The Democratic Republic of Congo and Togolese youths have intensified their series of protests on New Year’s Eve against their leaders – Joseph Kabila and Faure Gnassingbe – who are among Africa’s youngest presidents.
Tensions are high in these two former French colonies led by sons of former dictators who took over the presidency after their fathers’ deaths and have maintained power for over a decade.
46-year-old Joseph Kabila has failed to fulfil his promise of holding elections at the end of 2017 which will see him hand over power to another government since his full two-term limit had ended in December 2016.
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He again postponed the election to December 2018 with the backing of the National Assembly, judiciary and the electoral commission which has stated that it can’t organise the polls due to inadequate logistics.
The delays have triggered suspicion that Kabila wants to alter the constitution to allow him to contest again for president despite his ineligibility.
For Togo’s 51-year-old president Faure Gnassingbe, an opposition coalition has heaped pressure on him to resign since August 2017 when tens of thousands of people in half a dozen cities around the country came out to call for an end to the Gnassingbe family rule.
President Faure Gnassingbe has been in power since the death of his father Gnassingbe Eyadema in 2005, who had spent 38 years in office. He was a minister at the time of his father’s death and was sworn in as acting president by the military instead of the President of the National Assembly.
He resigned a few days later after pressure from the international and regional communities. Faure stood for the disputed 2005 elections months later and won, leading to deadly protests and displacement of thousands of people.
The elections were described as fraudulent by election observer groups and the protests in 2005 were met with violence by the security forces leaving over a hundred people killed and several opposition members arrested.
At the end of his mandate, the 1992 constitution which stipulates a two five-year term limit for a president was set aside by a one-sided parliament for Faure to continue his third term bid in 2015.
The country’s 14-party opposition coalition called for him to step down via nearly weekly protests that started with violence in August. Togolese security forces killed at least 16 protesters while hundreds were injured, arrested and jailed. Internet connection was cut and intermittently.
They also demanded the return of the original 1992 Constitution that stipulates a two five-year term limit for presidents as well as a two-round voting system. Also, the introduction of diaspora voting, independent inquiry into the deaths of protesters and the delivery of justice, the immediate release of political detainees and the cessation of arrests and persecution.
Unlike Kabila, deaths and damage to properties drove the Gnassingbe government to table a bill in parliament to amend the constitution, adopt measures including the withdrawal of plain-clothed security officers and the embedding of members of the civil society to observe the protests.
The opposition rejected the draft bill meant to modify the controversial Article 59 of the constitution. It excluded the clause that says “no one can serve more than two terms” which the opposition believe is a ploy to allow Faure to stand for a fourth term in 2020.
The current chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) commented on the protests once saying he is an elected leader yet social media is being used to portray him as a “bloodthirsty dictator”.
Presidents of Ghana and Guinea, Nana Akufo Addo and Alpha Conde have respectively called for talks between the government and the opposition to solve the crisis.
Final anti-Gnassingbe protest in 2017 yet no backing down in 2018
The last demonstration in 2017 against Faure Gnassingbe’s regime was held on Saturday. It was the third in the week with that of Thursday dispersed by tear gas as the demonstrators did not follow the approved routes mapped out by the police.
Opposition leader Jean-Pierre Fabre and the coordinator of the coalition Brigitte Adjamagbo-Johnson said they will not back down in 2018 until Faure Gnassingbe resigns as president.
Today’s protest was the last of 2017 and it was simply gigantic. The repression that occurred on Thursday did not discourage the brave people of #Togo who were on the street to demand the resignation of dictator @FEGnassingbe . Viva #Togo #Togodebout #Fauremustgo pic.twitter.com/N6oxVimXAJ
— Farida Nabourema (@Farida_N) December 30, 2017
Internet cut, protests, tear gas and arrests in DR Congo
The government ordered telecommunication companies to block internet and SMS services in the country on Saturday to quell Sunday’s protests called by Catholic activists and supported by opposition parties and youth groups.
DR Congo: Ahead of today’s protests demanding president Kabila step down, Congolese Govt tell telecom companies to block internet & SMS services in the country since last night pic.twitter.com/EFF6CrSF9P
— Samira Sawlani (@samirasawlani) December 31, 2017
Some protesters burned car tyres and blocked roads in the eastern Congolese town of Goma where similar protests were held last year leading to the arrest of hundreds of protesters.
Residents of the capital Kinshasa have complained of heavy security presence in churches and the streets where people are searched and teargas have been fired in some churches to prevent the protest which has been banned by the authorities.
Security forces are reported to have fired teargas at the Paroisse Saint Michel in Kinshasa’s Bandalungwa district where a march was planned after the Sunday service. It was a similar scene at a church in the working-class district of Barumbu where teargas was fired into the church, witnesses told Reuters.
According to Human Rights Watch, two people have been shot dead outside the St. Alphonse church in the Matete district of Kinshasa, Reuters reports.
The police denied the reports but Reuters quotes a human rights activist Georges Kapiamba who said about 50 people were arrested in Kinshasa and at least seven seriously wounded by gunfire while another 25 were arrested and three more seriously injured in the southeastern town of Kamina.
The youth vowed that they will not go into 2018 with Kabila as president. This is evident in the hashtag #2018SansKabila which is French for #2018WithoutKabila.
This is Sunday 31st December 2017 in Congo-Kinshasa.
-7 people have lost their lives
-Several others are injured badly
-Many are arrested.
— Leja Litho (@LithoLeja) December 31, 2017