The conflict in eastern Congo, which has displaced more than 250,000 civilians, has worsened the already existing humanitarian crisis.
Whereas a high-level consultative meeting on October 31 last year — involving representatives from the African Union, UN agencies, the United States, South Africa, France, the UK, Sweden and Belgium — sought, among other goals, to forestall this humanitarian disaster, not much has been achieved.
The clash between pro-government forces and rebel militias, mainly the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), was precipitated by a host of factors, including continued concerns about the influence of Hutu extremists in the region, weak governance and competition for access to the region’s vast mineral wealth.
In response to the unfolding crisis, the United Nations recently approved 3,000 additional troops to join its mission in the DR Congo (Monuc) for a total of 20,000 peacekeepers, and humanitarian agencies, such as the World Food Programme and the UN High Commission for Refugees , have provided upwards of 10,000 metric tonnes of food and equipped thousands with essentials such as blankets and cooking stoves.
However, the US Institute of Peace argues in a peace briefing that efforts to craft sustainable solutions to the Congo crisis must go beyond short-term initiatives to halt fighting and provide temporary relief to focus on providing human security for all Congolese.
This means that every citizen must be guaranteed safety in communities that are free from fear and want.
Development, law and order, and military goals must be pursued in tandem if a lasting solution is to be found.
The briefing, “Disaster in the DRC: Responding to the Humanitarian Crisis in North Kivu,” focuses on the human security implications of resurgent violence that left hundreds dead, thousands displaced and millions destitute in North Kivu province.
In discussing the efficacy of ongoing humanitarian efforts, Dr Faida Mitifu, the DR Congo ambassador to the US, advocates international support to bring stability to the country by addressing impunity and ensuring that the perpetrators are held accountable for their crimes.
The US leadership is also needed to implement an international verification scheme that covers the trade of all mineral exports from Congo — similar to the Kimberly Process, established in 2003 to deter trade in “blood diamonds.”
Since much of the conflict in the eastern DR Congo revolves around the demand for Congo’s natural resources, a mineral certification process would decrease the incentives for rebels to participate in the mineral extraction industry and the accompanying incentive to use violence.
The briefing argues that a more systemic approach based on incentive structures and locally owned solutions is required to overcome persistent instability. Changes in individual behaviour require structural alterations, created with realistic assessments of the stakeholders’ capacities.
Multinational companies, for example, are the only actors in the resource rich-provinces of North and South Kivu with the incentives and capacity to secure mining sites and provide public services.
Under the right contractual agreements, they could improve the lives of the Congolese, as well as eliminate some of the conditions that exacerbate conflict and undermine efforts to improve governance.
In particular, the briefing encourages horizontal or bottom-up models of governance. It notes that current attempts to improve governance from Kinshasa have no immediate impact on the lives of anyone living outside the capital’s direct vicinity.
Instead, international organisations could focus their efforts on improving government and service delivery around the country’s 21 major cities.
Above all, making better use of local capacities could improve the situation. International partners should fund and support activities that build upon the strengths of local communities.
Locally-owned solutions, such as traditional conflict resolution mechanisms, tend to be more durable than shortsighted foreign measures.
The briefing urges the removal of FDLR from the DR Congo and containment of the CNDP militia since a durable peace cannot be achieved while Hutu extremists remain in the country.
The Kinshasa government should also promote policies that ensure all Congolese citizens benefit from the natural resources. It should increase dialogue with neighbouring countries to foment regional co-operation to quell the fighting.