Pres­i­dent ig­nores his peo­ple’s plight

The Guardian Weekly - - Comment & Debate -

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.

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