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For the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the horrors of war are an everyday reality. In the eastern provinces of the country, this trauma is particularly acute. On Sunday 27 November, the Mai-Mai Mazembe militia attacked a displaced persons’ camp in Luhanga. According to local officials and authorities, at least, 34 civilians were killed in the attack. The massacre is one, among many, that have occurred in the eastern provinces of the DRC. In Beni, mass atrocities committed against civilians reflect the alarming situation in the eastern DRC. Human Rights Watch has identified, at least, 700 civilian deaths caused by massacres in Beni over the last two years. Serious reforms within the UN peacekeeping force MONUSCO and the Congolese armed forces are necessary steps to halt the intensity of violence occurring in the volatile eastern regions of the country. Furthermore, the perpetrators of these atrocities are often unidentifiable and their motives unclear. The task of identifying the militia or armed forces responsible for the attacks against civilians has been highly problematic. These key dynamics must be understood in order to eradicate the culture of violence that pervades the DRC.
Phil Clarke, a lecturer in international politics at the University of London, believes that much of this violence stems from the corruption of the Congolese armed forces and their unwillingness to stop the atrocities. Clarke argues: “This is a problem that the Congolese armed forces faced as long as anyone can remember. They are… unable to bring any kind of peace and security to the eastern provinces because they are under resourced and poorly trained. The army is often extremely corrupt and… has built some important economic and political relationships with a range of rebel groups in the east.” The insufficient political will to end the violence in eastern DRC has had devastating consequences for the people of Beni. Ida Sawyer, a senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, says: “After two years of brutal killings, many people in Beni live in fear of the next attack and have all but lost hope that anyone can end the carnage.” The situation in Luhanga is also alarming. The Centre for the Promotion of Peace, Democracy, and Human Rights has identified the massacre as ethnically motivated: “The [ethnic Nande] militia was searching for members of the Hutu community and wreaked carnage before burning down the village entirely.”
The current situation in the DRC is concerning. There must be coordinated international and national attention to the ongoing ethnic tensions in the region. This requires a substantial revitalization of the MONUSCO peacekeeping force in order to regain trust amongst Congolese communities and protect them from the violence of militias and armed forces. However, such steps are not without difficulty. Human Rights Watch has recognized that “With Congo embroiled in a broader political crisis, the government is less capable of keeping the attacks… from spiraling out of control.” Therefore, serious effort and resources must be dedicated to prevent mass atrocities and promote inter-ethnic healing and reconciliation.
The DRC has experienced decades of civil war and violence. A former Belgian colony that experienced complete human devastation under King Leopold II, the DRC incurred another massive loss of life when Rwanda and Uganda invaded in 1996. The exodus of Rwandan Hutus into the DRC prompted both Rwanda and Uganda to invade the country in order to purge the territory of warlords, genocidaires, and ethnic Hutus. The civil war that ended in 2003 resulted in the loss of, at least, six million people, caught up in the violence or succumbed to starvation or disease. Since 2003, the DRC has experienced protracted conflict, mass displacement, ethnic tensions, and the rise of militias that target the civilian population.
The history of this turbulent country leaves pessimistic predictions for the Congolese people. Decades of civil war have ravaged the country, its institutions, and its people. Civilians who face the threat of massacres at the hands of unidentified attackers understand the perilous situation they face daily. Serious international attention must be paid to the volatile eastern provinces of the country. Ultimately, however, it is up to the national government to protect its people, reform its institutions and armed forces, and put an end to the daily acts of violence.