Are you Keeping an Eye on the DR Congo?

The crisis unfolding in the heart of the African continent in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is a scar on the conscience of humanity. By March 2018, conflicts across the DRC had resulted in 4.49 million internally displaced people with 13.1 million people, precisely 16% of the Congolese population, are in need of humanitarian assistance. 2017 was arguably the most violent year in DRC’s recent history, by extension the Congo the country with the most conflict displacement. Numbers of internally displaced people and Congolese refugees in neighbouring countries exceed those of Yemeni, Syrian, and Iraqi nationals. The humanitarian crisis has reached such an acute level, leading up to the international community’s emergency appeal in April 2018. This was one of the few collective actions in an attempt to raise $1.7 billion ($528 million was raised) to address the plethora of crises afflicting the beleaguered Congolese people.The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees affirmed that an estimated 7 million Congolese are facing severe malnutrition and 2 million are on the verge of starvation. Yet the Congolese government, led by Joseph Kabila, has attempted to play down the scale of this crisis. His government even boycotted the Humanitarian Conference on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which bid to support the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian aid to the Congolese in crisis.

Dr. Denis Mukwege, the prominent doctor best known for performing surgery on tens of thousands of Congolese female rape victims, says that Kabila and the current Congolese leadership have a deep contempt for the Congolese people. Similarly, the head of the Catholic Church in the Congo, Archbishop Laurent Monsengwo, speaks to Dr. Mukwege’s concerns by stating that “for all intents and purposes, the Congolese citizens are living in an open-air prison where a small clique is holding millions of the Congolese hostages through fear and force.”

As Kabila’s regime creates massive instability at home, he is spending millions of dollars on lobbyist firms in Washington, DC to instill an image of a stable Congo in the eyes of the rest of the world. His tyrannical strategies have been practiced and extended in order to keep a lid on the Congolese civic consciousness through interminable arbitrary arrests, outlawing of marches, buying-off weak and feckless opposition figures, and rolling out widespread militarisation of public spaces. When the courageous Congolese people do claim the streets by lining up behind trusted Catholic activists and intellectuals. Since December 2017, such collective struggled for dignity and justice have been met with tear gas and live bullets killing dozens and injuring hundreds. Youth formations have borne the brunt of the regime’s crackdown with repeated arrests, infiltrations and even assassinations as was the case during the recent demonstrations in February 2018 when social justice activist Rossy Mukendi was assassinated by Kabila’s security forces.

A general strike on 19 September 2016 called by the main opposition bloc amid continued tension over slow preparations for the presidential elections. Eduardo Soteras/AFP/Getty Images

Longtime backers of Kabila, namely the United States and European Union, have imposed weak sanctions on individual actors in the regime but they continue to legitimize the regime even as the masses call for a transition to elections without Kabila. The African Union and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have done no better. In a recent SADC meeting in Angola, the regional block congratulated the Congolese government on its “remarkable” progress, merely because Congo’s electoral commission had set up a date for elections to be held on December 23, 2018, a full two years after Kabila was supposed to have left office. Even as concerned stakeholders and people breath at the sight of a mediocre elections plan, the matter of the fact is that most potential presidential candidates are either in jail or in exile, opposition media remain shuttered, demonstrations are persistently outlawed, the voter rolls are deeply flawed and the proposed electronic voting technology is argued to stimulate fraud. Such internal relief is definitely hyped up to a level of comfort that is making all of us slack in keeping an eye on our Congolese brothers and sisters. In fact, Botswana is the only member of the SADC who has called on Kabila to step down and leave the Congo and the Congolese people to lead their own destiny.

Villagers head back home after working in a field close to a mined area in Bas-Congo province. Photo: Sean Sutton/MAG

Kabila has shown little sign of letting go of his hold on power. The tremendous demand for Congo’s minerals such as cobalt which has doubled in price in the past year, is an added incentive for Kabila to hold on to power and expand his vast business empire which contains over 80 companies throughout the country – from mining to telecommunications, banking and a myriad other industries, Kabila and his family have their tentacles on vast a range of industries in Congo’s economy. With mining conglomerates from China to Europe, the United States and Canada courting the regime, it is difficult to see him stepping aside peacefully and foregoing such financial advantages.

What is transpiring in the heart of our continent is unconscionable. We would not be worthy of the sacrifices made by our independence heroes to rid the continent of the tyranny of colonialism if we remain silent and inactive in the face of the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in the Congo. Ghana’s first president and independence hero, Kwame Nkrumah famously said that “The independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of the African continent.” Today, we must declare that freedom and democracy anywhere on the African continent are meaningless until all the sons and daughters of Africa are free from tyrannical and neo-colonial governments such as the illegal and illegitimate regime in the heart of the continent in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. All Africans and people of goodwill throughout the globe should heed the words of Congo’s independence hero and first democratically elected Prime Minister, Patrice Emery Lumumba when he wrote: “Africa, Asia, Free and liberated people in every corner of the world will always be found at the side of the Congolese.” As we approach this subterfuge of an elections date, let us breathe life into Lumumba’s words and be at the side of the Congolese people.

Written by Patrica Servant & Prince Akpah

Issued by Africans Rising for Peace, Justice & Dignity
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