Recently, the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR said that More than 30,000 people have fled their abode in the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC for UN refugee camps after the Allied Democratic Forces, ADF raided the town of Kamango.
The ADF* is a Ugandan rebel group formed in 1996 based in the Ruwenzori mountains of western Uganda, but moved to the mineral-rich Eastern DRC after they were routed by the Ugandan army, to join the milleu of armed groups on ground there, all seeking to profit from the illegal mining and trade in the minerals found in commercial quantity there.
The DRC has known only sparse periods of peace since gaining Independence from the Belgians on the 30th of June, 1960 till date, presently hosting the largest UN contingent in the world, attempting to maintain a semblance of peace in the strife-ridden country, especially in the Eastern regions.
From the killing of Patrice Lumumba (the DRC’s first Prime Minister) by elements of secessionist groups a few weeks after independence to the myriad of insurrections that the DRC witnessed with Mobutu Sese Seko (Kuku Ngbendu Wa Zabanga) in power for decades and after his reign. Che Guevara also spent sometime there trying to instil some Guerilla tactics on the younlg rebel group led by Laurent Kabila.
Some international media organizations, journalists and foreign correspondents I dare say earned their reputation, reporting the sorry events from the DRC. The routine is for one rebel group or the other to begin to advance from a region of the country towards the capital in a bid to topple the government in power, of which Laurent Kabila was the only rebel leader to have been thus successful when he toppled Mobutu, only to be felled by a subordinate much later.
In all of these, displaced Congolese bear the pains moving from one part of the country to the other in what is now seen to be synonymous with the DRC. These refugees are particularly aware of what can happen to them if they decide to stay put despite assurances and reassurances from Government Forces in areas they control (as they have also been implicated severally in the commission of atrocities against hapless Congolese).
The Eastern DRC has come to become attractive to different rebel groups located in the region because of it’s wealth in solid minerals, where the locals in the area most of these armed groups control serve as source of cheap, even slave labour, for the mining of these minerals used in making most of the electronics, mobile phones as well as computer parts used worldwide; the proceeds are plunged into sustaining the ‘war’ effort against other groups, the Congolese government or other governments such as the Rwandan, Ugandan etc.
Infact, in 1998 the DR Congo was devastated by a war involving 9 neighbouring countries and 20 rebel groups which continued despite the signing of a peace accord in 2003 with many killed, and rape used freely as a tool of war, by all parties involved in the conflict.
While the events in Congo go ”pon deh replay”, the masses continue to be the worse for it. Most children find it very difficult associating with a particular place because of the frequent movement which is necessary if they must stay alive, and also escape the clutches of rebel groups willing to take them up into their circle as child soldiers or sex slaves as the case may be.
The large UN military contingent in the Congo has been nothing but a toothless bulldog as armed groups usually have their way with the people while they stand aside and watch.
It is a thing of surprise that this second largest country of about 70 million inhabitants still remains a single country after all it’s been and is currently going through. The lack of peace, has ensured the inability of the government to build infrastructure. Congo has the largest number of air mishaps, because most of the journeys understaken by it’s people are done through the air on very old planes because there are no roads. This doesn’t mean there are airports either, as most of the small planes which service the transport industry land mainly on abandoned roads cut off from the rest of Congo or on open fields.
The health sector is in a very bad state. The majority of those who died in the ‘Great War’ of 1998 were refugees fleeing the fighting who weren’t felled by bullets, but by communicable diseases which couldn’t be treated due to lack of health care facilities and medication, and lack of access to those that were available.
Someone just has to take charge of the Eastern DRC. The government led by President Joseph Kabila obviously lacks the capacity, but the UN can and should take up the responsibility, and rather than continue the same way that has yielded very little in terms of curbing the activities of armed groups both for and against the government, they should now alter their Rules of Engagement, to return fire for fire with overwhelming force to dislodge these groups by whatever name they go by from Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Central African Republic, etc.
Congo DR, must also begin to build democratic institutions and give up reliance on strongmen, who are ‘strong’ enough to protect only their interest. The culture whereby opposition groups also have opposition armies should be discouraged, while opposition groups are allowed a fair voice by the government in power.
Post election disagreements shouldn’t be a time for the government to clamp down on opposition, neither is it time for the opposition to go or return to the ‘bush’ after losing elections.
Congo has just got to lose the tag of being Africa’s perennial ‘Headache’ and ‘Basket case’ for the sake of the teeming Congolese.
*The ADF, a muslim fundamentalist group is blamed for several bomb blasts that hit several areas of Kampala in 1998.