Post-colonial independence from Belgium in 1960 presented the Democratic Republic of the Congo (D.R.C.) with a new start. Unfortunately, their troubled beginning foreshadowed the crippling events that would later unfold. Instances of domestic instability within the D.R.C. include rebellions, dictatorships, and armed conflicts, in conjunction with the spillover of international wars within Congolese borders, fueled by competing powers. Intervention on behalf of nine African countries led to a six-year, resource-motivated African World War that started in 1997 and ended in 2003, with a devastating death toll of five million Congolese lives.
The recent agreement signed on December 31st of last year resulted in the settlement on a power-sharing arrangement with the promise of holding elections by the end of December 2017. The culmination of the agreement was motivated by long-lasting and widespread instability perpetuated due to lack of trust and credibility of the governing factions, an essential factor in the reconstruction process. Additional distrust stems from a failure on behalf of military and law enforcement agencies to enforce laws and ensure security. The agreement stipulated that peaceful, credible, inclusive and timely elections be organized in the D.R.C., highlighting the inclusion of all sectors of society, including women. The conditions agreed upon are intended to culminate positive and productive relations between the Congolese and their governmental institutions.
The D.R.C., being a centrally located country on the African continent, greatly influences regional stability, evoking inevitable security dilemmas with its neighbors. The Democratic Republic is surrounded by nine countries: The Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia, and Angola. Competing, neighboring forces subscribe the country to heightened instability, resulting in the unfortunate humanitarian crisis in the Eastern region of the country due to constant conflict.
Residents of the D.R.C. are subjected to harsh conditions inflicted by both security forces and militia groups; violence is often intentionally discriminatory, as well as indiscriminate. Citizens of the D.R.C. are subjected to instances of forced labor and sex trafficking. Both Armed groups and government forces are believed to participate in the domestic trafficking of persons. The D.R.C. government is noted as failing to provide adequate awareness and resources regarding various forms of trafficking in law enforcement personnel training; therefore, affecting the reports of sexual crimes, like harassment, assault and rape.
Human rights violations at the hand of government forces include unlawful killings, torture and other forms of excessive punishment, as well as sexual and gender-based violence, forced disappearances, poor detention conditions, arbitrary arrests and suppression of opposition members and parties. The forced recruitment of children into rebel and militia groups is yet another unfortunate consequence of the conflict. Harassment of human rights agencies assessing human rights violations heightens concerns of government activity. Societal discrimination against indigenous groups was widespread, affecting their civil and political rights. The targeting of innocent civilians, including those in refugee camps, by rebel militias and government forces alike, contribute to the enduring conflict. Government corruption and the competing rebel groups in the armed conflict are attributed to the overall duration of the conflict and domestic instability.
The notable exodus of the Congolese is the result of the perpetual state of fear and distrust that has been experienced in the decades since their independence. The consequential forced refugee status of thousands of fleeing residents can be explained through the ethnic tensions and armed conflicts raging throughout the country, in addition to the recent outbreak of Ebola since late April 2017. Most of the Congolese refugees are under 18 years of age, the United Nations estimates that 70 percent of new arrivals in refugee camps are made up of women and young girls.
Similar statistics confirm large numbers of unaccompanied or separated children, a challenging factor in the relocation process. Furthermore, the number of Internally Displaced Persons is exceptionally high at 2.2 million (from mid-1990’s to 2016,) with the eastern provinces being the most severely affected. Despite the creation of programs and by neighboring countries, Rwanda Burundi, Tanzania and Uganda, relief efforts are largely are short term solutions that fail to integrate the Congolese into society.
Angola is largely responsible for serving the region most affected by the conflict, the eastern province of Kasai. Angola is reported by the United Nations (UN) as a relief site for these refugees. In conjunction with the Angolan authorities, the UN is providing food and relief materials, as well as the creation of new reception sites.
Countries of resettlement include the United States of America, United Kingdom, Australia, Finland, Canada, Ireland, Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, France, Belgium, Denmark, Chile and Portugal. More notably, in 2016 the U.S. admitted more Congolese refugees (16,370) than Syrian refugees (12,587.)
On May 12, 2017, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) made an appeal for $6.5 million to provide immediate emergency assistance for lifesaving procedures and care.
The future of the conflict in the D.R.C. will be largely impacted by its domestic conditions as well as foreign affairs, much like its history has proven. Domestic tensions can only be quelled through the event of peaceful, representative elections that conduct trust and stability. International actors will be responsible for assisting the transition process in a way that promotes sovereignty and the importance of global relations. Through strengthened government relations, domestically and abroad, the resources native to the D.R.C. can contribute to the development of the country, reverse the effects of the refugee exodus and improve overall regional stability.
Laura Zamora is a contributor at Politicsay. Laura majored in International Affairs and earned a certificate in Emergency Management and Homeland Security. Laura focuses on Human Rights violations and other social issues.