The overall political situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) had improved since the Congo wars but violence persisted in regions such as North and South Kivu, a new conflict emerged in southern Kasai province and recent communal tensions in the Ituri province that borders Uganda have driven thousands across the border. While the country has been in a state of comparative peace, central control remains weak and the DRC is reliant on the current UN mission, without which the situation could be far worse. Given this, the recent hubris of the DRC government in snubbing an aid conference aimed at alleviating the DRC’s humanitarian crisis has come as a shock. They also envisage the departure of UN peacekeepers by 2020.
While the government has been heavily criticised for its failure to hold promised elections and the President has remained in power way past his term of office the problems at are besetting a country that is the size of Western Europe and has a population close to 80 million, the problems in the DRC are not solely political. The country is resource rich in gold and other valuable metals that the world needs for modern phones and batteries and this brings with it competition for resources. As with many other countries replete with natural resources the benefits are not reaped by the people and are a source of corruption and warlordism. There are also ethnic tensions that frequently explode into brutal violence, sometimes akin to ethnic cleansing, that are taking place in a power vacuum. In the volatile east, where provinces such as North and South Kivu are larger than neighbouring Rwanda and Burundi, it is a hotchpotch of militias that hold sway and who are accountable to no one. These militias are generally ethnically based but spend more time wrecking the lives of other ethnicities than providing the security they promise to their own. The government, where it does maintain power, isn’t trusted and resorts to repression to put down dissent: mass graves are being found in the rebellious region of Kasai Central in the wake of last year’s violence. There are also foreign influences, notably from Rwanda due to the Hutu-Tutsi conflict, an external trigger to the two Congo wars. The DRC is massive, ethnically complex, has an army unfit for purpose, inadequate infrastructure and has never had a democratically elected president. The current incumbent inherited power from his father, who had been assassinated, and who had himself seized power from a despot. Worse still, the army stands accused of systematic human rights violations alongside the myriad militias that dominate parts of the country.
Distrust of the government extends to the UN, whose MONUSCO peacekeepers work alongside the DRC army in the fractious eastern part of the country and has adopted a more muscular approach akin to peacemaking in order to deal with the stronger militias. It is the largest peacekeeping operation in the world and without it the situation would arguably be even worse than it is now. This makes the wish of the DRC government for the UN forces to leave in the near future all the more troubling, as it could reasonably be argued that they are propping up a state that is about to collapse into another brutal war. The problems underpinning the DRC’s violence are many and complex, but ineffectual and repressive governance is only making things worse. The violence in the DRC did not end with the 2003 Global and All-Inclusive Agreement and commitment to an effective political transition to genuine representation but it was an improvement on what has been called ‘Africa’s Word War’. As it stands, the refusal of the incumbent President, Joseph Kabila, to give up power and the repression of legitimate political opposition risks a slide back to civil war. The alleged corruption of the government and the undermining of the credibility of the UN for being associated with it affect the willingness of foreign governments and donors to provide the support the country needs. They already have a tough job fighting their corner to get the investment and donations needed for what is a thankless task. The leadership in Kinshasa have just made this even harder.
For more information regarding this week’s blog see:
See also, the earlier blogs on the DRC at www.turnerconflict.com
Dr Carl Turner, Site Coordinator.