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After Kabila Announcement, Credibility of Congo Elections Remains in Question

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After Kabila Announcement, Credibility of Congo Elections Remains in Question

Posted by Enough Team on August 9, 2018

International pressure still needed to address major gaps for a free and fair election and dismantling of systemic corruption; New candidate Shadary is under European sanctions for human rights abuses

Washington, D.C. – Yesterday’s announcement in the Democratic Republic of Congo that President Joseph Kabila will not stand for an illegal third term in presidential elections scheduled for December is an important step but has not resolved several key issues that are critical for ensuring a credible electoral process and ending systemic corruption and violence in Congo. A credible electoral process is one key step for laying the foundation for ending the decades of poor governance and corruption that have plagued the Congolese people. The international community should sustain financial pressure against the Kabila regime, both to ensure credible elections in December and to transform Congo’s violent kleptocratic system.

Sasha Lezhnev, Enough Project Deputy Director of Policy, said: “Yesterday’s announcement, while a key step, does not make the electoral process credible. Major parts of the December 31 accord have not been implemented, the electoral commission is moving ahead with electronic voting machines despite concerns about major security vulnerabilities, opposition leaders have faced major barriers to candidate registration, and major corruption issues remain. The United States, European Union, and African Union should continue to ratchet up the financial pressure on the Kabila regime to ensure that a credible democratic transition takes place and to help dismantle the violent kleptocratic system in Congo.”

Several key indicators are relevant for the credibility of the elections planned for December 2018 and systemic change in Congo:

1. Whether the Kabila regime continues to ban or crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations and maintain trumped up charges against civil society activists and candidates. Significant aspects of the December 31, 2016 accord, including implementation of political confidence-building measures have not been realized. The December 31 agreement stipulates that politically-motivated charges against activists and candidates should be resolved, yet most nonetheless remain in place. The government maintains a ban on pro-democracy demonstrations, and opposition groups face significant barriers to exercising their freedom of assembly rights, including brutal crackdowns. Other government repression tactics against peaceful protesters continue, including the continued illegal arrest, detention, and intimidation of civil society members. These repressive measures violate fundamental rights of the Congolese people and corrode the democratic process. The ban should be lifted, politically-motivated charges should be dropped, and political prisoners should be released.

2. Whether the electoral commission moves ahead with using electronic voting machines and allows a review of the voter roll. A recent report by The Sentry showed that the machines proposed for use on Election Day have serious security vulnerabilities that could compromise ballot secrecy and lead to vote manipulation. The Independent Electoral Commission’s (CENI) procurement and distribution plan for the machines remains opaque. It is unclear how many machines the CENI has purchased out of an estimated need of 105,000 or where the funding to acquire these machines comes from. The CENI has also failed to respond to calls for increased transparency more broadly, including a budget and spending review, and continues to deny civil society access to the voter list in order to conduct an independent audit.

3. Whether all candidates are able to register. Credible democratic elections will only occur if all eligible candidates are allowed to register.  Several opposition candidates report barriers to registration. The decision regarding which candidates will be ultimately deemed eligible to stand in the elections rests with the CENI and the Constitutional Court. Observers have raised concerns regarding the independence of both institutions. The CENI must ensure that all eligible candidates are able to participate in the elections.

4. Whether the government enacts key accountability and anti-corruption reforms. Military officers and government officials accused of and/or sanctioned for serious human rights abuses remain in office, and endemic corruption and violence against civilians continues in the natural resource sectors. The Congolese government should require state-owned companies to publish detailed independent financial audits, as well as mining and oil contracts and subcontractors to ensure transparency of resource revenues. It should also cooperate with U.S. Department of Justice probes into corruption in the natural resources sector, and allow access and independence for Congolese and international investigators gathering evidence of gross human rights violations.

A credible electoral process is a critical step toward creating a transparent, accountable system of governance in Congo – and ultimately in dismantling the overall system of violent kleptocracy. Over $750 million went missing from the state-owned mining company Gécamines from 2011 to 2014, 4.5 million people were displaced in Congo as of January 2018, and key Kabila business partners have been reported to be attempting to evade US sanctions through new mining deals. The United States, European Union, and African Union should escalate financial and diplomatic pressure on the Kabila regime in order to ensure that December 2018 elections occur and mark the beginning of a systemic transformation – and not merely the swapping out of politicians while the underlying system of violent kleptocracy remains unchallenged.

This week’s news also raises major questions about Kabila’s real political plans. The ruling coalition nominated former Interior Minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary as its candidate for president. Shadary was sanctioned by the European Union in 2017 for his involvement “in planning, directing, or committing acts that constitute serious human rights violations in the DRC.” He also has a very limited political base, and there are billions of dollars at stake for Kabila, his family, and their business partners. There is serious concern that Kabila is making plans to rule behind the scenes.

In particular, the Enough Project and The Sentry recommend that the United States, European Union, and African Union take the following steps:

1. Network sanctions: The United States, European Union, and U.N. Security Council should sanction individuals, their networks, and commercial enablers involved in undermining a credible electoral process and high-level corruption, and fully enforce existing sanctions. The Treasury Department should also move forward with derivative designations of those in the networks of previously-sanctioned persons. The State Department should work to coordinate pressure with the European Union and U.N. Security Council but should not wait for them to act.  Previous United States and European Union sanctions almost certainly helped mitigate repression and pressure the DRC government to sign the Dec. 31 accord. The recent visa ban issued by the State Department in which it announced travel restrictions against several senior Congo officials for their role in facilitating corruption related to the electoral process was also a helpful signal. However, it has been over a year since senior Congolese officials have been sanctioned under E.O. 13671, and additional designations have not been deployed nearly to the extent needed to have a sustained impact on Kabila’s calculations. Financial pressure is critically important to creating tangible consequences and meaningful leverage to change the equation for the kleptocratic elites in power. The Kabila family controls over 80 companies, and Kabila’s chief advisors have engaged in significant misappropriation of state funds. The United States and European Union have significant financial leverage due to the regime’s reliance on the US dollar and euro, and its interconnectedness to the global banking system.

2. Anti-money laundering measures: The Treasury Department Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) and other financial intelligence units in Europe and Africa should employ measures to combat money laundering and the illicit financial activities of President Kabila and those in his inner circle. Specifically, FinCEN should use its special measures authority under Section 311 of the USA Patriot Act to issue a finding against banks and other financial institutions used by the Kabila regime to identify them as entities that are of primary money laundering concern. FinCEN should also issue an Advisory about the money laundering risks associated with the banking and mining sectors of Congo. FinCEN should focus its investigations on banks that are facilitating the illicitly-procured proceeds of Kabila and his inner circle to cut off access to the United States financial system to those who launder the proceeds of corruption from the DRC.

3. Coordinated pressure between the international community and the region. The AU Peace and Security Council and several African governments, including Angola, Rwanda, and Botswana, have made strong statements calling for Congo to implement a credible democratic transition. The United States and European Union should coordinate with the African Union and Southern African Development Community on this issue and jointly communicate to Kabila the importance of adhering to key governance and anti-corruption benchmarks and outline the consequences if they are not met. The United States, European Union, and United Nations should also acknowledge and amplify the voices of Congolese civil society activists, who undertake significant risks in continuing to organize and call for a credible, democratic transition and transparent, accountable system of government.

For media inquiries or interview requests, please contact: Greg Hittelman, +1 310-717-0606,


The Enough Project supports peace and an end to mass atrocities in Africa’s deadliest conflict zones. Together with its investigative initiative The Sentry, Enough counters armed groups, violent kleptocratic regimes, and their commercial partners that are sustained and enriched by corruption, criminal activity, and the trafficking of natural resources. By helping to create consequences for the major perpetrators and facilitators of atrocities and corruption, Enough seeks to build leverage in support of peace and good governance. Enough conducts research in conflict zones, engages governments and the private sector on potential policy solutions, and mobilizes public campaigns focused on peace, human rights, and breaking the links between war and illicit profit. Learn more – and join us – at