The government and opposition parties in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have reached a deal that calls for President Joseph Kabila to leave power after the next election. In a concession to the opposition, that vote now will take place before the end of 2017.
Kabila, 45, was due to give up power after the end of his second term as president earlier this month.
The end of his mandate on 19 December prompted protests in cities across the DRC. More than 40 people are thought to have died and hundreds were arrested during two days of violence.
The clashes came during a pause in negotiations between representatives of the fragmented opposition and the government that have been held under the auspices of the Catholic church.
Negotiators have spent weeks in tense talks seeking to ensure the first peaceful transfer of power since the vast resource-rich central African state gained independence from Belgium in 1960.
It remains very unclear, however, if leading politicians, including Kabila, will keep to the terms. Kabila will be unable to change the constitution to allow him to stay in power for a third term.
This is a crucial concession; Kabila’s aides have long argued that the president has a responsibility to remain in office until free and fair elections can be safely held.
Given that the logistic and financial obstacles to holding polls that come close to international standards in the DRC are immense, opponents and many observers fear this is a pretext to remain in power indefinitely.
According to the deal, Kabila will appoint a prime minister from the country’s main opposition bloc to oversee the transition, a major sticking point in the final stages of the talks.
Neither Kabila nor the country’s leading opposition leader, 84-year-old Etienne Tshisekedi, were expected to sign the deal, raising concerns about whether it would be respected.