DRC must learn from Lumumba during crisis
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