Security Exchange News

Should I Stay or Should I Go

22 March 2018

If he goes there will be trouble; if he stays it will be double. Earlier this month DR Congo’s Prime Minister Bruno Tshibala told BBC’s HARDtalk that President Joseph Kabila will stand down after elections in December. “I can confirm that the president will not run again”, said Tshibala. There are reasons to be sceptical.

Kabila came to power in 2001 when his father and former president, Laurent Kabila, was assassinated by a bodyguard. He was elected for five-year terms in 2006 and again in 2011. On 20 December 2016, he was due to stand down in keeping with the two-term limit in the constitution, yet he remains in office more than a year later. Promises of elections in 2017 were broken and the date was pushed back by another year. The president has blamed logistical challenges and the ongoing fighting in various parts of the country for the delay; however, critics claim that Kabila is using the violence as a smokescreen to remain in power, while others accuse him of perpetuating the conflict.

Violence has been a consistent feature in DRC since the civil war - during which between one and five million are believed to have been killed - ended in 2003. At certain points, the fighting has threatened to push the country back into a full-blown conflict, such as in 2012-2013 when rebels from the M23 group seized Goma, the capital of North Kivu. Tens of thousands were displaced in the east of the country, while both sides committed horrific human rights abuses on the local population. The M23 surrendered and signed a ceasefire, yet fighting has continued in North and South Kivu, where an estimated 120 rebel and insurgent groups now operate. This includes groups originally from DRC’s eastern neighbours, such as the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).

On 8 March 18 staff members from a gorilla sanctuary were kidnapped in the Nzovu area of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park. The Mai-Mai Raia Mutomboki militia is suspected of being behind the kidnapping. In February two French aid workers died during clashes between rebel groups in Nyanzale, North Kivu, while last December 14 UN peacekeepers were killed and 53 others wounded in an attack by ADF rebels near the town of Beni. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the attack "a war crime." Since mid-2016 there has also been heavy fighting in the central Kasai region, sparked by the death of a customary leader, Jean-Pierre Mpandi, at the hands of the DRC security forces. His supporters took up arms and formed the Kamuina Nsapu group, which launched multiple attacks on state officials. Thousands of people died in the ensuing fighting, while both the rebels and the security forces have been accused of committing human rights abuses. In March 2017 two UN staff members were executed in Kasai – it remains unclear if the assailants were from the rebel or state forces.

The statistics for the country are bleak. There are more than four million internally displaced people (IDPs) in DRC, the highest number for any country. Almost half of these were displaced just last year. Tens of thousands more have fled into neighbouring states, particularly those from the troubled eastern provinces. An estimated 700,000 children are malnourished and half of the population are under 14. By most indicators the population of DRC is among the poorest in the world; around 90 percent live on less than $1.25 a day. At the end of last year aid groups said $1.7bn was needed to help more than 10m Congolese, claiming the country was experiencing a catastrophic humanitarian crisis. This abject suffering occurs despite DRC's vast wealth and endless potential. The country is one of the richest in the world in terms of natural resources, including gold, diamonds, cobalt, copper and uranium. The Congo River could provide enough hydro-electric power to supply most of southern Africa. Yet these natural blessings are also DRC’s biggest curse. They have been the cause of much of the violence that has blighted the country since Belgium created the Congo Free State in the 1880s. The colonialists committed well-documented atrocities – notably severing the hands of workers – during the extraction of rubber. Little has changed almost a century and a half later. Now Kabila and a small group of elites enjoy obscene wealth with the help of multi-nationals and foreign donors while the rest of the population fights for survival.