By Tswelopele Makoe
THE Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been engulfed in a protracted conflict with clearly vested external interests fuelling the country’s sad instability.
In less than a year alone, the violence has left more than 5.5 million DRC citizens displaced, and well over 26 million in desperate need of humanitarian aid.
The political and civil conflict that has been taking place in the DRC and across the globe leaves a deep sense of concern for the future of humanity.
The conflicts that take place in the global south, which are extensively dismissed and oftentimes downplayed by domineering Western media, have a measurable impact on our globalised contemporary society.
In the DRC, over a hundred armed groups are in active conflict over resource and territorial control. Although the political instability in the DRC has been notable since their independence in 1960, it has vastly proliferated in recent years, rendering the sprawling nation extremely vulnerable and unstable.
The disputes were largely centred on land taxation, land disputes, political rivalries, mineral interests, and foreign interventions.
What is truly devastating about the DRC instability, however, is that the indigenous people of the east African nation are the most adversely affected by the violence.
They are the ones who face the true instability and insecurity of being displaced from their homes and communities, losing their loved ones, their businesses, livelihood and their family members.
This unending violent conflict has also left the stability of the society in an extremely precarious position. Scores of citizens are constantly dying of starvation and rampant food insecurity.
This has not only exacerbated displacement across the region but has also led to over 1.1 million people seeking asylum in neighbouring countries.
The DRC shares its borders with nine other neighbouring states and is the second largest country on the African continent. Sitting on the equator, it is comparably as large as the entire western Europe. Despite its formidable size and abundant natural resources, the DRC remains one of the five poorest countries in the world.
Another jarring fact about the DRC conflict is that the rebel groups, who are reportedly inflicting this violence, are from the very same nation and communities.
The destruction that is taking place not only affects the people, but personally and directly affects the rebels inflicting this destruction, too. Some 120 armed groups are actively operating in the eastern provinces of the DRC.
Most notable of these is the M23 (March 23 Movement) group, which emerged from a rebel group disbanded back in 2009 and has had widespread support by neighbouring states of Rwanda and Uganda.
The efforts of other neighbouring nations such as Angola, who have collaborated with the African Union (AU) to end the conflict and foster an amicable peace treaty, have been fruitless.
The stark facts about this conflict are that over 15 million children will suffer the present-day’s devastating impacts for a very long time.
This violence has not only equated to the physical, psychological, and emotional disrepair of scores of DRC citizens, but also leads to exacerbated rates of starvation, crime, and disease outbreaks.
This is additionally worsened by the rates of flooding, the recurring outbreaks of the Ebola virus, and the Mount Nyiragongo volcano eruption.
The irrefutable damage from war is extensive and endless. Furthermore, intra-state conflicts, like the one taking place in the DRC, are reluctantly and seldom solved by peace organisations such as the United Nations.
Formidable architecture, entire communities, religious spaces, schools, hospitals, businesses, and civil society groups are often irreversibly damaged. The economy is adversely impacted for a prolonged period of time.
The development goals of the nation, and of its people, particularly where gender equality and educational completion are concerned, are indefinitely stifled. The cultural heritage of a people is not only the encompassing of their history but is vital to their social and societal empowerment.
What is particularly devastating is that the loss of cultural property and assets, the evidence of human creativity and past generations, is instantly destroyed.
Although most international humanitarian laws work to protect those that do not participate in the hostilities, most wars still claim an immense loss of life.
Citizens are remanded to adverse poverty, lack of shelter, institutional exclusion, inequality, high rates of illiteracy, and environmental instability. The fracturing of their basic human rights - to health, security, shelter, and education – is evident.
Those who are able to escape the violence and seek asylum in other countries are similarly vulnerable, as they are rarely afforded the rights of refugees, and rarely protected under the international system.
Furthermore, post-traumatic stress and depression is rampant in refugee populations, and directly impacts their social, emotional, and educational success.
It is high time that we start to learn from the conflicts of the past, and present. It is the peaceful citizens that are most viciously impacted by wars and conflicts. In fact, in the past decade, over two million of those killed in armed conflicts were children.
Young kids, women, and the elderly are by far the most adversely affected and impeded by wars. Conflicts such as these are extremely difficult to recover from. The effects are felt for decades and generations to come.
Today, the DRC holds the highest number of internally displaced people in the entire continent of Africa. This is particularly concerning as the violence is seemingly continuing to escalate.
The situation in the DRC is particularly alarming as the nation ensues on their national elections, set for December 2023. It is certain that the nation is unprepared for such a profound event.
Furthermore, it is questionable that the leadership of the DRC would permit a national election when the nation is in such a perilous position. This event could lead to a surge of worsening violence, and more importantly, result in an unscrupulous election process.
It is vital that the entire continent, and the world at large, take notice of the devastation that is taking place in the DRC today. It is not enough to sanction or send odd packages of humanitarian aid.
The fight for peace in the DRC must be collective and indestructible. War not only affects those in the communities and the nation, but it also affects everyone around it. It is a volatile pursuit that leaves only tragedy in its wake.
It is pertinent that global societies advocate and publicise this devastation, in order for it to be properly addressed. This nation deserves the same support and advocacy that is given to all of the other conflict-ridden nations such as Palestine, Sudan, Ukraine, Syria, and so many more.
Beyond this, human history has already proven that Isaac Asimov was correct when he noted: “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” As the citizens of the DRC embark on their upcoming elections, they should heed the advice by Henry van Dyke Jr, emphasising that “a peace which depends upon fear is nothing but a suppressed war”.
* Tswelopele Makoe is a Gender Activist. She is also an Andrew W. Mellon scholar, pursuing an MA Ethics at UWC, and affiliated with the Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Social Justice. The views expressed are her own.