An election in the Democratic Republic of Congo to replace President Joseph Kabila remains on course for late December Prime Minister, Bruno Tshibala, said.
“I committed in front of our country’s representatives in May last year to my mission to bring the Congolese people to elections this year and I confirm in December this year the Congolese people will be brought to the ballot boxes,” Tshibala told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday.
Repeated stalling of the election raised tension across the central African country, triggering street protests and encouraging armed rebellions. Kabila was due to step down when his mandate expired at the end of 2016 but has so far refused to do so.
“There were setbacks which caused this delay,” said Tshibala. “This time our course is set for elections and they will take place on December 23.”
Tshibala, a former leading member of Congo’s main opposition coalition, was appointed by Kabila just under a year ago to head a transitional ‘unity’ government tasked with organising the election. He is expected to be the opposition candidate in the election.
Asked about technical problems experienced by voting machines during testing in Kinshasa, Tshibala said: “Machines are a great revolution,” adding they would help the election run smoothly and in record time.
“We have taken all the precautions with the electoral commission for it to go well. It’s true it’s a vast country… but that’s exactly why voting machines will help improve the process.”
Opponents of current president Kabila, who has ruled Congo since his father’s assassination in 2001, suspect he intends to repeatedly delay elections until he can organise a referendum to let himself stand for a third term, as his counterparts in neighbouring Congo Republic and Rwanda have done.
Kabila denies those charges, saying election delays are due to challenges registering millions of voters and budgetary constraints.
DRC security forces killed dozens of civilians in election delay protests over the last two years. Worsening militia violence raised fears of a slide back to the civil wars of the turn of the century that killed millions.
The country’s economic situation remains difficult. The central bank currently predicts inflation of 38% for the end of 2018 and Tshibala said the country is prepared to co-operate with international financial institutions.
“We are making an internal effort to improve tax collection and government receipts,” said Tshibala.
“If we find ourselves in a difficult situation we won’t hesitate to speak to international financial institutions to provide a supplement to improve our functioning as a state.”
Congo, the same size as western Europe, has plentiful resources. It is Africa’s largest copper producer and is the source of more than half the world’s cobalt, a vital ingredient in mobile phone and electric vehicle batteries.
Its mining output jumped 15.5% last year and President Kabila held a nearly six hour meeting with international mining companies on Wednesday on new mining laws to increase the revenues DRC receives from the firms.
“There will be a revision of the code to make it more attractive and fair to the DRC. There will be a compromise between us and the mining companies,” Tshibala said.