We’ve had our moments when power changed hands in the United States.
There was Jimmy Carter’s cold shoulder to Ronald Reagan, the Bush v. Gore decision and, of course, the removal of the Ws from the keyboards by Clinton staffers when George W. Bush prevailed.
But once the election is over, the votes have been counted and, in a few cases, the courts have ruled, the loser steps aside and the winner takes over. The new president’s appointees replace those of his predecessor. No one tries to hang on. No one tries to extend the term.
It’s not that way everywhere in the world. In fact, there has been somewhat of a rash lately of leaders around the world trying to overstay their welcomes.
Citizens of the Democratic Republic of Congo are beginning to think they have one of those people on their hands. Joseph Kabila was elected, under suspicious circumstances, to serve two terms. But two is the limit in his country, democratic elections are scheduled for next year and ominous signs have begun to appear that Kabila won’t allow the elections to go forward.
The Democratic Republic of Congo, rated the least-developed country on Earth, is one of more than a dozen African countries with elections scheduled in the next year, and the hope is these new leaders can usher in a new generation of forward-thinking heads of state who can collectively steer the continent out of its perennial poverty.
But in at least four of those states – the Democratic Republic of Congo, its neighbor the Congo Republic, Burundi and Rwanda – leaders are plotting to change laws, undermine lawmakers, distort their electoral processes and intimidate opponents to stay in power.
Kabila, who came to power during the war of 2001 and won contested elections in 2006 and 2011, has begun to show he will employ the full bag of tricks to maintain power.
In January, his enforcers got tough on people at an event protesting his attempts to hold on to power, and 40 people were killed.
Two weeks ago, he appointed new governors for 19 provinces, a move opponents said was designed to entrench his cronies and make it harder to overthrow him.
Last week, Democratic Republic of Congo soldiers stormed the home of Abraham Kitankia, brother of former governor of Katanga and possible 2016 presidential candidate Moise Katumbi. Kitankia and his family managed to escape, but one of his guards was killed by Kabila forces.
Then, over the weekend, news arrived that the Kabila regime is now saying it will be two to four years before the country is “ready” for elections. The country is ready now; Kabila is not.
There also are reports Kabila is attempting to fabricate a coup against his own government to give himself license to punish the “perpetrators” and to stay in office in the name of stability. He apparently seeks to pin the coup on Katumbi, who has pushed Kabila to honor his promises to step aside at the end of his term and allow free and fair elections.
Katumbi has insisted his intentions are merely to peaceably urge Kabila to honor his country’s constitution and allow the elections to go forward next year, even though Kabila has canceled all past elections since coming to power.
All of political Democratic Republic of Congo is up in arms. Members of his own ruling coalition have urged him to honor term limits, and some of them have been arrested as a result. Members of G7, a group of seven political parties in the country that have backed Kabila, are bailing en masse.
The country’s highly respected elections chief has resigned, citing bad health. He has indeed been sick, but most experts say he resigned rather than participate in Kabila’s power play.
Even the Clinton Foundation passed on associating with Kabila. President Bill Clinton reportedly was offered $650,000 for a speech in the Democratic Republic of Congo but never gave the speech.
Historians debate the greatest things George Washington did. Was it the Christmas morning attack on the Hessians at Trenton? Trapping Cornwallis on the island in Virginia to end the Revolutionary War? Serving as our first president?
The greatest two things George Washington did were to reject the suggestion he become king and instead offer a vision of a pluralistic country, and to facilitate the smooth transition of power to John Adams when he left office. The first action ensured Americans always would have a say in their destiny. The second assured we would change power in an orderly manner.
Joseph Kabila is no George Washington. But he can achieve a similar greatness in his country when he realizes that what it needs most is not another term for him but the knowledge the levels of power truly are held by the people and the leaders they freely choose.