Members of the Congolese opposition are pushing for elections this year, and for President Joseph Kabila to step down if elections are not held.
Seven senior members of the ruling coalition have already been expelled for urging the President not to cling to power after Dec. 19, 2016, the official end of his second term. The planning minister was also sacked from his post reportedly on order of the president.
The fate of President Kabila is the central issue that consumes Congolese politics today. As frustration grows, the Kabila regime has restricted political space, clamped down on free expression and stepped up its jailing of Congolese youth. The US State Department said it was “troubled by the harassment and detention of peaceful activists and opposition leaders” while Human Rights Watch issued a scathing indictment of the regime’s clampdown on peaceful protests and a spate of arrests countrywide.
With limits on free expression, Congolese have had to develop innovative ways of registering their political views. The victory of Congo’s football (soccer) team in the African Nations Championships on Feb. 7 provided an ideal outlet for Congolese people to convey their sentiments toward the regime.
With each winning game, Congolese filled the streets to celebrate the team’s victory. In their celebratory chants, a political message could be heard: “Kabila oyebela… Mandate esili! Eloko nini esilaka te?” or “Kabila… You need to know your [presidential] term is over! What in life doesn’t end?” This spurred the hashtag #Yebela on Twitter among Congolese.
Meanwhile, a half dozen activists from the youth-led organization LUCHA were arrested in the city of Goma for holding up signs calling for the president to respect the constitution. They were charged and sentenced to two years in prison for disturbing the peace and associating with subversive groups.
The arrests of the youth have spurred outrage inside and outside the DRC and inspired youth throughout the country to step up their fight for fundamental and lasting change in the DRC.