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Africa

Opinion: No peace in DRC

An end to the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo is not in sight. The international community should ratchet up the pressure on President Kabila, says Andrea Schmidt.

Mitarbeiterin Andrea Schmidt Afrika-Kisuaheli Redaktion, eingestellt am 01.02.2010. Copyright: DW

Andrea Schmidt is head of DW's Kiswahili service

Brutal Darwinism reigns in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The stronger and those with the better military equipment survive and emerge victorious. The population is exposed to attacks against which there is no protection. They can do nothing but accept their fate. How long will the international community simply stand by and watch? How many people in the Democratic Republic of Congo must die? How many women, girls, grandmothers and also men will have to be suffer rape before the international community decides to step up its engagement for peace in the region and reassess its present strategy?

There may be nominally a government in the DRC but the state as such does not function properly. President Joseph Kabila is incapable of governing this state, which only really exists on paper. In vast swathes of the country, there is no legal system, police or infrastructure. The army goes looting and plundering in order to survive, soldiers often don't get paid for months on end. Army commanders sell their weapons to rebels and criminals. After M23 rebels had taken Goma, the government troops who were still in the city switched sides without a fight.

It is unacceptable that only the mighty are allowed to prevail in  21st century Congo.  M23, and all the other rebel groups and militias, are not the DRC's legitimate rulers. They should not be permitted to dictate the fate of the population, or style themselves as their "protectors."

For years, MONUSCO, the 17,000 strong blue-helmeted UN mission ( the largest of its kind anywhere), has been accused of being ineffective and a failure. The UN troops are despised by large sections of the population who feel they have let them down. In addition, successful implementation of the UN mission has always been thwarted by the erratic behavior and uncooperative attitude of President Kabila.

Well-meaning appeals by western politicians or even UN resolutions achieve nothing. This also applies to UN Resolution 2076 which was passed this week (on November 20, 2012), condemning the seizure of Goma and calling on the rebels to lay down their weapons and surrender. The rebels carried on marching. It is simply not enough to put the rebel leaders' names on sanctions lists. They ignore the UN sanctions and even run the risk of being put on trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague does not appear to deter them.   

So what can and should the international community do to put a stop to ongoing human rights violations and fighting in the DRC?

MONUSCO should start protecting the civilian population. That demand has also been made by the EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. Currently, MONUSCO's mandate is largely restricted to assisting the DRC's armed forces. But what should be done not just when the civilian population takes flight but when the army itself deserts? The mandate needs to be modified in accordance with conditions on the ground, MONUSCO troops need to be given the necessary resources, and cooperation between the UN and regional bodies has to be improved significantly.

National dialogue within the DRC is also needed. Pressure must also be brought to bear on the DRC's neighbors to stop supporting the rebels. It is known that they do this, a UN report has just confirmed the fact. All parties involved should be brought to the negotiating table and the pressure on President Kabila and his corrupt government should be stepped up, by donor countries in particular. Then a clear concept for bringing peace to the country needs to be worked out together with civil society representatives.

There is no point in grumbling that the DRC, which is as big as the whole of western Europe,  is so difficult to govern. Action needs to be taken and solutions need be found that will work in the years ahead. A new constitution and a federal system, under which power would devolved down to the provinces with their own parliaments, would be a step forward.

The population, which is relatively young and has known only misery and deprivation, just wants to live in peace.  

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