Police in the Democratic Republic of Congo resorted to using tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse mobs of protesters in several neighborhoods in the capital city of Kinshasa Monday night. Protest groups chanted “Bye, bye Kabila” in acknowledgment that President Joseph Kabila’s mandate to govern the country expired at midnight Monday, despite his plans to remain in office past the end of his term.
A Congolese constitutional court decision from earlier this year said that Kabila should only relinquish his presidency if a successor had been democratically elected, according to Africa News Tuesday. But hundreds of anti-Kabila demonstrators accused the president of attempting to stay in office when he knowingly allowed his term to expire without an election to choose the next leader of Congo. The mineral rich West African nation hasn’t had a peaceful transfer of leadership since it became independent from Belgium in 1960, Reuters reported Monday.
Kabila has been the leader of the Democratic Republic of Congo since his father, President Laurent-Désiré Kabila, was assassinated in 2001. While opposition leaders urged their followers to demand Kabila’s resignation by throwing rocks and inciting violence against his hundreds of security forces in the capital’s densest neighborhoods, they were largely diffused by Tuesday morning.
Congolese government officials cited financial problems as the reasons why the vote for a new president had been delayed. The election has been slated to be held in April 2018.
“Kabila's mandate finishes at 1159. ... Tomorrow (Tuesday) it will be chaos," Hugue Ilunga, 21, told Reuters.
Though the Congolese government outlawed protests in Kinshasa, student demonstrators at Kinshasa University blew whistles and burned tires Monday night as symbolic gestures to show it was time for Kabila to vacate his presidential office, according to the Washington Post Tuesday. But the streets of the city that houses 12 million anti-Kabila activists were mostly quiet as many shops halted business.
Opposition activists across Congo tweeted that internet services had been severely diminished amid the security crackdown on protesters. Congolese government authorities mandated telecommunication companies to block all access to social media sites on Thursday in anticipation of the unrest that would occur Monday night.
“The social media shutdown on the eve of the end of President Kabila’s mandate is a blatant attempt to keep the Congolese people in the dark at a critical time, and must be rescinded immediately,” Sarah Jackson, the Deputy Regional Director for Amnesty International in East Africa, said Thursday.
Jose Maria Aranaz, the UN human rights director in the Congo, told Reuters that 20 civilians had been killed amid standoffs with security forces in Kinshasa.
More than 80 protesters were arrested in the eastern city of Goma Monday, and local police say 9 were incarcerated. Activists were reportedly clad in red shirts, which signified their opposition status.
A group of armed opposition activists stormed a jail in the eastern city of Butembo in an attempt to liberate the prisoners there. The incident resulted in a harsh firefight that left seven of the attackers dead along with a South African U.N. peacekeeper and one Congolese police officer.
Congo's former colonizing country, Belgium, has told its citizens to leave Congo by Monday in anticipation of the riots. The United States also advised against any non-essential travel to the county and implored its citizens there to remain indoors.