Over seventy armed groups are currently operating in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The Democratic Forces of Liberation of Rwanda and the Ugandan Allied Democratic Forces, two of the strongest militant groups in the country, have effectively asserted their control over weakly governed areas and have continued to inflict terror and violence on communities throughout the DRC. This, in turn, has led to nearly 2.7 million internally displaced persons, over 450,000 refugees from the DRC in other countries, massive human rights violations, and widespread poverty and death.
The current violence in the DRC has its origins in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and the massive refugee crisis that followed. After committing genocide, many Hutu fled to eastern DRC and formed armed groups to combat opposition from Tutsi and other rebel forces. Despite a concerted effort by government forces from Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and the DRC, as well as a peace deal that was signed between them in 2003, the Congolese government proved incapable of controlling and defeating the various armed groups that formed in the aftermath of the genocide. Corruption, the absence of law, and weak governance has enabled widespread violence to continue against civilians in the eastern region of the DRC. In 2013, in the March 23 Movement (M23), an armed Tutsis rebel group, rebelled against the Congolese government for allegedly reneging on an earlier peace deal signed in 2009. Though defeated by the Congolese army and UN peacekeepers shortly thereafter, their actions have led to an increase in other armed groups and greater violence, lawlessness, and chaos in the DRC that has persisted to the present day.
In addition to the violence created by armed rebel groups, President Joseph Kabila’s attempts to retain his power have prompted greater political instability and will likely spark major violence throughout the country. In 2015, Kabila called for “political dialogue” with opposition parties but, has increasingly begun to use police to quell supposed internal dissent. Kabila has consistently used violence to break up protests, and one such instance led to the deaths of over forty people. More recently, Kabila has delayed the upcoming presidential election and jailed opposition leader Moise Katumbi, shortly after announcing he would run for president, on the grounds of plotting a coup d’état. Olivier Kamitatu Etsu, a member of Congo’s national assembly explains that Kaliba’s actions “deliberately sabotaged the electoral process” and instituted a “policy of chaos and fear.” The political instability created by Kabila could lead to widespread protest and violence, both as an attempt to pressure the president’s removal, but also for Kabila to preserve his power.
International pressure, led by the United States, has been put on President Kabila. The US has threatened to impose sanctions that will freeze the DRC’s assets and ban travel. Legislation has also been passed to reduce the purchase of “conflict minerals” that fund armed groups and enable them to operate and buy arms. Thus far, however, the success of these actions has been limited. Greater collaboration and pressure from the international community as a whole is required to pressure President Kabila to hold fair and peaceful elections, and eliminate the use of violence. The government of the DRC also needs to take drastic actions to improve the country and the well-being of its population. To effectively address the refugee crisis, the government must develop and implement identification procedures to reduce the risk of receiving combatants. They must also monitor and impose penalties for the sale of illegally obtained minerals and gold, which would, in turn, be used to help armed groups operate. Moreover, the government must do all they can to ensure that the country’s elections and political freedoms are maintained. These measures would have the effect of reducing the number of combatants and violence, while fostering political and democratic rights in the DRC.
The history and continued prevalence of armed groups in the DRC, combined with the country’s weak governance and political instability has subjected the Congolese population to widespread violence, rape, human rights violations, poverty, and death for over two decades. The DRC, African Union, and United Nations have struggled to address the threats posed by rebel groups and political tensions, and if inadequately dealt with, these issues can potentially spill over into neighboring countries. Ensuring that violence is reduced, human rights are guaranteed, and the political situation is stabilized is fundamental to the future safety and development of the DRC and its population.
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