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History and Politics
(updated: 12 January 2005)

Constitution and political system

Constitution - a draft constitution was approved by a constitutional commission appointed by president Laurent Kabila in 1998, but was never ratified, as planned, by national referendum. The transition period is governed by the transition constitution which was elaborated by the participants in the inter-Congolese dialogue and signed by President Joseph Kabila on April 4, 2003. A new constitution will be drafted by the National assembly before the holding of national elections.


Legal system - Civil law including a Supreme Court based on the Belgian system.


Legislative branch – The Pretoria agreement provided for the establishment of a 500-seat national assembly which acts as the legislative body and the 120-seat Senate which has the role of mediator in any conflicts that might arise. The national assembly is responsible for elaborating key national laws on nationality, the organisation of the military, amnesty and the electoral process, as well as for elaborating a new constitution.


Elections - The DRC has not held multiparty legislative elections since 1965 and has never held multiparty presidential elections. According to the terms of the Pretoria peace agreement, presidential and national elections are due to be held within two years of the installation of the transition government, i.e. in June 2005. However the accords provide for two six month delays in the holding of elections, which could therefore take place as late as June 2006.

Political Groupings and Alliances

Parti pour la réconciliation et le développement (PPRD) - the party of president Joseph Kabila founded in March 2002. The PPRDS is composed of virtually all the former members of Laurent and Joseph Kabila’s governments.

Rassemblement congolais pour la démocratie-Goma (RCD-G) – controlled much of the eastern DRC. Led by Congolese Vice-President Azarias Ruberwa, the RCD-G is a close political ally of the Rwandan government and the bulk of its leaders hail from the Banyamulenge community.

Rassemblement congolais pour la démocratie-Mouvement de libération (RCD-K/ML) - a breakaway faction from the RCD, and a political ally of the Ugandan government, the RCD-K/ML controlled an area known as the Grand Nord which stretches from Kanyabayonga to Beni. The RCD-K/ML is led by Mbusa Nyamwisi, who is now also the minister of external commerce in the transition government.

Mouvement pour la libération du Congo (MLC) – led by millionaire businessman Jean-Pierre Bemba, now a vice-president in the transition, the MLC has close links to the Ugandan government which controlled much of northern and central DRC. Many of the MLC’s senior members hail from the civilian and military structures of ousted dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

Union pour la démocratie et le progrès social (UDPS) - the main unarmed opposition party, led by veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi. Mr Tshisekedi has declined to participate in the transition government but intends to run in the presidential elections.

There are a multitude of other, smaller parties, many of which were involved in the inter-Congolese dialogue and are which now have representatives in the transition government.

Political Background


Belgian King Leopold II’s sole sovereignty over the territory of the DRC was confirmed by the Berlin conference of European powers in 1884. Leopold's territory, called the Congo Free State (CFS) in 1885, was marketed in the West, and particularly to the US government, as liberating Africans from the tyranny of Arab slavers, and establishing colonial Africa 's only free trade area. However, in practice, the agents of the CFS imposed one of the most exploitative and ruthless political and economic systems ever seen on the continent, while tightly controlling and in many cases appropriating the colony's lucrative commercial opportunities.

In 1906, the Union minière du Haut-Katanga (UMHK) was established, with Belgian and British capital, to exploit the enormous mineral wealth of the CFS's southern Katanga province. Two years later, in 1908, and in response to a growing international outcry over the brutal methods used by CFS agents to extract resources from the colony, the Belgian government took over its administration. There was, however, little change in personnel on the ground, and while some of the worst excesses of the Leopoldian era were banned, the basic characteristics of the regime remained unchanged.

Political activity among African people was forbidden by the authorities, but in 1950 the Alliance des Bakongo (Abako) was formed with the aim of promoting the language and culture of the Kongo people. In 1955 the Belgian king Baudouin visited the colony and displayed a willingness to listen to the concerns of the evolués, the tiny minority of Congolese who were permitted to hold junior positions within government structures. The visit strengthened the position of the evolués, and led to the holding of municipal elections in the capital Léopoldville in 1957, which Abako won. The following year, Abako's president, Joseph Kasavubu, called for Congolese independence, while Patrice Lumumba founded the Mouvement national congolais (MNC), Congo 's first national political party. Later in the year, Lumumba traveled to the All African People's Conference in Accra, Ghana, and upon return addressed a mass rally in Kinshasa on the need for independence. On 4 January 1959 a well-attended and at times violent demonstration in support of independence profoundly shocked the complacent colonial administration which had assumed that it would be decades before they would formally handover power to the Congolese people. King Baudouin announced his willingness to consider independence on 13 January. The following year, a conference on Congolese independence was held in Brussels, where it was decided that colonial rule would come to an end on 30 June 1960.

The MNC performed well in both provincial and the national elections in May 1960. At independence Patrice Lumumba became prime minister while Joseph Kasavubu became the ceremonial head of state. However peace was short-lived and on the 11 July 1960 Moïse Tshombe, the president of the Katanga provincial government supported by Belgium declared the secession of the province. Lumumba appealed for UN assistance to preserve the newly independent state’s territorial integrity.


A month later, Albert Kalonji proclaimed the secession of South Kasai, but this was brutally suppressed by the Congolese armed forces (ANC). Although he lacked the legal power to do so, Kasavubu then dismissed Lumumba as prime minister, and after the national assembly refused to endorse the decision, the ANC chief-of-staff Joseph-Desiré Mobutu (later known as Mobutu Sese Seko) suspended Lumumba, Kasavubu and the parliament before handing power back to Kasavubu. Fearing that his life was in danger, Lumumba escaped the capital, but was captured in December 1960 and in January 1961 transferred to Lubumbashi in Katanga, where he was assassinated by a Katangan secessionist firing squad under Belgian command.

UN troops forcibly ended the Katangan secession in January 1963. Meanwhile, the pro-Lumumba Conseil national de libération (CNL) was founded in late 1963 and began a rebellion in eastern Congo in April 1964. By August 1964 the CNL had captured significant territory in the east, including the main eastern town of Stanleyville (later renamed Kisangani ), but was defeated by a combined force of Belgian troops and mercenary paratroopers, dropped over the city by US Airforce planes.

Mobutu staged his second coup on 24 November 1965, and acted fast against potential rivals, and had several publicly hanged. In 1967, Mobutu nationalised the UMHK, and established his own political party, called the Mouvement populaire de la révolution (MPR). The new ruler initially promised to step down after five years in power, but declined to do so in 1970, and instead established a one-party state. The following year Congo was renamed Zaire with Kinshasa as its capital, and most major towns also underwent name changes. The "authenticity" campaign launched in 1972 made it illegal to wear Western clothes and names while attempting to promote indigenous music and culture. "Zaireanisation" extended to the economy and particular sought to nationalize private assets, but had a disastrous affect on the economy. (see Economy/Trends).

A major armed insurrection in Shaba (formerly Katanga ) province in 1977 was crushed with the assistance of Moroccan troops, and another uprising in Shaba the following year was suppressed with the help of French and Belgian paratroopers. Although political activity outside the MPR was banned, parliamentary deputies under the leadership of Etienne Tshisekedi established the Union pour la démocratie et le progrès social (UDPS) in 1982. The party was suppressed by the authorities but managed to organise a major pro-democracy demonstration in Kinshasa in 1988. Mobutu continued to resist reform, but gave in to mounting internal and international pressure and on 24 April 1990 announced the end of the one-party state.

A sovereign national conference (CNS) began deliberations in Kinshasa in August 1991, but was suspended in January 1992 after repeatedly clashing with Mobutu. The CNS resumed in April 1992, and in August adopted a provisional constitution, electing Tshisekedi as prime minister. Mobutu refused to accept the CNS's decision, and forced the closure of the conference in December 1992. For most of 1993 there were two rival governments in Zaire, one backed by Mobutu and the other supported by the CNS, but in January 1994 a single legislature numbering over 700 members was finally established called the Haut conseil de la république - Parlement de transition (HCR-PT). By April, the HCR-PT had agreed a transitional constitutional document and in July Léon Kengo wa Dondo, who was Mobutu's prime minister twice during the 1980s, was appointed as prime minister once more.

Following the Rwandan genocide of April-July 1994, around two million Rwandan refugees poured into North and South Kivu – the eastern part of the country. Mobutu used the mass humanitarian influx that followed the refugees to rehabilitate himself with the international community, while at the same time assisting the clandestine rearmament of the former Rwandan army (ex-FAR) and genocidal Interahamwe militia in the refugee camps. The ex-FAR and Interahamwe had a major impact on the ethnic politics of the Kivus, and there was soon growing persecution of Congolese Tutsis of Rwandan origin (often known as Banyamulenge), many of whom fled to Rwanda as refugees. In October 1996 the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA), its ranks swollen by militant Banyamulenge, invaded eastern Zaire to break up the refugee camps and defend the Banyamulenge. The RPA then teamed up with several Kivu-based anti-Mobutu guerilla movements, and began driving the Zairean army (FAZ) out of the east of the country. The campaign proceeded remarkably quickly, with town after town falling as the FAZ fled rather than fighting back. A long-time but little-known guerrilla fighter named Laurent Desiré Kabila was chosen as the front-man for the newly formed Alliances des forces démocratiques pour la libération du Congo-Zaire (AFDL), a coalition of four small rebel movements.


After refusing the South African government's attempts at a negotiated settlement, Kabila took power in May 1997, while Mobutu went into exile, where he died of cancer four months later. Kabila renamed Zaire the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and promised an end to corruption and a new beginning for the country. With few troops of his own, Kabila was heavily dependent on the RPA, and a Rwandan commander, James Kabarere, was appointed as the Congolese armed forces (FAC) chief-of-staff. The strong Rwandan influence over government was, however, highly unpopular, particularly in Kinshasa, and in late-July 1998 Kabila ordered the RPA out of the DRC. The following day mutinies broke out in the eastern part of the country and in the capital Kinshasa. Simultaneously, Rwandan troops invaded eastern DRC as well as the western province of BasCongo in August 1998, in an attempt to oust Kabila. The RPA’s attempt to capture Kinshasa in September 1998, was thwarted at the last minute by the intervention of thousands of Zimbabwean and Angolan troops.


The RPA was forced to retreat from western DRC, but continued to extend its gains in the east. In the meantime Rwanda created a local rebel group, the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Democratie (RCD) led by Arthur Z’ahidi Ngoma, which served as Rwanda’s proxy. The official aim of the RCD was to combat the oppressive Kabila regime. However, during its five-year rule in much of the east it failed to gain popular support.


In November 1998 the Ugandan government joined the fray, sponsoring the establishment of a new rebel movement called the Mouvement pour la libération du Congo (MLC) led by millionaire businessman and Mobutu ally, Jean-Pierre Bemba. To some extent this signalled the start of the breakdown of the alliance between the Rwandan and Ugandan governments in the DRC, however relations did not collapse outright until mid-2000. Meanwhile, with the help of Ugandan troops, the MLC established a large territorial base in northern DRC, leaving the country divided into three hostile blocs.

After lengthy negotiation, a peace agreement was signed in Lusaka in August 1999 by the five countries whose armies were fighting in the DRC. The Lusaka agreement called for the withdrawal of all foreign forces, and the organisation of comprehensive inter-Congolese political negotiations grouping together civil society, the unarmed opposition, the Kabila government and the RCD and MLC. The inter-Congolese dialogue was to lead to the installation of a new transitional government which would be followed by multiparty elections. The Lusaka agreement also called for a UN force to disarm and repatriate ex-FAR and Interahamwe, as well as Ugandan anti-government rebels based in the DRC.


In spite of the signing of the agreement, little changed on the ground, and it was to be several years before a cease-fire took hold. Kabila’s allies, Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia, refused to withdraw until Rwandan and Ugandan forces had done so. However, Rwanda insisted that that the issue of former FAR and Interahamwe fighters be addressed before they consider a withdrawal. The situation remained in this stalemate in spite of the negotiation of subsequent cease-fire and withdrawal agreements until January 2001.


In January 2001 Kabila was assassinated by one of his bodyguards. His son Joseph Kabila, who had previously been the head of the FAC’s army, became president several days later. The new president adopted a more constructive approach to the peace process than his father, recognising the status of Sir Ketumile Masire, the former Botswanan president appointed as mediator of the inter-Congolese political dialogue, and paving the way for the United Nations mission in the DRC (MONUC) to increase its deployment.

After many delays, the inter-Congolese dialogue finally began in earnest in Sun City, South Africa, in February 2002. The first round of the talks concluding in a partial agreement between the Kabila government, the MLC, and various smaller parties but excluded the UDPS and the RCD. In the end the agreement was not implemented due to disputes between the government and the MLC.

On 30 July 2002, Kabila and Rwandan president Paul Kagame signed a separate bilateral agreement which required the RPA to withdraw its troops from the DRC within 90 days. In return the Kabila government pledged to renew efforts to disarm and repatriate ex-FAR and Interahamwe combatants operating in the DRC.


The RPA subsequently withdrew on schedule, while the DRC government took steps to disassociate itself from the ex-FAR and Interahamwe. The Rwandan withdrawal gave renewed momentum to the peace process, and by the end of 2002 the bulk of Angolan, Zimbabwean and Ugandan forces had also withdrawn from the DRC.

A new round of the inter-Congolese dialogue began in South Africa in late 2002 and resulted in the signing by all the parties of the all-inclusive peace agreement on 16 December. According to the agreement, Kabila will remain president for the duration of the transition which is due to last two years from the inauguration of a transition government, but can be extended for a third year if conditions for the holding of elections are not met. The transition government has four vice-presidents: Yerodia Abdoulaye Ndombasi from the PPRD, Jean-Pierre Bemba from the MLC, Arthur Z’ahidi Ngoma from the political opposition and Azarias Ruberwa from the RCD-G.


Ministerial portfolios are divided proportionally between the RCD, the MLC and the government as well as the other signatories of the peace agreement: the RCD-K/ML, civil society, the tribal militia (Mai Mai) and the unarmed opposition.


The transition government was inaugurated on June 30, 2003. Since then it has made little progress in implementing the main aspects of the transition. The Congolese armed forces – which have been renamed the Forces Armees de la Republique Democratique du Congo (FARDC) – have yet to be restructured and are currently a mixed bag of forces from the MLC, the RCD-K/ML, the government, the RCD and the Mai Mai. Although there is an integrated central command in Kinshasa, and new military leaders have been appointed to the country’s eleven military zones, most of the troops on the ground maintain their allegiances to individual commanders and causes.


In mid-2004, the transition government took a first step towards extending its authority beyond the capitol with the appointment of provincial governors who were inaugurated shortly after their appointment. In spite of these appointments, civilian authority on the ground remains confused.


Meanwhile the transition government is widely perceived as weak and ineffective. It remains divided along factional lines, with the RCD being the main outsider. Relations between the MLC and the PPRD are cordial, while much of the unarmed political opposition, civil society, and the Mai Mai have been co-opted by the PPRD. The transition government has not only dragged its feet in the implementation of the peace process, it has also failed to respond adequately and forcefully to the latest crises in the eastern part of the country (see Security). Most of the population is by now thoroughly disillusioned by Kabila as well as the transition government.


Although it was never going to be easy to get a transition government composed of so many divergent groups to cooperate, it now seems that this is less of an obstacle than a prevailing general unwillingness to make real progress. This should come as no real surprise, as most of the current ministers would not survive elections and have every interest in delaying the elections.


Meanwhile the international community continues to push for elections to be held in June 2005. Given the size of the DRC and the lack of a transport infrastructure, this is unlikely to be possible. However, if the transition government is forced to focus on this matter now, it should be possible to hold legitimate national election in December 2005. The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has already started working, and has set up offices in several regions. A crucial element for the success of the elections is reform of the security sector.




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