March 14, 2016
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With a population of almost 80 million people and unparalleled natural resources, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (the DRC or the Congo) is a country of tremendous potential—but only that. One of the most violent places on earth, its people suffer from the brutality of armed groups and political instability. Now, President Joseph Kabila’s steadfast refusal to move forward with constitutionally required elections in 2016 is a worrying indicator that new waves of violence may not be far off.

“Why the Congo Matters,” a new issue brief by Atlantic Council Africa Center Senior Fellow Dr. Gérard Prunier, makes the case for increased global engagement with the Congo at this vital juncture in its history. He situates the present-day DRC in its complex historical setting, beginning with the brutal Belgian colonial rule and chaotic decolonization process. In the 1990s, “Africa’s World War,” as the thirteen nation conflict became known, decimated the Congo and left a war-weary population with weak leaders and even weaker institutions.

Kabila, who has been in power for fifteen years, is ineligible to run for President under strict term limits enshrined in the constitution that he himself promulgated in 2005. Nevertheless, while simultaneously declaring respect for the constitution, he is attempting to employ administrative technicalities to delay the election of a successor. Citing Article 8 of the constitution, he claims that it is not lawful to hold elections without first updating the voter lists, a process that his government says may take anywhere from one to four years—a delay so significant that it would effectively amount to another term in office, and would likely result in wide-spread civil unrest led by frustrated opposition parties.

As one of the largest countries in Africa and a lynchpin of regional security, the DRC is an important front in the African public’s revolt against “presidents for life.” In 2016, the United States and its allies now confront a troubling—and potentially explosive—democracy deficit in one of the continent’s most strategic nations.

In the study, Prunier examines relevant US and European interests in the Congo, which range from security and economic concerns to humanitarian imperatives. He concludes that there is still time to prevent a new conflagration in the Great Lakes region, but not much.

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This issue brief was made possible through generous support from United for Africa’s Democratic Future.