BY: DR. DAVID BASSIOUNI
Established as an official Belgian colony in 1908, the then-Republic of the Congo gained its independence in 1960. The country’s early years were marred by political and social instability and today, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is still reeling from the effects of a widespread civil war, preventable diseases and starvation. Weak governance and the prevalence of various armed groups have subjected Congolese civilians to widespread rape and sexual violence, massive human rights violations, and extreme poverty.
This war-torn country of over 85 million people, roughlythe size of Western Europe, is richly endowed with vast natural resources; estimated at $24 trillion of untapped mineral resources like gold, coltan and cobalt. The presence of these minerals, used widely in the telephone industry, has earned DRC the name of “The Mother of Smartphone.”Though there is great potential for the country to amass vast wealth, at the same time, these very minerals have been the source of the DRC’s long drawn conflict; attractingwarlordsand abusive corporations, resulting in a divided population and brewing competition among the country’s ethnic groups.
Due to socioeconomic difficulties, the DRC continues to perform poorly monetarily. Progress on implementing substantive economic reforms remains slow due to political instability, bureaucratic inefficiency, corruption, and patronage. Low commodity prices have also stifled the economic growth that was formerly experienced with the rejuvenation of the mining sector. Poverty remains widespread and the country failed to meet any Millennium Development Goals. As of 2013, only 9 percent of the country’s total population had electricity and an underdeveloped financial system combined with unstable government has made DRC vulnerable to corruption and money laundering.
About 12.8 million of the over 85 million people in the DRC need humanitarian assistance and protection, including 7 million people who are food insecure, an increase of 30 percent over the year before. The most concerning problems include child malnutrition, outbreaks of cholera,measles, yellow fever, and recently the Ebola outbreak ravaging the north-eastern region of the country. The country reported 55,000 cholera cases and 1,000 deaths in 2017, as well as more than 42,000 cases of preventable measles. More than 500,000 people from the DRC are refugees and asylum seekers who fled during years of violence and conflict between warring militias and rebel factions dating back to the 1960s. More than 2 million people were newly displaced in 2017 and 2018.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) was forced to temporarily suspend its Ebola response and other programming in the Beni and Butembo areas of the DRC after a delay in elections led to violent protests and attacks on aid workers working to combat the outbreak. “With almost 600 cases and more than 350 deaths, this outbreak is already the second deadliest in history,” said IRC Vice President of the Emergency Unit, Bob Kitchen. The IRC fears that the suspension will allow the disease to spread unabated, likely reaching major cities and spreading across international borders leading to a major international health catastrophe.
UN peacekeepers have been in the DRC since 1999. Entitled, MUNOC, the mission is one of the largest peacekeeping operations in the world, with almost 20,000 personnel on the ground. However, since the first UN-commissioned experts report in 2009, successive reports have criticized the MUNOC as having done nothingof significant consequenceto quell the violence – with rebels continuing to kill and plunder natural resources with impunity. Purported claims that the rebels are supported by an international crime network stretching through Africa to Western Europe and North America further complicate the situation. The government of the DRC has announced on several occasions that it is capable of maintaining law and order and wants the UN force to leave the country despite the United Nations warning of a worsening humanitarian crisis. This dicey political and security situation has not been helped by President Joseph Kabila’s 17-year stronghold on power.
Kabila took over power from his assassinated father, late President Laurent Desire Kabila, in October 2002. The much-delayed elections since 2011 were held, at last, on December 30th, 2018. Two contestants, Emmanuel Ramazani Shedary, representing the Ruling Party, and Martin Fayulu, representing the Opposition, emerged as the leading candidates. However, contrary to expectation, the National Elections Commission on January 9th, announced Felix Tshisekedi, son of late Opposition Leader and Veteran Congolese Politician Etienne Tshisekedi, as the winner of the elections. Felix Tshisekede is the Chairman of the country’s largest Opposition Party, UDPS. He opted out of the larger Opposition and ran independent of the latter. This latest development shifts the scenarios put forward below more towards Scenario Two but with some hope that reason will prevail, the country will pull back from the precipice and negotiate a settlement acceptable to all sides.
Looking at the DRC at this critical time reveals that the country is likely to follow one of three critical paths. One, the Congolese people may come together as true patriots, accept the announced results of the elections with magnanimity and reject the formula of “Winner-Take-All.” The establishment of an inclusive highly Federalized Democratic Government of National Unity empowered by equitable sharing of power and resources enshrined in the Constitution of the Democratic Republic of the Congo will follow. Two, contested results of the elections accepted by the Government and parts of the Opposition may spin the country into protests, violence, chaos and anarchy which will give the current President, the pretext to “save the country” by stepping into the power vacuum as “Interim President” as he has done with impunity in the past. However, since a winner has been announced, this possibility may not play out fully. There is now talk of a Coalition Government to be formed by the Government and Tshisekedi’s UDPS. The wish and hope of all Congolese and well-meaning Friends of DRC is that Scenario One prevails and the Mother of Smartphone returns to peace, stability and development leading to prosperity. However, if Scenario Two occurs, all we can do is put the Congolese people on notice that Friends of the DRC and future Congolese generations will hold this generation responsible for the disintegration and sliding into abyss of Africa’s richest country with the most dynamic highly-gifted people, rich in culture.
Finally, the Congolese People may choose to put their differences aside, accept Felix Tshisekedi in a wider coalition as the next President of the DRC and possibly accept to reform and manage the country democratically as described in Scenario One above. Given the developments since the election, this scenario is what the SADC and Tanzania President Magufuli are calling for, both asking for there to be a peaceful transfer of power to the President-elect. However, the African Union has been pushing the DRC to delay the announcement of the final elections due to the “serious doubts” it has about the provisional outcome. But, the DRC has rejected the notion that an international body should interfere in their election process and, even though a request for recount has been submitted by Fayulu to the constitutional court, the court inaugurated the president earlier this week.
Dr. David S. Bassiouni is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of The Bassiouni Group, where he leads the company’s mission to empower global institutions and communities in the developing world through Sustainable Development, Strategic Public/Private Partnerships and Socially Responsible Investment. Dr. Bassiouni is also a United Nations Veteran, having served in the UN system for over twenty years in leadership roles with UNICEF, OCHA, DHA, UNDGO. Photo Credit: Middle East Monitor
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