Protesters have reportedly been killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, after President Joseph Kabila’s term of office expired at midnight on Monday.

Gunfire was heard overnight and tensions remain high. The capital city Kinshasa ground almost to a halt on Tuesday, with people staying at home as groups of youths burnt tyres and built barricades on the streets, AFP reporters said.

The UN human rights director for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) said on Tuesday that there were “solid” reports that 20 civilians had been killed in confrontations with security forces in the capital.

democratic republic of congo

Dozens of troop carriers patrolled Kinshasa, a megacity of 10 million people, on Tuesday and police officers and paramilitary forces were evident in other cities as they have been since Sunday. (Reuters)

“On the issue of deaths, it looks bad,” Jose Maria Aranaz told Reuters by telephone. “We are reviewing allegations of up to 20 civilians killed, but it [the information] is pretty solid.”

The DR Congo’s freshly named premier, Samy Badibanga, on Tuesday urged people to stay “calm” and security forces “to show discipline and restraint.”

“I want to issue an appeal for calm,” he said at a media conference where he also called for restraint by security forces, after violence broke out due to President Joseph Kabila’s decision to name a new government instead of stepping down when his mandate ended.

Opposition activists have accused Kabila of trying to cling to power by letting his term run out without an election to choose the next leader, which has not witnessed a peaceful change of power since its independence in 1960.

South African police fired rubber bullets on Tuesday at scores of protesters outside the DR Congo embassy in Pretoria who were demanding Kabila step down, a spokesman said.

Political Crisis Might Undermine Fragile Peace

Africa analyst Fidelis Mbah said on Monday that opposition parties have avoided calling for protests for fear of stoking violence like that which claimed 53 in September, but “the people themselves are actually the ones who are mobilising” and “leaflets have been circulated around the country urging people to take back their streets.”

Mbah explained that because the DR Congo’s constitution bars Kabila from seeking a third term, some people feel he may be trying to postpone elections until he can change the rules.

A presidential election was originally set to take place in November 2016, but with the support of the country’s constitutional court Kabila has called for it to be delayed until April 2018.

democratic republic of congo

Residents chant slogans against President Joseph Kabila in Kinshasa, as United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo patrol the area. (Reuters)

If Kabila does seek to change the constitution to remain in office, he would be following in the footsteps of neighbouring Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza and Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

But people opposed to Kabila are not likely to take such a move lying down, leading to fears the current crisis could spark a conflict like that which took place between 1996 and 2003, which killed millions, sucked in neighbouring armies, and saw armed groups clash over the DR Congo’s mineral wealth.

Mbah said, “The political crisis might even worsen the already fragile peace in the country.”

Considering recent events, it seems this is already happening. On Monday, DR Congo chief diplomat Barnabe Kikaya said militia fighters raided a jail in the north-eastern city of Butembo, trying to free prisoners and triggering clashes that killed a South African UN peacekeeper and a police officer.

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