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The Democratic Republic of Congo: The Forgotten Crisis

Updated: Mar 7, 2018

The past 20 years of Congolese history has been characterised by war, political instability and destitution. With a human development index value of 0.35, the 176th in the world according to 2014 United Nation statistics, citizens face destitution and are susceptible to numerous diseases. The growing unrest under President Joseph Kabila’s rule has drawn international attention including the intervention of the Roman Catholic Church as the influx of refugees into neighbouring countries such as Uganda continue to rise. So, how did sides begin to switch against the once supported Kabila and where does that leave the Democratic Republic of Congo today?

Image: President Joseph Kabila sworn in for his second 5 year term in 2011 (Source: The Washington Times)

Kabila’s Rise to Power

Following the assassination of his father President Laurent-Désiré Kabila by one of his bodyguards, Joseph Kabila became the youngest president of the Democratic republic of Congo (DRC) at the age of 29 in 2001; unanimously voted in by the Congolese parliament. During this early period he worked to reorganise the country’s government and restore peace between Rwanda, Congo and Uganda ending the Second Congo war in 2003. In 2006, he was officially elected as President with 58% of the votes in what was claimed to be DRC`’s first free elections. However, his re-election in 2011 was not met with as much support as that of his first term. Accusations of electoral fraud were slung at him by both the opposition and the Roman Catholic Church, a powerful influencer in Congo given that 50% of its population identify as followers of the faith.

Despite this, the political turmoil truly began to escalate in November 2016 when Kabila refused to step down from the presidency, breaking Congolese law (which he enacted in 2006) in which a president can only hold office for a maximum of 2 terms. His refusal to step down was met with public outcry from Congolese nationals leading to protests across the country. Only earlier that year, the Kabila family has been accused of building a network of businesses across every sector of Congo’s economy leading to them accumulating wealth in terms of offshore taxes and using the presidency to serve their own private interests. One of these interests include Vodacom Congo as in early 2016 documents leaked showing Kabila’s twin sister, Jaynet owns owns half of Keratsu Holding, a company with a 9.6% indirect stake in the company. Today, Kabila still holds the presidency after government groups and the opposition brokered a deal with the aid of the Catholic Church to allow Kabila to remain president until free and fair elections could be held in 2017. In 2017, the scheduled elections were moved to 2018.

Image: Protesters of Kabila’s government (Source: Quartz Africa)

Suspected Censorship of Media & Migrant Crisis

"Freedom of information is constantly violated and journalists are exposed to threats, physical violence, arrest, prolonged detention and even murder," This remark from Reporters without Borders illustrates DRC’s recent implications for rights violations through government restrictions of the press. In 2017, one occasion saw the government order telecommunication providers to cut internet and SMS access to the public ahead of anti-government protests scheduled calling for Kabila to step down and the release of political prisoners. Telecommunications minister Emery Okundiji told Reuters that the decision was made, “for reasons of state security”. Law No. 013/2002 allows the government to take control of of communication facilities in the interest of national security or public defense. This cut-off has directly targeted protesters by reducing communication through social media outlets. In August 2017, authorities reportedly asked for internet capacity to be slowed down so that people could not be used to transmit images on social media before nationwide strikes.

The violence and political turmoil in Congo has resulted in a rise in refugees to neighbouring countries such as Uganda with around 10 000 people moving there in December 2017. The internal displaced is at an estimated value of over 2 million according to the United Nations High Commissioner for refugees figures.

The Future

It is evident from the public demonstrations that all the citizens want is change and for their voice to be heard. They want their leaders to live up to their name “The Democratic Republic of Congo”. As Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo, head of the Catholic Church in DRC said “How can we trust leaders incapable of protecting the population, of guaranteeing peace, justice and love of people?”

In order for to stabilise the country and restore faith and trust in the government, the presidential election now scheduled for December 23, 2018 over 2 years after their original date on the 27th November 2016 need to be free and fair so that power can be restores back to the people of DRC.

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