Incident Reporting by SAFEY
While most of the world ushered in 2018 with celebrations, the new year in the Democratic Republic of Congo was less cheerful as violent protests broke out over the 17-year rule of President Joseph Kabila. This has caused a Political standoff over Kabila´s rule and further unrest in D.R Congo. Further, tension has been on the rise as Kabila was supposed to step down at the end of his term in late 2016. Already facing a precarious security situation due to conflict with various rebel groups, the ongoing political uncertainty could only mean more bad news not only for Kabila’s government but also its people.
The current stalemate can be traced back to December 2016 when Kabila did not step down as required by the constitution upon the end of his term. He instead delayed the elections numerous times through various tactics with latest announcements indicated that they will be held by end of 2018. His continuous delay tactics have put him at odds with many quarters including the Catholic church that feared the country might be slipping back into a dictatorship. While the opposition remained fractured and significantly weakened, most of the country’s citizens heeded the call by the church and took to the streets to express their anger over his rule.
Since September 2017, protests that sometimes turned deadly have occurred in the country on a regular basis. Major cities such as Kinshasa, Kisangani, Lubumbashi, Goma, Beni and Mbuji Mayi have all experienced clashes as pro-government forces used heavy-handed tactics against the protesters. The situation reached a climax on the eve of the New Year when a major protest was held in Kinshasa, followed by other cities later. The subsequent days were marked by chaos as communication lines including the internet was being restricted. At least seven deaths were also reported as security forces cracked down on the protesters.
During this period, SAFEY continued to provide updates for its users with at least four alerts being sent between the 29 December-2 January period. Its users were also warned in advance of the likelihood of the protests turning deadly, based on past experience. Exact cities of the protests were also being highlighted in these alerts so that users can know the areas to avoid in order to stay safe. As of now, the SAFEY’s country profile section also maintains an “elevated risk” awareness level for D.R. Congo and urged its users to avoid all non-essential travelling to the country where possible.
The ongoing political unrest is just one of the many problems facing the D.R. Congo as rebel groups such as the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) remain active in parts of the country, particularly the east, launching attacks against government troops as well as United Nations-backed peacekeepers. Kabila has indicated that he is willing to relinquish power by naming a successor in July, it will just be a small step albeit significant in the country’s long road for peace and stability.
Timeline of the Events
The following is a timeline of the events as well as SAFEY and media reports:
On 31 December, it was reported that violence has erupted during protests against President Joseph Kabila in Kinshasa. The protests against Kabila after Sunday mass were called by Catholic churches and activists after his continuous refusal to step down.
- First alert by SAFEY at 14:23 (GMT+1) on 29 December
The first alert from SAFEY was sent to prior to the protest day. It was sent upon confirmation from various sources that protests will be held across the country over the rule of Kabila
- Second alert by SAFEY at 11:38 (GMT+1) on 31 December
Second alert to inform users about the internet blockades imposed as well as reports of scuffles following Sunday Notre Dame du Congo cathedral in Kinshasa
- First report by Reuters at 16:14 (GMT+1) on 31 December
The first report from international news agency Reuters about the violence in Kinshasa was issued upon an announcement by UN of the death toll in the afternoon
- Third alert by SAFEY at 16:34 (GMT+1) on 31 December
The third alert was sent following confirmation of serious clashes in the capital as well as in Kananga where protesters were fired upon by security forces. Initial number of casualties were also confirmed in the alert
- Fourth alert by SAFEY at 14:18 (GMT+1) on 2 January
The final alert updated users about the restoration of internet access but warned them of the likelihood of further protests in cities such as Kinshasa, Beni, Bukavu, Butembo, Goma, Kananga, Kisangani, Lubumbashi, Mbandaka, Mbuji-Mayi, and Uvira