Scores of anti-Kabila protesters were killed last week in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as they marched on the streets of the capital Kinshasa and other cities in the Central African nation while calling for president Joseph Kabila to step down.
After months of non-concessions and standoffs, and the passing of the December 17 deadline set for the president to step down, Kabila still stands tall and strong in the presidential digs in Kinshasa, at the detriment of his people’s right to democracy.
The DRC was hoping for a peaceful transition this year, the third of its kind in the country’s history, but it seems like it won’t be happening.
Videos released last week Wednesday showed protesters on the streets of Kinshasa, marching and screaming. It also showed the seeming futility of all their protests, a scene all too repeated in some countries across East and Central Africa.
Postcolonial systems put in place by people disguised as “nationalists”, with their own motives, meant there would always be thriving environments for dictators across Africa. Decades of brutality, extractive policies, and citizen repressions have given birth to leaders that have/had a high threshold for tyranny.
While most of West Africa has in a way recovered from the all too familiar “iron law of oligarchy”, of tyrants overthrowing tyrants, East and Central Africa is proving to be the rule rather than the exception for dictatorship in Africa. There are about 10 dictators in Central Africa (by the layman’s definition of Dictator).
A reason for this could be attributed to the level of effectiveness of Nation blocs in these African regions. Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has been largely effective in preserving democratic institutions in West Africa of late; Liberia and Charles Taylor readily comes to mind, while Cote d’Ivoire and Gbagbo’s removal is another.
Yahya Jammeh’s present dilemma is also an example. Apart from having election observers in elections across the region, ECOWAS also supports the choice of the people most times, hence giving the loser no other option but to concede.
For Central Africa, the inability of regional powers to compel presidents to obey their country’s constitution, or to stop them from changing the constitution to favour them, or to even stop them from killing their own people, has been a problem.
Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) has massively failed in this aspect.
The reason is not so hard to fathom; Many of the leaders, or their families, have been in power for more than 15 years at a stretch, almost as if there’s an “old boys club” in that region.
While a few of them have personal misunderstandings due to history, like Kagame and Nkurunziza, there seems to be a reluctance in actually condemning publicly presidential counterparts in that region.
Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza did and is still doing what Kabila is doing, i.e. imposing his will on the people. And last year, when the African Union (AU) stepped in when he caused panic by contesting for another term in office, many thought that would be the end of it.
After a series of high-level meetings between the AU and Burundi, and AUs promise to send forces into the country, Nkurunziza miraculously didn’t bulk under pressure. He both resisted their advances and the UN’s. Nothing happened to me, even till now.
Central African leaders would have provided a soft landing for the AU or the UN if they had spoken up against the tyranny of Nkurunziza.
However, in a region where the majority of the leaders are dictators themselves, speaking out against him would have been a surprise, and an abysmal display of hypocrisy. The same thing is happening with Joseph Kabila.
The speed with which West Africa’s leaders arrived in Gambia after president Yahya Jammeh changed his mind about stepping down in January 2017 is commendable and would, now, surely provide a problem for Jammeh. If he won’t step down in peace, he risks being deposed by West African coalition forces, the kind that has assisted in deposing many before him.
However, that is a luxury their counterparts in Central Africa can’t afford for Kabila. Jammeh will not get away with his tyranny, and Kabila might not too, but at the end of the day, Kabila would have proved how easy it is to hold on to power in that part of Africa. That is exactly the problem.