Politics might have kept the Democratic Republic of Congo’s civil war off the global agenda for more than a decade, but the scale of the violence calls for decisive action on multiple fronts, says Sabrina Marsh.
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – located in central Africa – has suffered from a crippling civil war since 1998. Despite the signing of peace accords in 2003, fighting continues, hindering any progress in the embattled country. The violence has resulted in the deaths of around 5.4 million people, making it the world’s deadliest documented conflict since World War II. The prevalence of rape and other sexual violence is described as the worst in the world, with 15,996 new instances recorded by the United Nations across the nation in 2008 alone, of which 65% of the victims were children.
Yet, despite its incredible scale – and its destabilising effect across the entire region – the conflict in DRC has been largely ignored by the global media and ranks low on international government agendas. So why has the ‘African world war’ gone unnoticed?
First, the violence has ebbed and flowed for nearly 15 years, making it difficult to keep up with the current-news focused press. Second, the civil war is considered too ‘complicated’ a news item, with eight African nations involved and around 25 armed groups seeking dominance. Furthermore, the effect of the violence on surrounding countries – such as Rwanda, Uganda, Republic of Chad and the Darfur region of Sudan – is often overlooked and misunderstood owing to its complex background of social and historical circumstances.
A third key reason for the lack of action is that the region does not rank highly in terms of global political significance. In fact, many Western conglomerates that have invested heavily in the resource-rich DRC have much to gain from the protracted upheaval. Some companies have given financial support to rebel groups and used bribes to ensure that areas endowed with the most lucrative resources stay under pro-Western forces’ control.
What happens in the DRC will have a significant impact on the entire central region. Established in 1999, the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission (MONUSCO), has so far pumped $8.73 billion in a 20,000-troop military campaign, but the rising death toll and persistent use of rape as a weapon of war have shown this is not enough. Although the conflict will not cease without Western corporations and governments changing their priorities, the first steps must come from the DRC itself.
The government of DRC has a pivotal role in promoting peace. President Kabila’s current government lacks both the vision and the effective institutions needed to bring about stability in the country. This must change if the necessary crack-down on illegal organisations and corruption is to take place, and if guerrilla warfare is to be eradicated from the eastern regions.
However, this cannot be done alone. The international community – particularly the African Union – must offer assistance to DRC to clean up its corrupt bureaucracy and judicial system and to strengthen its fledgling democracy. Crucially, the meddling of neighbouring governments must cease and multilateral negotiations be opened. Interventions by Rwanda and Uganda, for example, have actually damaged progress and hindered international support. Finally, MONUSCO must be strengthened to meet the scale of human suffering, including by increasing the level of military support to secure people’s livelihoods, improve access for humanitarian organisations and bolster government forces.
It is vital that the international community realises the magnitude of the problem in DRC and coordinates policies to bring about positive change. There is no single solution; progress will require a multi-pronged approach by the DRC government, surrounding nations and the international community that combines multilateral negotiations, effective peacekeeping and appropriately targeted investment. The DRC crisis has gone on for long enough. The world must take action.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.
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