President ignores his people’s plight
The world has managed to largely ignore one of its worst humanitarian crises, unfolding now in central Africa. The Democratic Republic of the Congo holds over a tenth of the globe’s malnourished children; more than 13 million people need aid. Around 4.5 million people are displaced internally, and another 750,000 have fled abroad. The International Crisis Group has warned that deterioration is likely. Multiple conflicts across 10 provinces intensify; their roots are complex, but President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to leave office has aggravated them. Civilians are caught between the brutality of rebel groups and of security forces. There are growing fears of civil war, in a country already so deeply scarred: the 1998-2003 conflict killed millions and sucked in neighbours. Meanwhile, the budget of the UN peacekeeping mission – the world’s largest – has been slashed.
One faint glimmer of hope came last Friday from Geneva, where the United Nations, the European Union and donor nations convened a funding conference. Extraordinarily, the DRC itself was absent. Mr Kabila’s government boycotted the meeting, denying that there is a crisis. It has lobbied other countries to dismiss or denounce the aid drive, which it describes as a demonisation campaign. And it justifies all this on the grounds that the desperately needed drive for support will discourage foreign investment.
While immediate needs must be met, improving the bigger political picture is essential. Mr Kabila is already two years over his five-year term, and barred from standing again by the constitution. At the end of 2016, internal and external pressure forced him to agree a path to elections. But the 12-month deadline came and went with no sign of such polls. The government now promises there will be an election in December, and that Mr Kabila will not be a candidate. Few place any confidence in his pledges. Only sustained and forceful diplomacy by western and African partners stands a chance of holding him to them.