Op-Ed by Emily Thompson
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is in dire need of a massive restructuring on every level as it faces a wide range of significant challenges, including political instability, economic instability, poverty, and poor infrastructure. Additionally, the country has a long history of armed conflict, which has led to widespread human rights abuses and displacement of civilians. The DRC is also rich in mineral resources, but the exploitation of these resources has often been marred by corruption, mismanagement, and human rights abuses. In addition to these issues, the DRC is also facing a humanitarian crisis due to the high levels of poverty and food insecurity, as well as a lack of access to basic services such as healthcare and education.
In an effort to shore up security and eradicate terrorist pockets in the country, DRC President Felix Tshisekedi, has accused the Congolese rebel group M23 of not fully withdrawing from areas they seized in the eastern part of the country. This is despite an agreement made in November, under which the group was supposed to withdraw by January 15th as part of efforts to end the conflict that has displaced many people and sparked a diplomatic crisis between Congo and neighboring Rwanda. The president also accused Rwanda of supporting the rebels, which Rwanda denies. The UN has also reported difficulty in confirming the M23’s withdrawal from certain areas due to continued signs of troop movement and the group has reportedly seized new territory.
This week was expected to be a decisive one for the conflict in eastern DRC as the East African Regional Force (EARF) prepared to take over areas vacated by the M23. The Luanda agreement signed last November directed the M23 rebels to withdraw to their initial positions, as per the Extraordinary Meeting of the Chiefs of General Staff of the EAC Armed Forces of November 8, 2022. However, other recent developments raise concerns about the intentions of the Congolese government and military, and their sincerity in sticking to the roadmap agreed in Luanda. Notably, the Chief of Staff of the Congolese Armed Forces, Lt Gen Christian Tshiwewe, arrived in Goma on January 10, with much fanfare, for what was described as a working visit. Reliable sources reveal that Tshiwewe held meetings with leaders of irregular armed groups, including the genocidal militia, FDLR, to coordinate a new FARDC offensive alongside newly arrived foreign mercenaries and other Congolese irregular armed groups. This development raises concerns about risks to the Kenyan troops deployed in the EAC Regional Force, civilian casualties in the area, as well as the continued targeting of at-risk communities who have been regular victims of FDLR and other brutal armed groups allied to the genocidal militia.
Further exacerbating heightened tensions, a bomb attack on a Protestant church in the eastern Congolese town of Kasindi on Sunday killed at least 10 people and injured 39, according to reports. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the attack, which took place during the service. The spokesman for Uganda’s military operation in the DRC stated that 16 people were killed in the blast and 20 were injured. The DRC’s communications ministry said on social media that the attack was apparently carried out by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), which the Islamic State group claims as its affiliate in central Africa. The ADF is known to be one of the deadliest armed groups in eastern DRC, with a history of carrying out bomb attacks in Uganda and slaughtering thousands of Congolese civilians.
Due to the ongoing troubles and violence in the country, the number of Congolese refugees fleeing conflict in eastern DRC since November 2022 has reached nearly 3,000, according to The New Times. The fleeing Congolese “mainly come from North Kivu province where developments in the past week have raised red flags about the intentions of the Congolese government and military, and their sincerity in sticking to the roadmap agreed in Luanda. There are fears of renewed fighting between the M23 rebels and the coalition including the Congolese army and armed militia groups such as the FDLR, a genocidal militia from Rwanda.”
With such rampant fighting and the presence of M23, it is impossible for civilian life to thrive, let alone continue in any way. Men, women, and children are not safe. Businesses cannot survive in such an environment and schools cannot operate safely without endangering children’s lives as they travel back and forth on dangerous roads.
Tshisekedi must work with local partners and organizations, as well as foreign governments and the United Nations to resolve his country’s issues as soon as possible. The following are ten ways Congo can fix its problems and make the country safe for its citizens:
- Address the root causes of conflict and violence, such as poverty, inequality, and political corruption.
- Improve governance and accountability, including fighting against corruption, strengthening the rule of law, and promoting transparency.
- Invest in infrastructure and development, particularly in rural areas, to create economic opportunities and improve living conditions.
- Promote reconciliation and healing for victims of conflict and violence, through programs such as truth and reconciliation commissions.
- Strengthen security forces and improve their ability to protect citizens, while also ensuring that they operate in a transparent and accountable manner.
- Increase funding for education and health care to provide citizens with the tools they need to improve their lives.
- Foster economic growth and diversify the economy to create jobs and reduce poverty.
- Develop and implement policies to address gender-based violence and discrimination against marginalized groups.
- Encourage and support civil society groups and independent media to promote transparency and accountability
- Improve international relations by engaging with other nations and organizations to address the root causes of conflict and violence.
With these solutions in hand, Tshisekedi has the chance to forge ahead and turn his country into a safe and prosperous environment that will ensure economic growth, security, and freedom for the next generation.
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