Congo's President Says Elections to Be Held in 2017, Warns of 'Foreign Interference'

Kabila address
Congo's President Joseph Kabila addresses the nation at Palais du Peuple in Kinshasa, Congo, on April 5. Kabila pledged to hold elections in 2017. Kenny Katombe/Reuters

Congo's president Joseph Kabila has pledged to hold elections in 2017 and end a brutal insurgency in the center of the country, while warning foreign powers from attempting to interfere in his nation's affairs.

In a rare speech to parliament on Tuesday, Kabila—who has been in power since his father was assassinated in 2001—did not give a specific date for the vote, which was supposed to have happened before the end of 2016, the BBC reported.

Opposition figures have accused Kabila, 45, of delaying the vote to try to stay in power, but the government has said it lacks the funds to hold a national vote in the vast central African country.

Kabila's government and the main opposition coalition, known as Rassemblement ("Rally"), agreed in principle to hold elections in 2017 in a New Year's Eve deal that also entailed the appointment of a prime minister from the opposition to help oversee the process. But implementation has been slow and the country's Catholic bishops, who'd mediated the negotiations, pulled out on March 28, citing a lack of political will.

"I would like to solemnly announce to our people that the elections will be held … we will stick to the electoral calendar," said Kabila. "The process is the work of the Congolese, financed by the Congolese people themselves, without any foreign interference."

Read more: Can the peacekeeping mission in Congo overcome its many struggles?

The U.N. Security Council recently voted to reduce the size of the organization's peacekeeping mission in Congo by several thousand. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley claimed the mission was "aiding a government that is inflicting predatory behavior against its own people" in a recent speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, an American thinktank.

Kabila also promised to bring an end to the Kamwina Nsapu insurgency in central Congo, which broke out in August 2016 after the killing of the group's eponymous chief during a clash with government soldiers. Since then, over 600 people have been killed and more than 200,000 displaced, say conflict monitors ACAPS.

The United Nations said on Tuesday that it had found 13 new mass graves, taking the total to 23 since the fighting began. Two U.N. experts sent to investigate the conflict—American Michael Sharp and Swede Zaida Catalan— were kidnapped and killed by unidentified assailants. The Congolese government said the pair's Congolese interpreter was also killed and two other Congolese who traveled with them are still missing. Congolese authorities have charged seven soldiers with war crimes after video footage appeared to show soldiers executing suspected militia members.

"Confronted with these unacceptable atrocities committed against innocent victims...we can no longer defer our responsibility to re-establish state authority in this part of the country by all possible legal means," said Kabila, according to Reuters.

Kabila is bound by Congo's constitution to step down at the next election, having served two consecutive terms. Opponents accused him of adopting a strategy of glissement —French for slippage—to continually delay the vote while preparing a bid to change the constitution so he could run for a third term. The president has denied the claims.

The country's budget minister said in February that the government did not have the $1.8 billion he said was necessary to hold elections.

Congo has not experienced a peaceful transfer of power since gaining independence in 1960.