traditionally spread throughout the region and cost thousands of lives. Continued rule by Kabila serves no useful purpose in the DRC.

He should be obliged by whatever means necessary – sanctions, an aid cut-off or other pressure – to proceed with the election on schedule, as directed by the constitution.