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CONFLICT ESCALATES IN THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

Conflict Escalates in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) displaced 1.7 million throughout 2017, approximately 5,500 people a day according to CARE international. The central African country, endowed with a vast pallet of mineral resources including diamonds, copper and cobalt, has been prone to outbreaks of violence since the DRC gained independence in 1960. Currently in 2018, and through much of 2017, the nation has been plagued by waves of protests, political unrest and violence.

The government authority has collapsed in some areas, facilitating the rise of rival militia groups, who are violently competing to ensure a share of the resources.

Recent clashes erupted in the DRC’s northeast Ituri province, forcing 200,000 Congolese to travel by boat to Uganda. Congolese refugees say many civilians have been killed and hundreds of homes have been burned to the ground.

In recent weeks too, thousands of army soldiers attacked villages across the province of North Kivu, where rebel groups are based in the DRC’s north-east. Around the town of Beni, the DRC’s army is fighting an Islamist-inspired militia. It is unknown how many people have been killed in the violence so far. There are worries that a new Congolese civil war could erupt, similar to the previous conflict that lasted from 1997 to 2003 and claimed the lives of between 1 to 5 million civilians.

The fighting in the DRC is driven by grievances over the long-delayed vote to replace Congolese President Joseph Kabila. National elections were postponed in November 2016, and re-scheduled for December 2018. Now, the electoral commission has stated voting may not be possible until April 2019. President Kabila is in the seventh year of a five-year term, and the Congolese constitution prevents him from standing again.

Consequently, political opposition to Kabila has been steadily growing in the DRC. According to a recently published UN report, demonstration-related violence killed 47 people throughout 2017. Leaders of the many local rebel groups waging war on government forces say they are acting in self-defence because of government repression.

“We are seeing the quashing of dissent at all costs – even at the cost of human life – in the DRC by the systematic deployment of armed forces alongside the Police Nationale Congolaise to handle protests,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, in March 2018.

According to CARE International, the deteriorating security situation in the DRC has left 13 million people in need of humanitarian aid as of 2018, an increase of over 50% compared to 2017. Half of the DRC’s population is below the age of 14, meaning children are extremely at risk of death or injury from the humanitarian crisis.

7.7 million Congolese do not have enough food to eat, indicating a 30% upsurge over last year’s food insecurity figure. Over 1.9 million Congolese children suffer from severe acute malnutrition. This exceeds the acute malnutrition rates among children in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria combined.

Kaba Bitika Marie, 19 months, an internally displaced and severely acute malnourished child receives medical attention at the Presbyterian hospital in Dibindi zone of Mbuji Mayi in Kasai Oriental Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo, March 16, 2018. Picture taken March 16, 2018.
REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

The violence is facilitating human rights abuses also. Deprivation of liberty, forced displacement and rape have all become instruments of war in the DRC. Medecins Sans Frontieres have documented twice as many incidents of sexual violence in the first 3 months of 2018 compared to those months in 2017.

620,000 Congolese people have sought refuge in neighbouring countries. As of 6th March 2018, 1,466 suspected cases of cholera were recorded among refugees in Uganda, with 32 confirmed deaths. 5 million Congolese people were displaced across Africa at the start of 2018, which aggravates the health crisis and human rights abuses they are experiencing.

The UN mission in the DRC is the biggest and most expensive peacekeeping effort globally, but five UN bases were closed down throughout the country in 2017. In November 2017, 14 UN peacekeepers were killed by an Islamist-inspired militia in the town of Beni – the highest number of blue helmets killed in a single incident for 25 years. The pervasive insecurity that is preventing the UN peacekeepers from effectively supporting local communities is contributing to the humanitarian crisis.

Despite the UN publicly stating $1.7 billion in aid is required to meet the humanitarian needs in the DRC for 2018, only 4% of funds have been received as of 19 March 2018.

A donor’s conference is slated in for the 13 April 2018. However, many humanitarian organisations, like CARE International, have already stated that global attention is fixated on crises in Syria and Yemen, and therefore the DRC’s deteriorating security situation has been overlooked by international organisations.

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