Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Jan 2 – Opposing sides in the crisis that has gripped DR Congo will this week hold their first talks on implementing a landmark deal on the country’s political future, mediators said Monday.
“An initial meeting for deciding on ways to implement the agreement is scheduled for Tuesday,” Father Donatien Nshole, the spokesman for National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO), which is overseeing the process, told AFP.
The hard-fought New Year’s Eve agreement aims at defusing a crisis over the future of President Joseph Kabila.
Under the constitution, the 45-year-old leader should have left office on December 20 at the end of his second and final mandate, but he has shown no sign of wanting to step down.
Scores of people died in clashes in the runup to the deadline, prompting the influential Catholic Church to ramp up efforts for a political solution.
Under the deal, Kabila will stay in power until elections are held “at the end of 2017.”
During the 12-month period, a so-called National Transition Council will be set up, headed by the 84-year-old opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, and a prime minister will be named from opposition ranks.
“Everyone on both sides understood that they absolutely had to sign an agreement to avoid chaos,” commented Jean-Pierre Mbwebwa, a professor of politics at the University of Kinshasa.
“They also understood that whoever becomes the first to sabotage the implementation of it will bear full responsibility for the chaos that ensues,” he added.
– Problem of ‘inclusiveness’ –
While the compromise deal has so far prevented an explosion of violence, many questions remain about how, and if, it will work.
Christophe Lutundula, who signed the agreement for the opposition, said the scheduled talks would be about “specific arrangements” on the composition of the transition body, which has now been renamed the National Council for Overseeing the Electoral Agreement and Process (CNSAP).
Issues include methods for appointing CNSAP’s 28 members and “the composition of the (transitional) government,” Lutundula told AFP.
On the government side, Communications Minister Lambert Mende said the talks had to settle the problem of “inclusiveness” — a reference to reservations by 10 pro-government delegates who did not sign the deal.
The 10 include members of the Congo Liberation Movement (MLC) of former vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba, currently behind bars in The Netherlands on the order of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.
Blessed with natural resources but chronically poor, sapped by corruption and politically unstable, the Democratic Republic of Congo has never witnessed a peaceful transfer of power since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960.
The former colonial ruler has joined others in the international community in piling pressure on the political factions to stick to the agreement.
The United States called it “an historic step” for the vast central African nation, while the United Nations and the European Union (EU) urged the parties to hold to the consensus they had found on New Year’s Eve.
But the country’s political fragility and threat of violence overshadow the implementation talks.
The DR Congo’s history is a bloody one. Two decades ago, the country collapsed into the deadliest conflict in modern African history.
Its two wars in the late 1990s and early 2000s dragged in at least six African armies and left more than three million dead. The east of the country remains a battleground for rival ethnic militias.
Kabila took office his father Laurent was assassinated in 2001 at the height of the Second Congo War.
He was confirmed as leader in 2006 during the first free elections since independence, and re-elected for a second term in 2011 in a vote marred by accusations of fraud.