Freedom in the World 2022 - Democratic Republic of the Congo

Not Free
/ 100
Political Rights 4 / 40
Civil Liberties 15 / 60
Last Year's Score & Status
20 / 100 Not Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.


The political system in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been paralyzed in recent years by the manipulation of the electoral process by political elites. Citizens are unable to freely exercise basic civil liberties, and corruption is endemic. Physical security is tenuous due to violence and human rights abuses committed by government forces, as well as armed rebel groups and militias in many areas of the country.

Key Developments in 2021

  • In July, President Félix Tshisekedi reformed the membership of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), allocating seats for civil society groups, the ruling coalition, and the opposition. Civil society groups denounced this move as an attempt to secure control of the body (ruling party members can outnumber civil society representatives) and, consequently, influence elections.
  • In May, Tshisekedi declared a “state of siege” in North Kivu and Ituri provinces, which replaced civilian authorities with military personnel, to combat armed groups and return the violence-affected areas to central government control. The state of siege was extended through the year and saw an increase in the levels of violence and displaced persons caused by the conflict with militia groups, which reached record highs.
  • Throughout the year, journalists and activists uncovered the extent of corruption within former president Joseph Kabila’s administration. In February, reports revealed Israeli businessman Dan Gertler’s embezzlement of $3.7 billion in state funds through Kabila-approved contracts over several years. Reports released in November detailed how Kabila, his family, and his associates siphoned hundreds of millions of dollars of state funds from Congo’s Central Bank between 2013 and 2018.

Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 0 / 4

According to the constitution, the president is chief of state and is elected for a maximum of two five-year terms. The prime minister is head of government and is formally appointed by the president.

Félix Tshisekedi was declared president in 2019, following 2018 end-of-year elections. Former president Joseph Kabila overstayed his constitutional mandate by two years; the Constitutional Court allowed him to stay in office until his successor had been elected, but polls were repeatedly delayed.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) declared Tshisekedi president with 38.6 percent of the vote, defeating Martin Fayulu of the Lamuka (Wake Up) coalition, who reportedly secured 34.8 percent. Tshisekedi, a leader of the Course for Change (CACH) coalition, was believed to have come to power via a backroom deal, under which he allied with the Kabila-led Common Front for Congo (FCC). The FCC had previously backed Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, who reportedly received 23.9 percent of the vote as the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD) candidate. Several opposition candidates were barred from competing in the poll.

The vote was heavily criticized due to voter suppression and electoral fraud. Observers from the Catholic Church and the civil society coalition Synergy of Citizen Election Observation Missions reported massive fraud and irregularities. An independent tally by the Roman Catholic Church’s National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO), reviewed by independent auditors, suggested that Fayulu won 60 percent of the vote; they found widespread ballot-validation procedure violations and vote-counting discrepancies. Election observers were denied access to polling stations in some cases, and foreign observers were not allowed to participate. Moreover, 1.2 million voters were barred from voting in three opposition areas—Beni territory and Butembo in North Kivu Province and Yumbi in Mai-Ndombe Province. Official results reported a margin of victory that was a little over half the number of voters disenfranchised in opposition areas.

Sama Lukonde was appointed prime minister in February 2021, replacing Kabila-ally Sylvestre Ilunga Ilukamba.

A2 0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 1 / 4

The DRC has a bicameral national legislature with a 500-seat National Assembly directly elected for five-year terms, and a 108-seat Senate elected by provincial assemblies. Senators hold a five-year mandate. The DRC’s 715 provincial legislators elect national senators and provincial governors. Eight Senate seats are reserved for customary chiefs.

National Assembly elections were held concurrently with the presidential vote in 2018 and were also criticized as deeply flawed. The FCC won 341 seats, Lamuka took 112, and the CACH took 47. Because elections were postponed until 2019 in opposition areas of Beni, Butembo, and Yumbi, voters in those regions were prevented from influencing the National Assembly race.

Senators are elected indirectly through provincial assemblies, and in 2018 the provincial elections were compromised by vote buying. As former president, Kabila holds a lifetime Senate appointment.

A3 0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 0 / 4

The country’s electoral framework does not ensure transparent elections in practice. Opposition parties and civil society frequently criticize the CENI and the Constitutional Court for lacking independence and supporting the president. Fayulu unsuccessfully appealed the election results in 2019. The following month, the United States announced diplomatic sanctions on the then-president and vice president of CENI, the National Assembly president, and the chief judge of the Constitutional Court for electoral fraud.

In July 2021, Tshisekedi reformed the CENI, allocating seats for civil society groups, the ruling coalition, and the opposition. Civil society groups claimed the move was made in bad faith and maintained Tshisekedi’s control of the body (because of the balance of seats between the ruling party and civil society groups) and, consequently, control over future elections. Lamuka called for the CENI to be placed under the full control of civil society. In October, the parliament confirmed Denis Kadima, an election expert from Tshisekedi’s province and Kabila ally, as CENI head.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 1 / 4

People have the right to organize political parties. Hundreds of parties exist, with many configured along ethnic or regional lines. However, most lack national reach, and their ability to function is limited in practice. Opposition leaders and supporters are often intimidated and face restrictions on movements and rights to campaign or organize public events.

Opposition and government coalitions have shifted frequently in recent years. Tshisekedi’s CACH formed a power-sharing government with Kabila’s FCC in 2019. Kabila initially maintained influence over the judiciary and key ministerial posts. Facing major disagreements over government appointments and oversight, Tshisekedi dissolved this power-sharing agreement in December 2020, and installed a new government that passed with near unanimous support in April 2021, removing Kabila appointees from key ministerial posts and creating the “Sacred Union” coalition.

Under the Tshisekedi administration, some opposition members have been released from prison, and some politicians living in exile were permitted to return. However, political party officials still faced reprisals for criticizing the government. Security forces dispersed multiple opposition protests led by Fayulu against CENI appointees throughout 2021.

B2 0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 0 / 4

Although opposition groups enjoy significant public support, repeated postponement of and government interference in elections prevent the opposition from gaining power through electoral competition.

The government prevented an opposition coalition from rising to power despite evidence that it won the vote in 2018. In the run-up to those elections, the CENI rejected the candidacy of six opposition politicians, including former Katanga governor Moïse Katumbi. Government authorities regularly blocked or delayed the campaign activities of opposition candidates. Authorities helped facilitate the movement and campaign activities of Kabila’s favored candidate. Armed groups also obstructed candidate movements.

B3 0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 0 / 4

The military, security services, and armed groups interfere with citizens’ political choices. Systematic repression in major cities across the country intensified in the lead-up to the 2018 elections, including excessive force against opposition demonstrators. In some areas, soldiers and armed groups at polling stations reportedly coerced voters to cast ballots for the FCC. Armed groups hindered citizens’ ability to participate in the political process.

B4 0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 1 / 4

Lack of access to public services and state institutions in rural areas hinders political participation. Women are politically underrepresented; in the government installed in 2021, they held 14 out of 57 cabinet seats. Internally displaced people throughout the country face practical obstacles to participating in elections.

C Functioning of Government

C1 0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 0 / 4

Massive electoral fraud and irregularities prevent democratically elected officials from determining government policies.

Beginning in May 2021, Tshisekedi declared a “state of siege” in North Kivu and Ituri provinces to combat armed groups and return violence-affected areas to central government control. Civilian authorities and provincial governments were replaced with military officers, effectively removing elected authorities or constitutionally recognized territorial administrations from determining government policies.

C2 0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 1 / 4

Corruption in the government, security forces, and mineral extraction industries is extensive and has corroded public services and development efforts. Appointments to high-level positions in government are often determined by nepotism. Accountability mechanisms are weak, and impunity is commonplace.

President Tshisekedi publicly committed the government to fighting corruption when he came to power. In 2020, Tshisekedi’s chief of staff, Vital Kamerhe, was convicted and received a 20-year forced-labor sentence for embezzling over $50 million in public funds. Kamerhe is the highest-ranking politician to face such a prosecution in the country’s history.

However, political will to combat corruption seemingly dropped off in 2021, and civil society groups exposed major cases of corruption within former president Kabila’s administration. In February, reports revealed Israeli businessman Dan Gertler’s embezzlement of $3.7 billion in state funds through Kabila-approved contracts over several years. Reports released in November revealed that Kabila, his family, and his associates had siphoned hundreds of millions of dollars of state funds from Congo’s Central Bank between 2013 and 2018. The government in September 2020 imposed death sentences on the two whistleblowers of Gertler’s money laundering scheme.

In June 2021, prodemocracy activists from the Struggle for Change (Lucha) group alleged that the First Lady’s staff misappropriated relief aid intended for people displaced by the Nyiragongo volcano eruption near Goma. The First Lady’s office subsequently filed a defamation complaint against them.

C3 0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 0 / 4

Despite previous incremental improvements in revenue reporting, there is barely any transparency in the state’s financial affairs. The law does not provide for public access to government information, and citizens often lack the practical ability to obtain records on public expenditures and state operations.

In 2021, some efforts were made to bring the Central Bank of Congo into conformance with International Monetary Fund (IMF) protocols as a condition for loans. However, required financial disclosures from top officials have not been made public; tax agencies suffer from poor reporting; and shadow networks determine political and financial decisions in practice. Embezzled military funds contribute to networks inside the national army and contracts for the extractive industries are conducted in secret. In September 2021, evidence emerged of $6 billion in previously hidden loans from China as part of a joint Congolese-Chinese mining venture.

Citizens in violence-affected areas routinely petition the government for openness about insecurity, including state involvement in violence, but report little clarity. The state of siege first announced in May 2021 replaced governors, territorial administrations, and city administrations in Ituri and North Kivu provinces with military authorities who are not accessible to constituents. Security forces continually maintain impunity despite committing human rights abuses, according to the United Nations (UN).

Score Change: The score declined from 1 to 0 because government openness about violence-affected areas, accountability for security forces, and transparency around government contracts are nonexistent.

Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 1 / 4

Although media freedom is constitutionally guaranteed, journalists often face criminal defamation suits, threats, detentions, arbitrary arrests, and physical attacks in the course of their work. Radio is the dominant news medium, and newspapers and state-sponsored news channels are found in large cities. While journalists frequently criticize authorities, political harassment of reporters is common, and authorities have sometimes attempted to shutter media outlets. Some foreign reporters were barred from the country during the last national elections. Artists also face government reprisal.

The Journalist in Danger (JED) watchdog, Human Rights Watch (HRW), and other civil society organizations have recorded expanding repression of journalists under Tshisekedi’s tenure. In 2021, three journalists were assassinated; at least 106 others faced detentions, threats, assault, and censure—a more than two-fold increase over reported abuses in 2020.

D2 0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 3 / 4

The constitution guarantees freedom of religion, and authorities generally respect this right in practice. Although religious groups must register with the government to be recognized, unregistered groups typically operate unhindered. Some religious facilities, personnel, and services have been affected by violence in conflict areas. Despite overall tolerance, the authorities responded aggressively to protest activities by the Catholic Church and some Protestant groups following the announcement of election results in 2019. Some North Kivu mosques have faced heightened threats from Islamist rebels who target members of the Muslim community who criticize Islamist militancy, as well as government suspicions that Muslims in the region aid rebel groups. The government has also used violence to suppress the Bundu dia Kongo (BDK), a religious movement that calls for autonomy in Kongo Central Province.

D3 0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 2 / 4

There are no formal restrictions on academic freedom. Primary and secondary school curriculums are regulated but not strongly politicized. However, political events and protests at universities and schools are subject to violent repression. Armed groups have also attacked schools, preventing children from accessing education. In practice, payment for grades, including sexual exploitation of students, is common.

D4 0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 1 / 4

Although open political dissent is routinely suppressed, Congolese publicly express their views on some subjects. Many Congolese openly discuss systemic corruption and insecurity on social media platforms.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 1 / 4

The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, and demonstrations are held regularly in urban areas. However, those who participate risk arrests, beatings, and lethal violence.

Despite COVID-19 restrictions, protesters held major assemblies and rallies that security forces dispersed with unnecessary force and arbitrary detentions throughout 2021. Activists, students, and civilians—who led marches and peaceful sit-ins to protest changes to the electoral framework and perceived government inaction to stop civilian massacres in Beni territory—were arrested, beaten, or forcibly dispersed, including with tear gas. In August and September, miners protested dangerous working conditions, particularly those under Chinese companies whose exploitative practices also contaminate rivers with serious environmental and public health consequences.

E2 0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 1 / 4

Thousands of NGOs are active in the DRC, but many face obstacles to their work. Domestic human rights advocates in particular are subject to harassment, arbitrary arrest, and detention.

E3 0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 1 / 4

A number of national labor unions and professional associations, covering parts of the public and private sectors, operate legally in the DRC, but the overwhelming majority of workers are informally employed. Some civil servants and members of state security forces are not permitted to unionize and bargain collectively. Violations of the procedures for a legal strike can result in prison terms. Although employers cannot legally retaliate against workers for union activities, such protections are poorly enforced.

F Rule of Law

F1 0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 1 / 4

The judiciary is often seen as corrupt and subject to political manipulation. It often shows bias against the opposition and civil society, while government allies typically enjoy impunity for abuses. Judges are not paid adequately or receive salaries late, increasing their susceptibility to bribes.

Under Tshisekedi’s administration, the judicial branch initially showed greater independence in trying officials and replacing several judges suspected of wrongdoing or corruption. In July 2021, the Constitutional Court announced the arrest of former prime minister Matata Ponyo—a political rival of Tshisekedi—for allegedly embezzling funds related to property confiscation during the 1970s “Zairianization” campaign. He was released a day later after agreeing to cooperate. However, the Constitutional Court ruled in November they could not try the case as they only had jurisdiction over sitting, not former, prime ministers.

F2 0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 0 / 4

Courts are concentrated in urban areas; rural areas rely on customary courts. Informal justice mechanisms are common throughout the country. Civilians are often tried in military courts, which have weak safeguards for defendants’ rights, poor witness protection mechanisms, and are subject to interference from high-ranking military personnel. The state of siege from May 2021 on in North Kivu and Ituri provinces enacted martial law but only authorized military courts to try criminal, not civilian cases, resulting in growing detentions and stalled judicial cases. Arbitrary arrests and detentions are common, as is prolonged pretrial detention; much of the prison population consists of pretrial detainees. Prisoners frequently pay bribes to avoid torture or meet basic needs; rape among detainees is common.

DRC courts have officially granted reparations to the targets of sexual violence and other serious crimes, but these are rarely paid in practice.

F3 0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 0 / 4

Civilian authorities do not effectively control security forces. The military is notoriously undisciplined. Incidents of soldiers exchanging intelligence and weapons with rebel or militia groups continued during 2021. Soldiers and police regularly commit serious human rights abuses, including rape and other physical attacks, and high-ranking military officials enjoy impunity for crimes. Despite the government’s promise to “eradicate” militia groups during the 2021 state of siege, the levels of violence and the number of displaced persons caused by the conflict with those groups increased, reaching record highs.

Government forces have participated in summary killings and forced disappearances, and the judicial system has not held officials accountable. Senior intelligence officials accused of serious human rights abuses have not been tried for their acts. Many high-ranking military officers have been sanctioned by various international entities for human rights abuses.

Armed groups have contributed to years of conflict and communal violence that have had a catastrophic impact on civilians, with over five million conflict-related deaths since 1998. Civilian massacres in South Kivu’s Hauts Plateaux and Beni and Lubero territories in North Kivu continued in 2021. Urban crime rates also rose after the deployment of military forces in North Kivu.

F4 0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 0 / 4

Ethnic discrimination is common and is both a contributing factor and an outcome of armed conflicts across the country. While the constitution prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities, they often encounter obstacles to finding employment, attending school, or accessing government services. Discrimination based on HIV status is also prohibited, but people with HIV similarly face difficulties accessing health care and education. LGBT+ people can be prosecuted for same-sex sexual activity under public decency laws.

Although the constitution prohibits discrimination against women, in practice they face discrimination in nearly every aspect of their lives. The family code assigns women a subordinate role in the household. Young women increasingly seek professional work outside the home, particularly in urban centers, but face disparities in wages and promotions. When families are short on money to pay school fees, boys are often favored over girls to receive education.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 1 / 4

Freedom of movement is protected by law but seriously curtailed in practice, in large part due to armed conflicts and other security problems. An estimated 5.3 million people were internally displaced at the end of 2021 according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. Various armed groups and government forces impose illegal tolls on travelers passing through territory under their control.

G2 0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 1 / 4

Individuals have the right to own property and establish private businesses. In conflict zones, armed groups and government soldiers regularly seize private property and destroy homes and businesses. Property ownership and business activity are also hampered by pervasive corruption and a complicated system of taxation and regulation that encourages bribery.

Although the constitution prohibits discrimination against women, some laws and customary practices put women at a disadvantage with respect to inheritance and land ownership.

G3 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 1 / 4

Sexual and gender-based violence is common. Rebels and government soldiers have regularly been implicated in cases of rape and sexual abuse. Rebel commanders have abducted girls into forced marriages. Convictions for these offenses remain rare. Abortion is prohibited except to save the life of a pregnant woman, and illegal abortions can draw lengthy prison sentences.

The family code obliges wives to obey their husbands, who are designated as the heads of their households. Married women are under the legal guardianship of their husbands. Although the legal minimum age for marriage is 18, many women are married earlier.

G4 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 1 / 4

Formal protections against economic exploitation are poorly enforced, and most Congolese are informally employed. Although the law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, such practices are common and include forced child labor in mining, street vending, domestic service, and agriculture. Some government forces and armed groups force civilians to work for them, and the recruitment and use of child soldiers remains widespread. Working conditions can be life threatening. Accidents are common in the mining sector, and safety precautions are rarely enforced.