Sunday

24th Mar 2019

Congo expels EU ambassador ahead of elections

  • A Congolese woman voting in 2011. Congolese citizens have had to wait for two years now to choose a successor to president Joseph Kabila, whose term ended in 2016 (Photo: MONUSCO Photos)

Diplomatic relations between the EU and Congo reached a low point on Thursday (27 December) as Congolese authorities told EU ambassador Bart Ouvry to leave the country within 48 hours - before Sunday's presidential elections.

A spokesman told news agency AFP the EU "regrets this decision and considers it as completely unjustified".

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  • Bart Ouvry had been EU ambassador since December 2016 (Photo: CIFOR)

"On the eve of very challenging elections in DRC, such a decision can only be considered counterproductive," the spokesman added, referring to the abbreviation of the country's formal name, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The expulsion is said to be a response to a one-year extension of EU sanctions, earlier this month.

The sanctions consist of a ban to enter the EU and an asset freeze of 14 people, including Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, a former interior minister who is running in Sunday's elections.

Shadary was put forward as the candidate of current president Joseph Kabila, whose term ended in 2016, but who has stayed on as elections were repeatedly postponed over the past two years.

The EU's sanctions were first put in place in December 2016.

Earlier this month, EU foreign affairs ministers extended them until December 2019.

Ministers also adopted a common declaration about the situation in the DRC.

They said it was "of critical importance" that the election date - then still scheduled for 23 December - was respected.

"The EU is alarmed by the dramatic humanitarian situation, which has been worsened by the political crisis," EU ministers said, referring to the around 4.1 million displaced people in the DRC, the 7.7m Congolese suffering from food insecurity and 1.9m children with severe acute malnutrition.

The EU's highest-ranking diplomat, foreign affairs envoy Federica Mogherini, last month called the elections "a historic opportunity for the Democratic Republic of the Congo to bring about its first democratic and peaceful transfer of power".

She noted that the EU would follow the elections closely, although the Congolese authorities have refused to accredit European election monitors.

"The holding of inclusive, transparent, credible and peaceful elections will be important for the EU's future engagement with the democratically elected authorities in the DRC for the future development of the country in the interest of the Congolese people," added Mogherini.

Voting after inauguration day?

Sunday's elections will not take place in some parts of the country, which is roughly half the size of the EU, however.

In events leading up to the vote in the eastern city Beni protesters attacked an ebola centre, demanding the right to vote.

On Wednesday, Congolese authorities had announced that voting in Beni and Butembo would be postponed until March, because of the threat of the deadly ebola virus.

Voting in another city, Yumbi, had been postponed because of ethnic violence.

But the inauguration of a new president is already planned for 18 January.

Bart Ouvry, a Belgian, had been EU ambassador to Congo since December 2016.

In June 2017, Belgian media already reported that Congolese authorities were considering expelling Ouvry.

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