Government security forces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo killed at least two protesters on February 25. The protests, organized by the Catholic church, called for President Joseph Kabila to step down and hold new national elections.
Kabila has been in office since 2001. His official term was supposed to end in December 2016, but he made a deal with the Catholic church and opposition parties that allowed him to stay in power through the end of 2017. However, he claimed that logistical problems prevented him from holding elections at that point. His administration is now suggesting that they will hold new elections in December 2018, but protesters demand an assurance that Kabila will actually hold the elections and will not run for reelection.
The protests, which began at cathedrals and churches in the capital city, Kinshasa, were organized by church officials and the Lay Coordination Committee (CLC), a key opposition group. Kabila previously banned these protests from taking place, and police and security forces surrounded churches and blocked roads to try to prevent the demonstrations on February 25.
Police met the demonstrators with tear gas and live bullets. Dr. Francois Kajingulu from St. Joseph de Limete Hospital in Kinshasa stated, “Since 7:00 AM we have received three injured people from the Catholic march. Two were seriously injured, and one died from a bullet wound in the chest.” However, some witnesses claim that there were more injuries and deaths. Leila Zerrougui, head of the D.R. Congo’s UN mission, said that 47 people were injured and more than 100 were arrested across the country.
The government also cut off internet, mobile data, and phone messaging services during the protests. Three priests were also reported to have been arrested at the protests.
Previous anti-Kabila protests in January resulted in an equally brutal government response, resulting in 15 deaths and many more injuries.
Kinshasa Police Chief General Sylvano Kasongo said that he was hoping to protect the security of the population and stop those seeking to disrupt public order. He also stated, “The goal is to have zero casualties,” and “I told the policemen not to fire on the population, which is a civilian population that isn’t armed.”
In a statement released on February 25, the CLC said that “there will be no respite for the government in place as long as we have not recovered our dignity and our liberty.”
In response to the government’s crackdown, the European Union, Switzerland, and Canada released a statement emphasizing the “importance of respecting fundamental rights including the right to demonstrate.”
Pope Francis also spoke-out against the violence and deaths in the D.R. Congo, saying, “I renew my call for everyone to work to avoid any form of violence.”
Observers worrythat the renewed bouts of violence and protests in the D.R. Congo could result in the state sliding back into a period of war like those that plagued the nation from 1996 to 1997 and from 1998 to 2003.