Democratic Republic of the Congo Government and Politics

State and politics

Democratic Republic of the Congo Country Flag

The D.R. Republic’s history has been marked by dictatorship, civil war and other armed conflicts since independence from Belgium in 1960.


A democratic constitution with a strong presidential power but also with far-reaching regional self-government was adopted by a referendum in December 2005 and came into force in early 2006. The president is elected in general elections for a five-year term and can be re-elected. After a legislative change in 2011, no decisive round of elections is required in the presidential election, but this is decided in a round. The power is shared with a prime minister who represents the party that has the most members in parliament.

Parliament consists of two chambers. The 500 members of the National Assembly are elected in general elections for a five-year term, while the 108 members of the Senate are elected for five years by provincial parliaments.

In 2015, the number of provinces was increased from eleven (including the capital Kinshasa) to 26. The new provinces gain extensive political and economic autonomy. In principle, this is a formalization of the decentralization that was the result of decades of rule by previous regimes when the central government and the national institutions weakened and lost their reputation among the population.


The new constitution was drafted during the transitional period of 2003 that followed seven years of civil war (see also the Congo War). During this period, the Congo was ruled by a unifying government with virtually all significant political forces represented. Joseph Kabila, who was proclaimed president since his father Laurent Kabila was assassinated in 2001, remained president. The dominant groups in the unification government were the former government under President Joseph Kabila, the two rebel movements Congolese Assembly for Democracy (Rassemblement congolais pour la demokratie, RCD) and the Congo Liberation Movement (Mouvement pour la libération du Congo, MLC) as well as the civil opposition. These four groups also appointed their Vice President. The same principle of power sharing prevailed in the armed forces, the judiciary and other government institutions.

After the parliamentary elections in July 2006, almost 70 parties were represented in the National Assembly. A large number of parties came together in what was called the Alliance for Presidential Majority (AMP), dominated by the Kabila People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (Party for the Reconstruction and Democracy, PPRD). PPRD received 111 seats in 2006 and retained its position as the largest party in the 2011 election, although it backed to 62 of 492 seats. With the support of a large number of other parties, the party was able to retain government power. The opposition has been dominated by the Union for Democracy and Social Development (Union pour la democratie et le progrès social, UDPS), led by Etienne Tshisekedi (1932–2017) until his death. Approximately the same strengths prevail in the Senate, where however, the rebel movement that was converted into a political party by MLC was second largest in the 2011 election. The gender distribution in the National Assembly is skewed and after the 2011 election only 44 members (9 percent) were women.

Joseph Kabila won the presidential election in 2006 with 58 percent of the vote in the second round. He also won the presidential election in 2011, in which he received 49 percent of the vote. The opposition, with the election’s second Etienne Tshisekedi at the head, accused the regime of electoral fraud, a claim that was supported by foreign election observers.

During the years leading up to the planned elections in 2016, the regime expressed a desire to change the constitution so that Kabila could run for more terms, plans that were met by violent protests in several parts of the country. Instead, the elections were delayed while the regime claimed that the president could remain after the end of the term if no new head of state was elected. In October 2016, it was decided that the elections would be postponed until April 2018 and then until December 2018. After thousands of electronic election machines were destroyed in a fire, the election was postponed for another week and held on December 30.

Kabila eventually chose not to try to run for candidacy, but backed former Interior Minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary’s (born 1960) candidacy. Shadary has been subject to sanctions from the EU since 2017 because of the role he played when regime critics were shot to death by security forces. He was seen as a pretty weak candidate without his own power base and loyal with Kabila. He was initially opposed to Félix Tshisekedi, who took over his father’s leadership role in the UDPS and withdrew from the newly formed opposition alliance Lamuka (‘Awakening’), and Lamuka’s candidate Martin Fayulu (born 1956). Among the candidates who were not allowed to stand were former Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba.

In January 2019, the Election Commission announced that Tshisekedi won by 39 percent of the vote against 35 percent for Fayulu and 24 percent for Shadary. Fayulu, who had the strongest support in the election surveys, claimed that he had, in fact, received 61 percent of the vote and that election fraud thus occurred. He was supported by the strong Catholic Church in the country, which had 40,000 election observers sent. Rumor has it that Tshisekedi and Kabila struck a secret deal; Tshisekedi said after he was declared victorious that the outgoing president should no longer be seen as an opponent but as a partner. Félix Tshisekedi was sworn in as new president in January 2019 after the country’s constitutional court rejected Fayulu’s appeal.

In the parliamentary elections, Kabila’s newly formed coalition got Congo’s joint front (Front Commun pour le Congo (FCC)) own majority in the National Assembly.


The legal order in Congo is mainly inspired by Belgian, and thus French, law. Among the most important statutes are a civil law, a commercial law, a criminal law, a civil law law and a criminal law law. Local custom is recognized as a source of law in some areas of law. The death penalty is punished for some serious crimes.

Human Rights

After two wars tore the country apart between 1996 and 2003 (see Congo war), the government has not been able to take control in Congo (Kinshasa) to date (2015). The chaotic state has in turn contributed to the proliferation of a number of foreign and local armed groups in the country, especially in the eastern parts, which fight against each other as well as the Congolese army in the struggle for power and control of natural resources.

The first democratic elections of 46 years were held in 2006, but the hope that it would lead to peace in the conflict-affected country has not been met. In 2011, President Joseph Kabila, whose government has become increasingly authoritarian, was re-elected, while corruption remains one of the country’s biggest problems.

The conflicts that have resolved each other over the years have led to extensive violations of the human rights of the civilian population from all parties. At the end of 2012, 2.4 million people were estimated to be fleeing the conflict-affected areas.

Extrajudicial and arbitrary executions, torture, sexual violence and forced labor occur on a large scale and when commanders and soldiers in the army lack regular pay they often feed on the civilian population through looting. The impunity is almost total for these abuses as the judiciary is weak and corrupt.

Sexual violence against women is extremely widespread in Congo (Kinshasa). It has been used and still is used as a strategy in warfare to torture and humiliate both women and men. UNICEF estimates that hundreds of thousands of women, girls, men and children have been subjected to sexual violence since the onset of conflicts in the mid-1990s. In practice, women have no rights in the traditionally patriarchal Congolese society and permission is required by a man for, for example, travel, education and employment.

Congo (Kinshasa) has ratified the key conventions on human rights and legislation in many areas, but compliance with conventions and laws is inadequate and the state cannot guarantee the security of its citizens in its own territory. National legislation is generally lacking to enable the ratified conventions to be implemented.

According to Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index from 2015, Congo (Kinshasa) is ranked 150 out of 180 countries and the situation for journalists is considered difficult. Violations of freedom of speech and assembly are commonplace and several activists and journalists have been harassed, imprisoned and murdered in recent years. Abuse, rape and torture are also common in the majority of the country’s prisons where the misery is widespread. Interns are completely dependent on help from relatives and aid organizations for their survival. Sentenced and arrested are not separated and it appears that women and children are imprisoned together with men.

As a result of years of conflicts and extreme poverty, the children of Congo (Kinshasa) are severely affected. Although the country has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and introduced a Child Protection Act (2009), the judiciary often makes no difference between children and adults. Forced labor, economic and sexual exploitation, human trafficking, extreme poverty, violence, escape, orphans, lack of access to health care, lack of schooling and work at very young years are a reality for children. UNICEF estimates that more than 8 million children are orphans in Congo (Kinshasa) (2010).

Heads of State


1960-65 Joseph Kasavubu
1965-97 Mobutu Sese Seko *
1997-2001 Laurent Kabila
2001-19 Joseph Kabila
2019- Félix Tshisekedi

* Prior to 1972 Joseph Désiré Mobutu.

Democratic Republic of The Congo Head of Government

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