Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Democratic Republic of Congo: Trying to Write a New Chapter

Staff Writer

A new joint report from NGOs working in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has provided little good news, if any, on the current condition of the Congolese people who, understandably, expected a change in their plight after the 2006 and 2010 elections. The most important issue in the DRC is security—physical security. Even with renewed focus and effort from the international community after the 2006 elections, the political climate in the DRC has proven more stubborn to change than anyone could have expected. The report—titled, “The Democratic Republic of Congo: Taking a Stand on Security Sector Reform”—which is being presented by its authors to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), the U.S. government, the European Union (E.U.), and the African Union (A.U.), declares that the Congolese government lacks the political will necessary to tackle the country’s problems. And the primary culprit in making the country so dangerous for innocent civilians is the Congolese military—the Forces Armées de la Républic Démocratic (FARDC). It conducts the most inhumane and predatory practices on civilians.

Many of the DRC’s problems stem from its precarious security situation. Very little can be built without security, which means it must be prioritised for development efforts to have a chance. The history of the DRC is fraught with unimaginable human suffering. In fact, it has often been said that the country holds the unfortunate record for Africa’s longest running war. It has the largest casualty numbers in any war on the continent—estimated at more than 6 million dead—to show for its continual cycles of civil wars; and being invaded by all its bordering neighbours, jointly and separately. At the moment, an estimated 1.7 million Congolese are displaced from their homes; a further 500, 000 outside the country. The UN has forecasted that the DRC will miss all its Millennium Development Goals.  Suffice to say that since the “birth” of this country it has known very little else but the darkest side of what men do with power, and the evil they visit on the innocent. UNICEF estimates that thousands of children are being used in various capacities by armed groups and the Congolese army.

But the report also points an accusatory finger at the collective international community, which has ill-coordinated its efforts. Owing to the separate policies towards and bilateral relations with the Congolese government, donor countries and organizations have been played against each other to the detriment of true reform. E.U. countries, the World Bank, the United States, non-profit organizations, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have all engineered and executed individual policies, wholly believed to hold the chance of coercing President Kabila and the upper echelon of the Congolese government to pursue true reform to the way business is conducted in the country. A focused effort and policy is what the report calls for, and it is the only chance of preventing billions of dollars from going to little else but lining the pockets of military generals who refuse to pay the foot soldiers, who then pilfer from everyday Congolese civilians. From 2006 to 2010, it is estimated the DRC received $14 billion in official development aid and a U.N. mission with a $1 billion a year price tag.

It is, perhaps, time to refocus and invest in civil society as much as in the military, which would create a counterweight to the military. In the past, civil society, along with liberal sections of the Congolese government, has successfully pushed through reforms. What they need are resources to help build capacity, which in turn would allow these actors to meet the daunting challenges at hand. The absent political will for reform from the Congolese government is a purposeful plan to hinder anything that would constitute a threat to the entrenched interests of the ruling elite. The military will not easily return to barracks and it will continually be plagued with insubordination as parallel chains of command survive—the result of integrating former belligerents into the official military. A strong civil society, over time, would eventually be able to politically gain enough power to force through reform through legislature. It would be a working partner the international community can count on to pursue policies and legislature that will bolster human rights and the rule of law in the Congo.

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