Congo-Kinshasa: Kabila agrees to quit power 0

The government of the Congolese President Joseph Kabila has reportedly reached an agreement with opposition parties to end the current political crisis in the Congo over his refusal to step down following a defeat in recent polls.

Under the last-minute accord struck Friday by political parties in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo), Kabila will leave office following elections due to be held by the end of 2017, press reports said citing the nation’s Catholic Church leaders who were mediating the negotiations.

“The government is asked to take all steps so that the elections are organized by the end of 2017 at the latest,” said Marcel Utembi, the president of the Congo’s Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

Kabila’s presidential term expired on December 19, but ruling officials have effectively prolonged his mandate until 2018, claiming that the government would not be able to arrange elections before then.

A protester holds a bird as a crowd gathers to rally against extension of Kabila’s presidential term in the neighborhood of Yolo in Kinshasa on December 20, 2016. (Photo by AFP)

Under the reported accord, which is expected to be officially signed on Saturday, Kabila will not be able to revise the constitution to allow him to remain in office for a third term. The parties further agreed that Kabila will appoint a prime minister from the Central African nation’s main opposition bloc to oversee the transition, a key point of contention in the final stages of negotiations. However, neither Kabila nor the country’s leading opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi are expected to sign the accord, press reports note, raising concerns about whether it would be honored.

Spokesmen for the government and Kabila’s ruling coalition were not available for immediate comment on the reported agreement. The development came as negotiators spent weeks in tense talks seeking to ensure the first peaceful transfer of power in the impoverished nation since its independence in 1960. It remains unclear, however, if polls can be arranged by the end of the upcoming year, or if leading politicians, including Kabila, will live up to the terms.

Meanwhile, Kabila’s extension of his rule has sparked bloody clashes in the country. Security forces killed nearly 40 protesters last week as they rallied against the continuing tenure of a ruler who rose to power in 2001 following his father’s assassination. There are growing concerns that the current standoff could lead to a repeat of clashes seen between 1996 and 2003 in eastern Congo in which many died, mainly due to starvation and disease.