The Democratic Republic of Congo has been thrown into another political crisis after Congo President Joseph Kabila refused to leave office after his second term expired on Tuesday. The country has never had a peaceful transition of power in its post-colonial history.
Demonstrators protesting Kabila’s refusal to respect the constitutionally-mandated term limits and leave office have been killed and arrested. The current estimate is that security forces loyal to Kabila have killed at least 34 protesters, with hundreds believed to have been arrested (and likely facing mistreatment by authorities).
The Kabila government claims it cannot organize new elections until April 2018 due to registration issues. Kabila initially came to power in 2001 after his father, President Laurent-Désiré Kabila, was assassinated. After a new constitution (which included term limits) was ratified, Kabila was elected in 2006, and re-elected in 2011. Both elections were criticized for having irregularities.
Protests have been spreading throughout the country, leading to fears that a war might break out as ethnic tensions have correspondingly flared up. Congo went through two civil wars in the 1990s and early 2000s, which left millions dead and displaced.
Western countries, including the U.S., have condemned the killing of protesters by the government, with some threatening to issue sanctions. According to The New York Times, US diplomats, including Secretary of State John Kerry, have met with Kabila many times in recent months. Whatever was offered, it seems Kabila wasn’t buying.
While Kerry and other US officials have been shuttling in and out of Kinshasa, the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) has been creeping further and further into the politics of the continent.
Nick Turse of TomDispatch reports Special Operations Command Africa (SOCAFRICA) commandos have been running in and out of countries with little respect for borders. A report gained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request revealed “nearly 20 programs and activities—from training exercises to security cooperation engagements—utilized by SOCAFRICA across the continent. This wide array of low-profile missions, in addition to named operations and quasi-wars, attests to the growing influence and sprawling nature of U.S. Special Operations forces (SOF) in Africa.”
While it is not exactly news that the US has been spreading its influence throughout North Africa, in places like Libya, the US special forces have spread their operations into Central Africa, even establishing a permanent military base in Djibouti.
The White House has disclosed operations in Cameroon, Niger, and a special mission to find the Lord’s Resistance Army headed by Joseph Kony. Kony originally operated out of Uganda but has reportedly moved through Central Africa, including South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
US special forces have also participated in operations in Mali, Algeria, Burkina Faso, Morocco, Tunisia, Chad, Mauritania, Nigeria, and Senegal. Turse estimates that “on any given day, between 1,500 and 1,700 American special operators and support personnel are deployed somewhere on the continent. Over the course of a year they conduct missions in more than 20 countries.”
So, given the U.S.’ increasing reach in Africa, can America really stay out of Congo’s next war?