05:53 am
26 October 2016

Congo General Strike Stops Most Economic Activity in Capital

KINSHASA (Africa Cradle) – A one-day general strike in Democratic Republic of Congo paralysed most economic activity in the capital on Tuesday in a bid to pressure President Joseph Kabila to quit power when his mandate ends in December.

Traffic on the normally bustling streets was greatly reduced, few of the shared taxis that ferry much of the city’s workforce were running and the central market was largely empty, witnesses said. Some schools were closed.

There was a heavy police presence in Kinshasa and the second city Lubumbashi, but no reports of violence.

“For us, this (strike) is an important action against an irresponsible government,” said Abdul Mpia, 39.

Others said the strike was causing hardship in a city where many make a living as street sellers or market traders.

“We should wait until November when (Kabila) finishes his mandate,” said a woman who identified herself as Mama Lily. “For now, let us work.”

The constitution bars Kabila from standing again in elections slated for November, but critics fear he wants to change the law or delay the poll to retain power.

Kabila came to power when his father was assassinated in 2001. He won elections in 2006 and 2011 that the opposition says were rigged. The duration of his tenure has raised tension in a country that has never known a peaceful handover of power. More than 40 died in a police crackdown on protests in January 2015.

In neighbouring Burundi, the president’s decision to serve a third term has triggered nine months of violence in which at least 440 have died, and the United States has said it is deeply disappointed with a bid for a third term by the president of next-door Rwanda.

Opposition leaders say Congo’s strike is the first step in a broader protest movement but some analysts were sceptical about its impact.

“I always thought that this particular strike would not have any significant consequence on the respective positions of people,” said Pascal Kambale, former Congo country director for the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa.

Authorities arrested six members of the Struggle for Change (Lucha) activist group in the eastern city of Goma overnight and one in Kinshasa who were preparing leaflets announcing the strike, the director of the U.N. Joint Human Rights Office in Kinshasa, Jose Maria Aranaz, told Reuters.

One member of the opposition Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC) party was also arrested in the eastern city of Uvira, Aranaz said.

Government spokesman Lambert Mende said he was not aware of any arrests.

Embassies urged their citizens to exercise caution and U.S., French and Belgian schools in Kinshasa were closed.

The popular Radio France International station was off the air in Kinshasa. Broadcasts were cut during last year’s political unrest.

(Additional reporting by Benoit Nyemba, Amedee Mwarabu Kiboko in Kinshasa and Kenny Katombe in Lubumbashi; Writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg; Editing by Edward McAllister and Tom Miles)