DR Congo – Worrying Signs

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With crucial elections at the end of the year there are concerns of an increase in politically motivated violence.

As the sporadic and fragmented violence continues in the country, United States (US) officials have stated that the situation will only deteriorate if President Joseph Kabila does not step down later this year, during elections scheduled for November.

According to ambassador Thomas Perriello speaking on February 10th, “If the DR Congo chooses the path taken by Burundi, the scale of human suffering could dwarf what we have seen next door,” reported the East African.

There are concerns as Joseph Kabila has already served his two constitutionally granted presidential terms and has made no indication as to whether he will step down; it was a similar situation regarding presidential term limits that sparked violence in neighouring Burundi.

There have been fears of a return to the 1998-2003 ‘African World War‘ which saw nine countries engaged in conflict, particularly considering violence ongoing in neighbouring Burundi, the Central African Republic (CAR) and South Sudan.

In DR Congo there are plans for protests on February 16th by coalition group Citizen Front 2016 in an attempt to pile pressure on Kabila. There had been earlier attempts to hold pro-democracy rallies, but they were stalled due to the withdrawal of a key supporter, the Catholic Church.

Previous protests have been often brutally repressed and the opposition leader Charles Mwando Simba has urged workers to keep away from work and parents to avoid taking children to school on the day of the protest, reported the Daily Nation.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently commented that President Kabila seems set on clinging to power and has pursued a violent crackdown on those calling for credible and fair elections in November.

The US is also considering targeted sanctions, particularly assets freezes, in an attempt to deter Kabila from further repression, and to encourage him to step down from his post in accordance with constitutional law.

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Joseph Kabila – CC

According to another HRW report, a number of key countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have narrowed the sphere for criticism of the government, particularly DR Congo, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Swaziland and Angola.

The 659 page World Report 2016 detailed widespread pressure on rights activists, journalists and opposition members in many African countries. It documented how in January 2015 the DR Congo security forces brutally repressed demonstrations in the capital Kinshasa leaving 38 dead.

Security forces also targeted friends and acquaintances of injured opposition members as they visited them in hospitals. Activists have been detained for months without charge, including many members of a youth organisation.

In addition to concerns over politically-motivated violence and reprisals, DR Congo is also currently dealing with multiple rebel insurgencies.  In eastern DR Congo the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a mainly Rwandan Hutu rebel group, has been committing widespread atrocities.

Self-proclaimed community militia (‘Mayi Mayi’) have also proliferated as a response to rural insecurity. These are mainly sporadic and community organised militias, but have also formed more organised groups.

Some of the worst recent violence has taken place in Lubero, North Kivu, where locals have been caught between a Mayi Mayi rebel group, who are ethnically Nande, and the FDLR, who are predominately Hutu. The violence has been linked to attempts by a local Nande tribal leader to stop the return of Congolese Hutus, who he claims are trying to “conquer” Nande.

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The Allied Defence Forces (ADF), a largely Islamist Ugandan group, continue to be active in the Beni area of North Kivu province, particularly in the Rwenzori mountain areas. In Beni the ADF has coordinated attacks on both the army and the United Nations (UN) mission (MONUSCO) leading to the deaths of over 500 civilians since 2014.

In Ituri province, the Patriotic Resistance Front in Ituri (FRPI) rebel group also continues to commit serious human rights abuses. In Nyunzu in former Katanga province ethnic Luba fighters attacked a displaced person camp on April 2015, targeting members of the pygmy Batwa community.

There are concerns that these conflicts are taking on increasingly ethnic overtones and continue to be fuelled by the huge trade in illegal minerals and resources. Many multinational companies are often unable to track the origins of minerals in supply chains, particularly rare metals, reported the International Business Times.

Tantalum, tungsten, tin and gold are central to the production of high-tech goods and are the main sources of revenue for rebel groups in the country, generating estimates of around US$185 million a year, reported the East African.

However there have been some recent attempts by companies such as Intel to cut conflict minerals from their supply chains, with legally binding provisions in force since 2011 in an attempt to stop the financing of rebel groups. Campaigns group Global Witness provide a useful collection of resources on the mineral trade in DR Congo.

It is the increasingly politicised situation in DR Congo, with multiple rebel groups engaged in widespread often ethnically-motivated atrocities on civilians, the huge trade in illegal resources, and worries over the attempt of President Kabila to claim a third term, which have generated concerns that DR Congo will follow the same path as neighbouring Burundi but with possibly much more devastating consequences.

Find out more in the African Research Bulletin today

DR Congo – National Unity Bid
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.53, Issue.1, Pp.Page: 20855B

DR CONGO: Ethnically Motivated Violence
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.53, Issue.1, 20859B–20860C

DR CONGO: Political Opponents Harassed
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.52, Issue.12, Pp.20820B–20821C

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