EDITORIAL: Congo’s forgotten crisis a threat to the region

Tuesday April 17 2018

Congolese refugees

Congolese refugees cross the border to Uganda in Nteko on January 24, 2018. If the current tensions across the region escalate, it may not only defuse a refugee time bomb but also raise the risk profile of the region, dampening its prospects as an investment and tourism destination. PHOTO | AFP 

By The EastAfrican
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After simmering for the better part of two decades, the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo appears to be boiling over.

But as the number of displaced from recent flare-ups rises, global attention to the crisis appears to be waning in almost equal proportion.

Analysts and humanitarian actors have rightly described the situation as the world’s forgotten conflict.

Nearly 4.5 million people, almost equal to the number that has so far been killed over the past 20 years, have been displaced and surviving in dire conditions, within its borders.

A few hundred thousand have found refuge in neighbouring countries, but even these face an uncertain future in the face of deepening donor fatigue.

So far, only 12 per cent of the $1.7 billion needed to support humanitarian operations has been realised. In all, some 13 million people re in need of one form of assistance or another directly as a result of the ongoing conflict.

Analysts blame the recent surge in crises around the world for diminishing the signature of the Congo crisis on the international humanitarian radar.

Even for the most basic of resources such as information, the conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and more recently the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, appear to have gained more agency than the catastrophic events in the DRC.

Matters have not been helped by the lacklustre performance of Monusco.

Arguably the longest and by some estimates the most expensive UN peacekeeping mission in history, Monusco has gobbled up almost $10 billion but has somehow been unable to end the violence since it was first deployed in December 2000.

Yet this can hardly be the time for apportioning blame. The priority should be the welfare of the 1.5 million displaced people, who, unlike their counterparts from the Middle East, are too poor to contemplate the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea, to Europe, where their plight would capture the imagination of a global audience.

Addressing the crisis in the DRC should be seen through the prism of its wider implications.

The numbers that have crossed borders – 238,000 into Uganda alone at the last count — may be only the tip of the iceberg but they point to the risk of the conflict gaining a regional dimension, as neighbouring countries deal with an influx of refugees.
The implication is that the health systems of host countries get stretched while the conflict could become cyclic as the displaced provide a fertile ground for recruitment by competing shadowy militia.

Experience should have made it clear that a piecemeal approach is not going to have an enduring impact on the crisis.

Something beyond a Marshall Plan needs to be considered.

As well as addressing the immediate humanitarian crisis, the international community will need to create a mechanism that addresses the deficit in the justice, law and order sector as well as the huge infrastructure gaps that hold back the economic potential of the country and impede the capacity of the state to assert itself. Only then can one hope for a sustainable regime of accountability.