TO cling to power, African presidents have broadly done one of or a mix of the following three things: amend constitutions to remove term age or term limits; hold elections and steal them; or lose an election as President Yahya Jammeh just did in The Gambia, and reject the result.
The Democratic Republic of Congo’s President Joseph Kabila has shaken up the scene, and introduced a fourth way – staying in power through masterly inactivity. It’s the “do nothing” method.
Kabila’s full second term as DRC president runs out on December 20, and the opposition is demanding he step down the day before.
Kabila, on the other hand, insists that the constitution allows him to remain in office until elections have been held and a successor is ready to take office. The big problem: elections have been repeatedly delayed as nearly everything needed to hold them have not been undertaken.
The previous constitutional deadline for the calling of elections, 19-20 September, saw protests that led to scores of deaths. There is little trust for Kabila in Kinshasa, with April 2018 now being talked about for elections and fears the president might try to change the constitution before then to maintain his grip on power.
Time will tell if the people of DRC are prepared to wait up to April, or if Kabila can stay in power even longer by doing nothing.
If he does pull it off, he might encourage other leaders with president-for-life ambitions to try his method.
Amending constitutions or rigging elections can be messy and dangerous, provoking protests, international condemnation, and leaves a trail of undemocratic evidence.
Masterly inactivity too provokes protests and anger, but it is the closest in politics to a victimless crime – like trespassing. And incumbents like Kabila can also benefit from the fact that it causes a lot of confusion, because the language for describing it and the slogans for mobilising against it are still in infancy.
-Additional reporting and commentary IRIN