Over the last few months, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has seen waves of protests, rebellions and violence as well as political chaos, leading to the possibility of another civil war similar to that between 1997 and 2003 that killed more than five million people. The president of DRC, Mr. Kabila is slowly losing his authority over the country and his ability to maintain the basic monopoly of control such as soldiers and police – who are barely paid for their service.
The security situation gets further agitated by an increasingly strengthened rival militia groups that have a presence over large parts of territories, competing for the DRC’s rich resources. This war could spread far beyond DRC’s border, involving its’ neighbours like seen in the past. According to United Nation in March, DRC is in a serious humanitarian crisis, with 13 million people dependent on humanitarian aid, of which 7.7 million face severe food shortages. Overall, there are more than 4.5 million people displaced. At least 10 out of the 26 provinces are currently in danger of armed conflict. Many more refugees are expected to flee to neighbouring countries, which has been shown in the past, to have bloody consequences.
There is some concern that the media is disproportionately reporting about crises in the Middle East. The lack of public attention might limit international support and therefore exacerbate the crisis in DRC even further. Even as the conflict gets more and more out of hand, the peacekeeping mission’s funding is being severely cut back. Last year, an important United Nations base shut down, following the United States-led initiative to save money. This cut in cost meant to Major Adil Esserhir, a spokesman for the United Nation peacekeepers that “we have had to do the same work with fewer resources.” However, there is a justified concern that there will be growing tensions between ethnic communities as well as fierce competition for land and lucrative mining resources. There is also strong evidence that countries that have suffered a civil war are likely to suffer another conflict in the near future. Today, we can already observe the sliding back of DRC into old patterns. If all invested countries engage now, a major war might be prevented.
Despite DRC being the site of the largest peacekeeping operation in the world with more than 15,000 UN peacekeepers, there is an increasing need for support to solve the humanitarian crisis. According to UN migration agency Chief Jean-Philippe Chauzy, there is not enough funding to meet the basic needs of millions of people in DRC. Even though the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs requested $812.5 million for humanitarian aid in DRC last year, it only received half of it, totalling $427.8 million. According to the International Organization for Migration, the crisis had reached a point where it requires aid funding of $1.68 billion. Currently, the United Nations provides most of the aid support providing expensive peacekeeping resources.
However, five United Nations bases around the township of Masisi were closed down last year, after the US decided to reduce its costs. According to Fidel Bafilenda, an analyst in Goma, “there is a lack of political will to crack down on the militia. The only way this regime can keep power is to maintain a situation which allows them to keep pillaging.” Nyabiondo, a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) health worker told The Guardian that the increase in fighting has also meant a wave of systematic rape, wherein one instance an armed group raped 60 women last January. On April 13, donor countries will reunite in Geneva with the aim of increasing the sum of foreign aid.
DRC’s crisis is historically, politically, and socially complex and entangled. It is conceptually difficult to grasp and to create priorities for the nation as a whole and financially impossible to address all the issues. DRC has become what scholar Theodore Trefon calls a laboratory for state-building alchemies. Many political scientists describe DRC as a failed state and point to its poor economic performance, political dysfunction, insecurity and lacking a functioning law and order system. In those “states” the government is unable to exercise legitimate control over their territory. There is no blueprint for how to rebuild a failed state. In contrary, the task of improving the relationship between state and society is very complex.
The international community should increase its involvement in DRC so that a slide back to war might be prevented. The Economist rightly recommends for the United States to undo their cuts to the UN peacekeepers’ budget. Peacekeepers are not the only solution but are important to protect cities from slaughter. Generally, there should be significantly more international aid invested into DRC. But why should foreign countries care for a country that has no important legitimate position in the global stock market system? For others, DRC seems far too complex to interfere altogether. It is true that DRC had a long history of violent rulers and interference from outside seemed to make matter worse.
This can be said from the time of colonialist Belgian King Leopold II and cold war soldiers who propped up Mobutu for being anti-Soviet. Nevertheless, foreign countries should care and provide help to DRC because the humanitarian cost deeply affects us all. The international community cannot respectably disengage – the scale of what is at stake is overwhelming. There is also hard evidence that civil wars have a significant negative impact on the economies of neighbouring states. Therefore it is reasonable to expect that the conflict can and will spread across its borders to Angola, Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan and the Central African Republic. This, in turn, would not only affect Africa but the whole world in general, economically and socially.
On the other hand, DRC with its 200 million inhabitants has an incredible potential, if only kept peaceful and functional. Because it is rich in resources and lies geographically at the heart of Africa it has the potential to become an economic and political stabilizer for the whole Africa. If they would invest in infrastructure e.g. building roads, it could connect north, south, east and west as a major step forward. It would have enough revenue from raw materials such as diamonds, gold, zinc, tin, copper and cobalt to foster economic activities and investment into the country’s development, security and stability (today, many mines are run or taxed by warlords). With its long and powerful river system reaching the Atlantic it has the potential to power the whole country and much of southern Africa. According to a withdrawal plan from the past, a hydroelectric power station could generate twice as much as China’s Three Gorges Dam. At the time, the World Bank withdrew its support after Kabila’s intention to take personal charge of the project. Kabila is similarly known like Mobutu for presiding over a violent “kleptocracy” whose large network of loyalty benefitting from corruption.
Kabila dramatically lost legitimacy with no more than 10% of the population support his administration. In fact, his presidency is unconstitutional, where he exceeded his two-term mandate limit in 2016. So far he could successfully make excuses for delaying the next elections. Important donors should, therefore, support Mr. Kabila’s earlier promise to hold an election this year and cooperate with sensible African leaders. At the same time, the Congolese opposition should be empowered to take part in the vote, and stop boycotting it.
The Economist rightly advises President Trump to extend its sanctions against Kabila that were based on earlier embargoes on conflict minerals. The United States introduced in 2010 the Dodd-Frank law which required American firms to prove their products do not involve “conflict minerals”. According to Fidel Bafilemba, who is head of an NGO in Goma, the law had a positive effect by making it harder for armed militias to fund themselves. There are different systems in place to track minerals and certification mechanisms to prove that raw materials are originating from conflict-free artisanal mines. Even though those laws and control mechanisms are effective to a certain extent, there are still imperfect and might need alteration and new control mechanisms to limit the monetary power of warlords and smugglers.
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