From The Chicago Tribune:
“World leaders typically don’t get much advance notice of exploding crises. But when it comes to the Democratic Republic of the Congo they do, and with a specific date: Dec. 19. That’s when President Joseph Kabila is constitutionally obliged to leave office after 15 years. Just one problem: The 45-year-old leader plans to stay in power well past his expiration date, despite his widespread unpopularity and the specter of massive nationwide protests. It’s enough to push the country over the brink and into crisis, unless a group of Catholic bishops can broker a last-ditch political agreement to keep the coming storm in check.
The United States and the international community are pinning their dwindling hopes for the DRC on the National Episcopal Conference of the Congo, or CENCO. The Congolese organization of Catholic bishops is mediating talks between Kabila’s ruling party and the coalition of opposition parties known as the “Rassemblement” in an attempt to broker a power-transition agreement before Dec. 19. It comes after the president failed to organize elections before the December deadline, culminating two years of failed political dialogues and an impasse between the ruling and opposition parties.
“Supporting CENCO’s effort is our top priority from now until Dec. 19,” Tom Perriello, the State Department Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa, told Congress Tuesday. He called it “the best effort and perhaps the last effort” to broker a deal before the deadline sparks mass protests and instability in a country still scarred by a devastating civil war that ended thirteen years ago.”
If the CENCO gambit fails, the prospects of violent protests could catalyze a “true regional crisis,” Perriello said. “If this gets settled in the streets, we think that would be a disaster.” The DRC got a grim preview in September when anti-government protesters clashed with security forces, leaving more than 50 people dead. The last presidential election in 2011, which Kabila won amid disputed results, also culminated in violent protests and the deaths of dozens.”