On November 28th, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) will hold elections. A delegation of Catholic bishops from the Congolese Episcopal Conference was recently at Westminster, to urge the international community to increase the number of international observers monitoring the forthcoming elections; to disarm and neutralise armed groups threatening to destabilise the elections; to initiate dialogue with Rwanda and Uganda in seeking to neutralise militias which often operate out of neighbouring countries; and to ensure that minerals and resources of the DRC are not used for illicit purposes
When the last round of elections were held in 2006 – the first multi party elections since 1960 – Joseph Kabila was elected in the second round with 58% of the vote. The Congolese also elected their federal parliament and their provincial parliaments.
The international community staked $460 million to fund the 2006 elections. The UN also used what is the world’s largest UN peacekeeping operation to try and maintain some degree of order and stability during the election period. For the 2011 elections the UK has provided £26.1 million with a further £5 million committed by end of 2012 for the following electoral cycle.
But, despite all this, two weeks ago the 62,000 ballot boxes needed for the elections had still not been delivered by the Chinese company which is manufacturing them; electoral lists had not been finalised; voter registration had not been validated; and a whole host of irregularities threaten the legitimacy of the electoral process. It would be a disastrous outcome if a botched process left the winners and losers with no confidence that the voting truly reflected the will of the country’s 70 million voters. It would undoubtedly spark more violence in a hugely volatile situation.
When I raised this question in Parliament the Government insisted that the UK is “committed to supporting the Congo to ensure that elections there are free and fair.”They said they are aware of the allegations of electoral fraud and that they “have pushed the DRC’s electoral commission to ensure that all parties have scrutiny of the electoral roll, and the commission publishes full voter lists on its website and in registration centres. All double entries, whether added through human error or otherwise, must be scrutinised locally and amended. We are also in close touch with internationally recognised monitoring experts in the European Union and the Carter Centre to ensure a high-quality network of observers will be in the country before, during and after the election.”
Why does all this matter?
It matters because between 5 and 6 million people have died in the Congo since the 1990s. It matters because the country has been crucified by incessant conflict and by one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. Statistics tend to numb us, but each number represents a human being. Mother Teresa once said “If I look at the mass I will never act”. We need to see the human being represented by every number and act. Tragically, amongst those who have suffered most are Congo’s women.
Congo has the unenviable reputation of being the world’s rape capital – rape has been used to punish, destroy or displace communities from rich mining areas. A woman is raped every minute in Congo: an estimated 1,100 every day. And this tragedy has been going since 1998. Look beyond the mass at the individual women these statistics represent. Every rape, every death is a human tragedy. That’s why it matters.
But it also matters because Congo is the centre piece in Africa’s development. Anyone who has read about, or visited the Congo, will testify to this.
It’s a beautiful, green, and alive country, endowed with indescribable natural wealth. It sits right at the heart of Africa—neighbouring nine countries—and—touching all cardinal points: North, East, West and South. What this means is that peace, and stability in the Congo directly impacts on the prospects for security, development and stability over a large portion of the African continent. Without a functioning state in Congo, development and prosperity in North Africa cannot be linked with, or influence, that of Southern Africa, or vice-versa. This is Africa’s cross roads.
Over the last few years both Labour and the Conservative Governments have given generous sums in humanitarian aid to the Congo. But the UK has a much a bigger role to play. We have not yet done all that we should: too often confusing symptoms with causes. Humanitarian aid is not justice. Congo needs justice; and it needs it now. There can never be lasting peace without justice and that’s where we need to do more. Congo continues to pay a very high price in human lives.
Millions have been killed. Millions have been displaced. Countless numbers have been raped, and millions more will continue to perish from the ensuing HIV-AIDS pandemic triggered by orchestrated campaign of sexual atrocities against women – still spreading at an alarming scale. I have been in Congo. I have seen the scars of the rapes, the traces of the killings, signs of the looting and frightened faces, crowded together, in refugee camps. And there and then, I made myself a promise not to rest until this situation is resolved.
I have heard it asked: “what can I do to help end the wars and human tragedy in Congo?”There are three practical things:
1) Raise awareness – tell your friends and keep the Congo on the political agenda;
2) Get your MP your bishop, priest, or parish community – your trades union or your professional association – involved in using their influence to change UK policy. For too long the world has been saying one thing and doing another. We need to make the tackling of impunity, insecurity, institutional failure and illicit trade of minerals the cornerstones of our policy and strategy towards Congo and the great lakes region; and
3) You can get involved with one of the groups campaigning for justice in the Congo.
One of those who will be monitoring the elections in Congo next week is a young British-Congolese, Vava Tampa. He founded Save The Congo and their web site www.savethecongo.org.uk sets out some of the individual actions which each of us can take.
Also – go to this excellent site: www.freefairdrc.com