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Enough Project, Atlantic Council Host Discussion on Congo’s Democratic Transition Accord

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Enough Project, Atlantic Council Host Discussion on Congo’s Democratic Transition Accord

Posted by Annie Callaway on January 20, 2017

Enough Project, Atlantic Council Host Discussion on Congo’s Democratic Transition Accord

On January 18, the Enough Project co-hosted an event with the Atlantic Council titled “DRC's CENCO Agreement: A Foundation for Real Political Transition?” An 11th-hour deal signed on New Years Eve in Congo which on paper precludes President Joseph Kabila from running for a third term and commits the country to holding elections in 2017. This event discussed possibilities for what is likely to happen in the coming crucial months during which the deal must be implemented. 

The event featured panelists Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, Enough’s Associate Director of Policy, Sasha Lezhnev, and Dr. Pierre Englebert, H. Russell Smith Professor of International Relations and Professor of Politics at Pomona College. Bronwyn Bruton, the Deputy Director of Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, moderated the discussion. 

Dr. Pham framed the conversation by reminding the audience that the events that unfolded late last year in Congo – from the period of September to December, during which elections were supposed to be held and a new president selected – were a slow moving train. Watchers both in Congo and internationally saw the delay tactics coming from a mile away. While President Kabila was ultimately successful in delaying elections temporarily, many observers were pleasantly surprised at the way negotiations between the opposition and ruling party unfolded in the days following December 19th, the day President Kabila was constitutionally mandated to step down.  

As Enough’s Lezhnev noted, the deal came about because of the combination of adept mediation by Congo’s Conference of Catholic Bishops (known by its French acronym, CENCO) and strong leverage in the form of targeted sanctions and other measures by the United States and European Union, led by U.S. Special Envoy Tom Perriello and Belgian Special Envoy Renier Nijskens. It included compromises on both sides and avoided major violence that was likely to occur if it had not been signed. At the same time, Congolese civil society and outside analysts are keeping in mind that elections were still not held under their constitutionally mandated time frame, and dozens of protesters were killed and even more detained during the period of turmoil leading up to and following December 19th

Despite promising indications from the CENCO agreement, a common theme that arose throughout Wednesday’s event was uncertainty, as the Congolese government has shown indications that it will not implement the deal, and Kabila himself has not signed it. As Dr. Englebert noted, “the devil is in the details.”

Lezhnev outlined five key benchmarks that the Congolese government agreed to in the deal must be held accountable for if the agreement is to have any chance of succeeding:

  1. Select a date for elections in 2017 and then publish a realistic final electoral calendar.
  2. Establish the oversight committee for the implementation of the accord, with clearly identified roles and job responsibilities.
  3. Select a date for the change in prime ministers and the installation of a new, inclusive transitional government. 
  4. Resolve the legal cases of political prisoners/activists in exile. The government must clear the charges of four key persons it agreed to, and the magistrate committee to deal with the other three cases must begin work. Other Lucha and Filimbi activists should also be released.
  5. Restore the media that was shut down. The government should now unblock the six Congolese media outlets and the signal of Radio France International that were shut down in 2016.


Lezhnev also mentioned that it will be important to increase the transparency of the electoral process (e.g. conduct an external audit and set out the rules of campaigning and the Congolese government's respect of those). A reconfiguration of the independent electoral body could further strengthen the credibility of the process. These measures will create the right conditions for good governance and external support, which is lacking at the moment. He also noted that Congo's state-owned companies such as Gecamines must go through independent audits, and that those audits should be published. 

 If the agreement is not swiftly and successfully implemented, the panelists discussed several options for “ratcheting up” pressure as Dr. Pham described. Following up on the targeted sanctions placed on key members of Kabila’s regime in late 2016, the United States and Europe can maintain pressure if necessary by naming higher level sanctions targets including members of Kabila’s family who are implicated in corruption. Additionally, anti-money laundering tools should be utilized, and governance and transparency measures, especially for natural resource management, should be enhanced. 

Lezhnev also pointed out that it is important to remember that Congo has been run in many ways as a violent kleptocracy for decades, and even a fully implemented CENCO agreement would not fundamentally change those dynamics. Key governance and transparency reforms, as well as consequences for those who perpetrate violence and corruption, must be encouraged and monitored to reverse the effects of this longstanding system.

With a new U.S. administration comes new opportunities for revived strategies to pursue peace in Congo. The United States, the European Union, regional African governments, and the Congolese government and opposition must work together ensure a peaceful transition of power in Congo in 2017 and a transparent system of governance moving forward. 

For more information read Enough’s October 2016 comprehensive study, "A Criminal State: Understanding and Countering Institutionalized Corruption and Violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo" and the accompanying Activist Brief

Watch the full event video below: