Congo’s for­got­ten cri­sis a threat to the re­gion

The East African - - OPINION -

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.

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