Congo’s Kabila Appoints Army Chief Amid U.S., EU Sanctions

 

 

Congo’s President Joseph Kabila has appointed a new Army Chief who is under international sanctions for the violent repression of dissent, raising fears of an imminent crackdown.

State television reported on Sunday that Kabila had appointed General John Numbi to the role of inspector general of the Congolese Armed Forces. Numbi has been placed under sanctions by the United States, European Union and Switzerland for alleged killings of scores of civilians by forces controlled by him over several years.

His promotion was part of a reshuffle in which also saw General Gabriel Amisi, himself under sanctions for abuses and for selling weapons to rebel groups responsible for massacring civilians, was promoted to army deputy chief of staff.

Congo Police Fire Teargas, Make Arrests At Opposition Meeting

benin presidentPolice in Congo Republic fired teargas at opposition supporters and arrested around 10 of them on Friday ahead of a planned news conference by opposition candidates who say last weekend’s presidential election was won fraudulently.

President Denis Sassou Nguesso, who has ruled the Central African oil producer for 32 of the last 37 years, won re-election in Sunday’s poll with 60 percent of the vote, according to official results announced on Thursday.

Early on Friday, around 100 police officers were positioned outside of the headquarters of the opposition UPADS party in the capital Brazzaville’s Diata neighborhood, where a coalition of five candidates was expected to announce their own poll results.

A Reuters witness saw police fire at least two teargas canisters at the crowd that had gathered there and force about 10 opposition supporters into vehicles.

An opposition representative told Reuters the scheduled news conference had been canceled.

The government spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

On Wednesday, the opposition coalition denounced alleged fraud during the polls. It said that its own results showed Sassou Nguesso headed for defeat and promised to make public its own vote tallies.

Retired General Jean-Marie Mokoko, a former army chief turned opposition figure who finished third in the election, called for a campaign of civil disobedience on Thursday, potentially setting the stage for protests.

In a statement late on Thursday, the U.S. State Department advised all parties to remain calm and asked that any challenges to the results be made in compliance with Congolese law.

“The United States remains concerned about the transparency and credibility of the electoral process, including reports of irregularities, and the prolonged communications blackout,” it said.

The government cut telephone and Internet communications ahead of the vote, a measure it said aimed to prevent unofficial election results circulating and causing unrest. Services were only restored on Thursday.

Congo’s constitution was changed by referendum last year, lifting term and age limits that would have excluded Sassou Nguesso from running for another term in office.

At least 18 people were killed by security forces during opposition demonstrations ahead of the October referendum.

Congo’s election has been watched closely across Africa, where several long-ruling presidents are trying to remove constitutionally mandated term limits so that they can stay in power.

Congo General Strike Stops Most Economic Activity In Capital

congoA one-day general strike in Democratic Republic of Congo paralyzed most economic activity in the capital on Tuesday in a bid to pressure President Joseph Kabila to quit power when his mandate ends in December.

Traffic on the normally bustling streets was greatly reduced, few of the shared taxis that ferry much of the city’s workforce were running and the central market was largely empty, witnesses said. Some schools were closed.

There was a heavy police presence in Kinshasa and the second city Lubumbashi, but no reports of violence.

“For us, this (strike) is an important action against an irresponsible government,” said Abdul Mpia, 39.

Others said the strike was causing hardship in a city where many make a living as street sellers or market traders.

“We should wait until November when (Kabila) finishes his mandate,” said a woman who identified herself as Mama Lily. “For now, let us work.”

The constitution bars Kabila from standing again in elections slated for November, but critics fear he wants to change the law or delay the poll to retain power.

Kabila came to power when his father was assassinated in 2001. He won elections in 2006 and 2011 that the opposition says were rigged. The duration of his tenure has raised tension in a country that has never known a peaceful handover of power. More than 40 died in a police crackdown on protests in January 2015.

In neighboring Burundi, the President’s decision to serve a third term has triggered nine months of violence in which at least 440 have died, and the United States has said it is deeply disappointed with a bid for a third term by the President of next-door Rwanda.

Opposition leaders say Congo’s strike is the first step in a broader protest movement but some analysts were skeptical about its impact.

“I always thought that this particular strike would not have any significant consequence on the respective positions of people,” said Pascal Kambale, former Congo country director for the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa.

Authorities arrested six members of the Struggle for Change (Lucha) activist group in the eastern city of Goma overnight and one in Kinshasa who were preparing leaflets announcing the strike, the director of the U.N. Joint Human Rights Office in Kinshasa, Jose Maria Aranaz, told Reuters.

One member of the opposition Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC) party was also arrested in the eastern city of Uvira, Aranaz said.

Government spokesman Lambert Mende said he was not aware of any arrests.

Embassies urged their citizens to exercise caution and U.S., French and Belgian schools in Kinshasa were closed.

The popular Radio France International station was off the air in Kinshasa. Broadcasts were cut during last year’s political unrest.