The government in DR Congo has told the country’s football association to suspend league competition from Thursday until further notice. The move comes amidst fears that the end of President Joseph Kabila’s mandate next week will spark violence. “This general situation in the country risks spilling into the stadiums,” Barthelemy Okito, secretary-general of the sports ministry, said. One popular chant heard at games warns Kabila that his mandate is over. Kabila is required by constitutional term limits to step down on 19 December but he has said he plans to stay on until at least April 2018, the earliest the government says an election originally planned for last month can be organised. His opponents accuse him of deliberately delaying the vote to cling to power – a charge he denies – and have vowed street protests to force him from office.
While the ministry’s statement did not highlight any particular teams as posing a threat one of the main opposition politicians calling for Kabila to adhere to the constitution is Moise Katumbi, who owns TP Mazembe the current champions in DR Congo. Katumbi has condemned the suspension of the league. “Football is the only thing that keeps people entertained and makes them forget about Kabila’s dictatorship and the poverty in Congo,” Katumbi said. “You cannot indefinitely suspend the league when our national team is participating in the Africa Cup of Nations next month. How are the local players going to prepare? More than 50 people died in demonstrations in September over election delays and there are fears protests this month could spark widespread violence. Violence “could start at the stadium and spread to the city. It was like that in 1959,” Okito said, referring to riots against Belgian colonial rule that broke out in January 1959 outside the capital’s main football stadium and helped kindle the independence movement.