DRC must learn from Lu­mumba dur­ing cri­sis

CityPress - - Voices - Cris­tiano D’Orsi voices@city­press.co.za

In 1960, the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo (DRC) gained in­de­pen­dence from Bel­gium. By 1965, it was the sec­ond most in­dus­tri­alised coun­try in Africa af­ter South Africa, boast­ing flour­ish­ing agri­cul­tural and min­ing sec­tors.

De­spite such a good start, the DRC has be­come a coun­try with a com­plex and pro­tracted hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis. At least 1.6 mil­lion peo­ple have been in­ter­nally dis­placed, 90% of whom have left their homes due to armed at­tacks. It is sixth on the list of coun­tries that gen­er­ate the most refugees.

Ac­cord­ing to Ul­rika Blom, the Nor­we­gian Refugee Coun­cil’s coun­try di­rec­tor, the sit­u­a­tion is alarm­ing: “Even Syria or Ye­men’s bru­tal wars did not match the num­ber of new peo­ple on the move in DRC last year.”

Since De­cem­ber, eth­nic vi­o­lence has spread and wors­ened in the wake of Pres­i­dent Joseph Ka­bila’s re­fusal to step down af­ter serv­ing two con­sec­u­tive terms.

The political inse­cu­rity brought on by Ka­bila’s re­luc­tance to call a gen­eral elec­tion has ag­gra­vated long-stand­ing eth­nic ten­sions and trig­gered clashes be­tween armed groups, par­tic­u­larly in the provinces of North and South Kivu, in the east of the DRC.

The coun­try is mov­ing fur­ther away from the vi­sion of Pa­trice Lu­mumba, one of its found­ing lu­mi­nar­ies, a man who strongly de­fended hu­man rights.

In 1958, Lu­mumba said: “We wish to see a mod­ern demo­cratic state es­tab­lished in our coun­try that will grant its cit­i­zens free­dom, jus­tice, so­cial peace, tol­er­ance, well­be­ing and equal­ity, with no dis­crim­i­na­tion what­so­ever.”

He be­lieved that an in­tel­li­gent, dy­namic and con­struc­tive

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op­po­si­tion was necessary to coun­ter­bal­ance the political and ad­min­is­tra­tive ac­tions of the gov­ern­ment in power.

Con­trary to his vi­sion, the DRC’s political lead­er­ship has plun­dered the coun­try’s re­sources, sub­du­ing tribal chief­tains in the process. In the end, re­gional lead­ers were de­nied a chance to par­take in the bounty and they re­volted.

Lu­mumba’s vi­sion for a united coun­try is being tested as pock­ets of eth­nic vi­o­lence flare up in the re­gions.

Since the end of 2015 and through last year, vi­o­lence meted out by Mai Mai mili­tias, as well as rebel groups in­clud­ing the Demo­cratic Forces for the Lib­er­a­tion of Rwanda and the Al­lied Demo­cratic Forces of Uganda, have forced hundreds of thou­sands of peo­ple to flee their homes.

Last year, Hu­man Rights Watch recorded the as­sas­si­na­tions of more than 700 civil­ians in Beni ter­ri­tory, killings that had taken place over two years. It re­mains un­clear who car­ried out the at­tacks – the Con­golese gov­ern­ment blamed an armed group that had been ac­tive in the area, while in­de­pen­dent sources im­pli­cated army of­fi­cers in some of the at­tacks.

By the mid­dle of last year, 535 866 Con­golese had taken refuge abroad. A to­tal of 78 090 oth­ers were seek­ing asy­lum and are still wait­ing to be granted refugee sta­tus. The UN High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees and its im­ple­ment­ing part­ners have launched an ap­peal for $65 mil­lion (R834 mil­lion) to help the grow­ing num­ber of refugees ar­riv­ing in An­gola from the DRC’s Ka­sai re­gion, which has been en­gulfed in vi­o­lence that was ig­nited by the Kamwina Ns­apu mili­tia, which led an in­sur­rec­tion against the central gov­ern­ment. As a re­sult of the in­sur­rec­tion, 400 000 chil­dren are at risk of se­vere and acute mal­nu­tri­tion.

Back in 1960, speak­ing at the All African Con­fer­ence in Leopoldville (now Kin­shasa), Lu­mumba set out a vi­sion for the coun­try that in­cluded:

End­ing the sup­pres­sion of free thought and see­ing to it that all cit­i­zens en­joyed free­doms laid down in the Dec­la­ra­tion of the Rights of Man; Do­ing away with dis­crim­i­na­tion; and Bring­ing peace to the coun­try, not by us­ing ri­fles and bay­o­nets, but through good­will.

To achieve this, he said, the coun­try could “count not only on our tremen­dous strength and our im­mense riches, but also on the as­sis­tance of many for­eign coun­tries, whose col­lab­o­ra­tion we will al­ways ac­cept if it is sin­cere and does not seek to force any pol­icy of any sort what­so­ever on us”.

His vi­sion is as pre­scient to­day as it was then. It’s time the DRC put Lu­mumba’s words into prac­tice. D’Orsi is a re­search fel­low and lec­turer at the SA Re­search Chair in in­ter­na­tional law, Univer­sity of Jo­han­nes­burg

This ar­ti­cle first ap­peared in The Con­ver­sa­tion

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