I am very pleased to be back in Kinshasa, and have had some very constructive and useful discussions over the last two days. As I said during my visit to the DRC in November last year, the relationship between the UK and the Democratic Republic of Congo matters greatly to us. I reiterate that now. The DRC has come a long way in recent years. Through its annual half-a-billion dollar spending in this country, the UK has been there throughout that journey and is proud to have played a significant role in supporting that progress. The UK is, and always will be, a committed friend of the DRC.
But between friends sometimes hard truths have to be spoken, and no true friend of the DRC that would say all is well in Congo today. In particular, there is a risk that the social and economic gains made over the last ten years could be undermined, if the Constitution which has been the background for making those gains is not respected. Moreover, there is increasing insecurity in the east of the country with terrible impacts as evidenced by the recent appalling massacres perpetrated over the past days. This causes us great concern.
The UK believes that DRC remains a country of enormous opportunity and potential. Its future is in the hands of the Congolese people and their political representatives, not anyone else. During my visit it has been increasingly clear to me that the faith in democracy in DRC is strong. I believe this should be a cause for celebration, because greater accountability means better government, which means a stronger economy, better public services and a brighter future for everyone. Whilst all elections are important, it is the unanimous opinion of the UN Security Council and many people I met here that the priority should be the Presidential and Legislative elections.
But many of those I have met in the last two days are pessimistic about the future. They fear above all that the government, who is ultimately responsible, has no intention to organise elections in a near future. Perhaps this is not the case, but such damaging speculation is inevitable where there is no clarity. In any event, the Dialogue formally convened six months ago has not yet begun, and there is clearly much mistrust on all sides. Meanwhile political space continues to close, and I have heard particular concern about recent political repression in the former Katanga. I sincerely hope that the recent charges against Moise Katumbi, an opposition candidate, are not an extension of this narrowing political space. In Burundi we saw that the actions of the government led to sanctions against a number of senior figures in government and the security services. The UK’s stand is that those liable for acts of repression or violence will be responsible for their actions and decisions.
It is clear that the Congolese political classes must come together in some form to decide on a date for the Presidential elections. But for a dialogue to produce a lasting solution to the current impasse it must be inclusive. A dialogue that does not reflect the views of the large majority of the Congolese people would waste valuable time and risk being a backward step. Therefore, in the spirit of UN Security Council Resolution 2277, I urge both the Presidential Majority and the Opposition to show flexibility. As part of this, the government should release all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience as soon as possible.
During my last visit I made clear that the UK would be able to disburse our financial contribution to the elections when the political commitment to holding them was clear. That contribution has been set at $17m. Since that time, it has been encouraging to see that the government continues to disburse money to the CENI, and that relevant draft electoral laws have been sent to Parliament for consideration. As soon as there are clear signs of progress towards elections as referred to in Resolution 2277, we will be delighted to make a contribution. President Kabila has been very clear that it is ultimately the responsibility of the government to ensure that elections happen in DRC.
For many years the DRC’s macroeconomic stability and growth has been the envy of the region. Concrete steps towards these elections will not only calm the political situation but boost domestic and international confidence in the Congolese economy, which has been weakened in recent months.
In the interests of all, a way out of this political stalemate must be found soon. If it does not, as Burundi continues to show, the risks of departing from the constitutional order are real for everyone.