Congo Opposition Begins General Strike Over Election Delay

(Bloomberg) -- Opposition parties in the Democratic Republic of Congo began a nationwide strike to protest what they say are efforts by President Joseph Kabila to block election preparations and hang on to power in the continent’s largest copper producer.

The central African nation’s main opposition alliance on Aug. 20 called on students and workers to stay home Tuesday after it withdrew from planned talks on the organization of elections and demanded the removal of an African Union-appointed facilitator. The presidential vote was scheduled for November but is facing delays due to a slow voter-registration process, which the opposition say is a deliberate attempt by Kabila to extend his 15-year rule.

At 8 a.m., roads in the center of Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, were very quiet with few vehicles circulating and most large shops were closed. In the eastern city of Goma, youths blocked a road in the Katindo district with rocks, while other traffic and some business activity continued, Sebastian Nduhira, 47, a researcher, said by phone from the city.

In the southeastern mining town of Kolwezi, commercial activity was unaffected, Delphin Monga, provincial secretary of the UCDT labor union, said by phone. The central market in the northeast commercial hub of Beni was empty, but most shops on the main road remained open and traffic flowed.

‘Can’t Afford’

“We support the strike but we live day-to-day and people can’t afford to close,” Roger Mardochee Paluku, a 35-year-old farmer and trader, said in an interview.

Last week, a civilian and a police officer were killed in Beni after a rebel attack on the outskirts of the town left more than 50 people dead and led to anti-government protests, which caused businesses to shut. “We have already had a week of unemployment so for many another day is too much,” Mardochee said.

Congolese opposition parties ordered a similar strike in February, with mixed results. While Kinshasa was quiet, other cities were less affected. While many students didn’t attend school, informal traders often returned to work by late morning.