In the Democratic Republic of Congo, residents in key cities joined a general strike called by the opposition to force President Joseph Kabila to finally adopt a three-month old power sharing deal and permit elections.
Monday’s protests in the DRC were mounted by the umbrella group of opposition parties known as Rassemblement (Rally). The strike led to a slow-down in business activity in the capital Kinshasa and in the country’s second city Lubumbashi.
Rassemblement accuses President Joseph Kabila of causing chaos by failing to implement a power sharing deal signed on December 31, 2016.
“We want no more of him,” a resident of the Kingasani district of Kinshasa said on Monday.
There was a heavy police presence in the capital and the normally bustling market was shut.
“I couldn’t go to work. It’s my way of supporting the opposition. We want change,” said a central bank employee, who asked to remain anonymous.
President Kabila’s constitutional mandate expired last year at the end of his second five year term. He refused to step down and allow elections, which lead to protests in September 2016. Some 50 people died as a result of the violence.
On Monday morning, shops and service stations in Kinshasa remained closed and public transport was scarce. People were seen walking from their homes in eastern working class districts to their jobs in the city center. Other residents opted to remain at home fearing violence could break out.
Witnesses said the situation was similar in Lubumbashi, some 1,570 kilometers (975 miles) southeast of Kinshasa. “One shop in five is open,” a resident said.
Mouths to feed
But some people voiced indifference to the appeal by opposition politicians for a day of protest. “Our problem is to find something to feed our children, send them to school,” said Albertine Bulanga who was selling maize in a Kingasani market.
One woman selling goods at a bus terminal told DW she had no alternative but to work on Monday.
“We don’t have any savings at home, and if you don’t work, you and your family don’t have anything to eat,” she said.
The power sharing deal which the strikers are supporting permits Kabila to stay in office until 2017 in tandem with a transitional authority and a new premier who will be drawn from the opposition.
The eastern city of Goma was also quiet on Monday, except for a strong military presence. “This a message to the leaders to tell them that things are not right,” one Goma resident said.
Monday’s stoppage was the first big protest against Kabila organized by the Rassemblement opposition alliance since the death of opposition figure Etienne Tshisekedi in February at the age of 84. Tshisekedi, who negotiated the power sharing deal, headed the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS).
One UDPS member, who asked not to be identified, told DW they were prepared to meet Kabila, but not on Monday while the protests were in progress.
Negotiations between the opposition and the government on implementing the power sharing deal appeared to have broken down. Bishops from the country’s influential Roman Catholic church, who were acting as mediators, pulled out of the talks saying they was a lack of political will on both sides to reach a settlement.
Unrest in Kasai
The DRC is a vast, sprawling country suffering from chronic violence.
At least 400 people have died in unrest over the last six months in the provinces of Kasai-Central, Kasai, Kasai-West and Lomani.
The unrest erupted in mid-August when government forces killed Kamwina Nsapu, a tribal chief and militia leader who and rebelled against Kabila.
Last month, the police accused rebels of killing 39 officers in Kasai, and last week the bodies of two UN contractors were found after they were kidnapped in Kasai-Central.
The two foreigners were kidnapped by unidentified assailants on March 12 along with four Congolese accompanying them.
On Monday, the authorities said fighters loyal to Nsapu had launched an attack on Luebo late on Friday in which at least eight people were killed.
The chief prosecutor at International criminal Court (ICC), Fatou Bensouda, has voiced alarm at the spiraling violence.
“I shall not hesitate to take action if acts constituting crimes within the jurisdiction of the court are committed and to take all necessary measures to prosecute those responsible,” she warned.
Kabila and his government have also been warned by the UN Security Council to honor the power sharing deal with Rassemblement.
Last week the Council renewed the mandate of the MONUSCO mission in Congo, the UN’s biggest and costliest peacekeeping operation, but reduced its troop strength. Some 500 soldiers are expected to return home..
Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the UN, has described Kabila’s regime as “corrupt” and said it was making MONUSCO’s job impossible. “We can’t work in spite of the government. We need to hold the government accountable,” she said.
Kabila is expected to deliver a speech to the people of the DRC on Tuesday focusing on political and security issues.
Saleh Mwanamilongo in Kinshasa contributed to this report