Photograph — dailymaverick.co.za

As opinion polls show the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) want their president, Joseph Kabila, to step down in December, doubts of that happening are increasing. Only 8% of about 8,000 respondents in a survey conducted between May and September want Joseph Kabila to continue as president.

Since its independence from Belgium on June 30,1960, the Democratic Republic of Congo has not witnessed a peaceful transition of power, and now, that trend may continue. Kabila seems to be making plans of his own to stop a transition from happening.

Kabila is due to step down as president on the 20th of December, 2016 but it is unclear if he wants to leave office or not, as he has not made a definite decision. He is already drawing comparisons with famous Congo dictator Mobutu Sese Seko who Kabila’s father, Laurent, deposed from office.

Joseph Kabila resumed office in 2001 after his father, Laurent Kabila who became president, was assassinated by one of his men. He set up an interim administration and negotiated the end of the Second Congo War involving both neighbors Uganda and Rwanda, key players in the war. He was voted into office in 2006, re-elected in 2011, and hence exhausting the term limits set by the Congolese constitution. He promised not to run for a third term in 2016.

The opposition making it hard for him

However, it’s 2016 and he might not step down of his own volition, with repressive state apparatuses already in place to extend his stay as president. The country’s electoral body had been saying, for whoever was willing to listen, since 2015 that the nation was not ready to conduct presidential elections in 2015 as it needed to acquire updated voters’ data. Kabila suggested a 2-year delay to the elections which opposition members opposed vehemently.

There’s been tension in the large Central African nation for about a year which culminated in violent attacks in September, killing about 100 people. Despite the crackdown on protesters last month, and the continuing play by Kabila to extend his stay in power, Congo’s opposition bloc is not giving up. With the help of a rebel faction group roving around DRC’s borders with Rwanda, Kabila’s opposition members are ready to take this to the wire. And so is Kabila.

The “big men’s” forum

In the African spirit of “consulting your elders”, reports say Kabila has approached presidents of Uganda, Rwanda, and Angola, three countries that share borders with DRC and also have dictators, or “big men” in African parlance, for leaders. In recent months, three different visits of “bilateral co-operation” proportions to these three presidents in Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Jose Eduardo Santos of Angola seem to have created a possible reason why Kabila might just stay.

Joseph’s first call as Congo’s leader after replacing his father was to initiate peace talks with these neighboring countries. He has managed to bring relative peace, in terms of security, to the DRC, save for minor skirmishes on its borders. Kabila’s bid to stay in power could spark another war in the DRC, but the magnitude and length could depend on its neighbours’ help or the lack thereof.

What could happen if the elders help him?

Let’s just say Kabila manages to change the constitutional term limits. A change in constitutional term limits would lead to sanctions from the U.S. and the U.N. The sanctions might not have the required effect if these neighbors pledge their support for him. Regional stability would be provided by these countries, especially with the realization that any instability would lead to a mass migration of Congo’s people to their countries, like neighbouring Burundi.

Furthermore, an oil-extraction deal between DRC and Angola, which is in the offing, might be threatened by instability in DRC. Everyone knows Angola loves oil.

“He still sees regional alliances as essential in his strategy to extend his time in office – but also possibly to secure personal guarantees in case he is forced out of power,” said Vincent Rouget, an analyst on DR Congo, on Joseph Kabila.

Becoming a “big man” using the constitution

If Kabila could make his stay in power legal, then all his problems would be solved in one fell swoop. Yoweri Museveni changed the constitutional term limits and is also planning on extending the age limit for Ugandan presidency. He is 72 years old and in his fifth term in office. He is also reportedly grooming his son to take over from him.

Paul Kagame is a mixture of contradictions his people have come to love. Last year they voted for the term limits of the constitution to be extended for him to continue as president. Any of these options look good for Kabila, but it seems time is not on his side.

The people of DR Congo wait with bated breaths to see if Kabila has any more power play in his arsenal before the 20th of December, following in the footsteps of Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi, or if he will step down as president with his honour, though bruised, but still intact like Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria. Many Africans know the latter rarely happens, though.

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