The Catholic Church in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has brokered a deal between the government and opposition parties that could deliver the first peaceful transfer of power since independence from Belgium in 1960.
The agreement, concluded on 31 December in the capital Kinshasa, guarantees that President Joseph Kabila will step down as President after elections are held before the end of 2017. A transitional government will be put in place by March of this year. The deal also lays the groundwork for a ‘national transition council’ charged with carrying out the agreement.
In return, the opposition headed by Etienne Tshisekedi, will allow Kabila to stay in power until he hands over to an elected successor.
"Today, we are happy to head up a political compromise," said Marcel Utembi, President of the Catholic Bishops Conference and Archbishop of Kisangani, as representatives of Kabila's party and its main opposition alliance signed the deal.
"We have reached agreement on all points," added Archbishop Utembi.
Yet, the electoral commission has said elections may not be possible before 2018, and many doubt Kabila really intends to stand down. Some, smaller, opposition groups including the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) and its allies the Constitutional Front have failed to sign the agreement, denouncing it as a conspiracy to keep Kabila in power, reports Reuters.
International and African powers fear failure to implement the deal would worsen recent protests over President Kabila’s perceived attempt to hold on to power despite his second and final five-year term expiring on 20 December. Police and military are reported to have shot hundreds of protesters dead.
The DRC has never seen a peaceful transfer of power, and many observers now fear a return to the brutal civil wars in which an estimated five million people were killed between 1997, when the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko was ousted after a 32-year rule, and 2003.
PICTURE: Pope Francis met the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo Joseph Kabila in the Private Library of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican in September last year.