Botswana president urges Congo's Kabila not to stand again

DAKAR (Reuters) - Botswana’s new leader has urged President Joseph Kabila not to stand for re-election in Congo’s long delayed presidential poll, saying he had already been in power longer than expected.

FILE PHOTO: The then vice president of the Republic of Botswana, Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi, addresses the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, Sept. 21, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo/File Photo

Botswana, one of Africa’s most stable democracies, is so far the only country in Africa to have directly criticized Kabila.

Earlier this year, the government issued a statement openly blaming the president for Democratic Republic of Congo’s deteriorating humanitarian and security situation.

“The president of the DRC has stayed in power longer than the time that was expected,” President Mokgweetsi Masisi, who took office this month, said during a interview with London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies streamed on its website on Thursday.

“Hopefully we can get from (Kabila) a real commitment to not attempt to come back to power by whatever means.”

Kabila’s opponents suspect him of seeking a referendum to change Congo’s constitution to enable him to run for more than two terms, as the leaders of neighboring Uganda, Rwanda and Congo Republic have.

He has neither confirmed nor denied this, but his refusal to step down at the end of his mandate in December 2016 triggered widespread street protests. It also emboldened several armed groups, raising fears the country is sliding back into turmoil.

The election - now scheduled for Dec. 23 - has been repeatedly delayed.

Congo emerged from a five-year war in 2003 during which millions were killed, mostly from hunger and disease, and militias and foreign armies exploited the country’s fabulous mineral wealth.

“The DRC is potentially the richest country in Africa and arguable one of the richest in the world,” said Masisi. “The world has failed the DRC.”

Other African countries have been more cautious, encouraging progress towards elections but avoiding direct criticism of Kabila.

Additional reporting by Fiston Mahamba; Editing by Tim Cocks and Alison Williams