Congo (also called Congo-Kinshasa) in 2009 has historically received a lot of attention in the Norwegian press because of the lawsuit against two murdered Norwegians. But what is the situation in Congo today? What are the major challenges?
In the years from 1998 to 2002, Congo experienced one of the most brutal regional wars of the last decades, and the country faces major challenges, both economically, socially and politically, and both regionally, nationally and locally. The UN currently has its largest peacekeeping operation in the country. A central part of this peace work and of the international presence in Congo has been directed towards state-building, both centrally in the capital Kinshasa and in the provinces. In 2006, a democratic election was held for the first time in the Congo, where President Joseph Kabila resigned. Local elections were also to be held in the provinces during the period 2006-2010, but these have largely disappeared. Failure to conduct local elections raises concerns about the national elections scheduled for 2011.
Over the past four years, the government has made several attempts to distribute power more democratically and ideally more effectively. A separate ministry for decentralization has even been established, and a special training program has been launched for the authorities. Funding for decentralization comes mainly from major donors such as UNDP, USAID, the EU and Belgium. However, the program has only reached central government in the provinces, and no training and guidance has been provided to local authorities on how to work to implement government policy. Furthermore, the state budget is so limited that in many cases there is no financial support whatsoever from Kinshasa for the implementation of plans, which must instead be based on support from bilateral or international partners.
A resource-rich country
There is no doubt that Congo is a rich country in many ways, including in terms of natural resources, language supply and a young population. The country is Africa’s third largest and has the world’s second largest rainforest measured in area after the Amazon. Some claim that Congo could supply all of Africa with electricity, based on the huge Congo river that runs through much of Congo. However, there is little effective utilization of resources. Decades under a kleptocratic regime have led to poor industry maintenance and high government debt. Congo is one of the poorest countries in the world today, according to the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI).
Socially there is great inequality between men and women in Congo. A woman is often regarded as inferior to the man, and her value is often measured in terms of whether she is a virtuous and fruitful wife. Laws have long prevented women from owning land, even in cases where her husband falls away. Instead, the land has been transferred to the in-laws or eldest son. There have been a number of legal changes in this field in recent years, but it is difficult to change the practice in local communities.
Conflicts in Eastern Congo
Since the official peace agreement was signed in South Africa in 2002, there have been a number of minor and major conflicts, especially in Eastern Congo, bordering Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. The official main challenge is the fight against the remaining FDLR militia, which is associated with the 1994 Rwanda genocide and to some extent consists of former Rwandan Hutum militia. It is unclear exactly how many FDLR soldiers still exist in eastern Congo. The UN force MONUC claims there are about 6,000, while other sources claim that there are far more. It is also unclear how many of these are directly linked to the genocide in 1994. The uncertainty about the number is partly due to the fact that the FDLR operates in areas deep within the Congolese jungle that are inaccessible to motorized vehicles.
To combat the FDLR, Congos and Rwanda’s governments, supported by MONUC, launched two military operations in 2009, namely Kimia I and Kimia II. “Kimia” means “to quiet” in Swahili. The strategy was to use the governments of both countries to fight FDLR. But the Congolese army FARDC is strongly affected by resource scarcity and has at its best varying degrees of training. When the only way to reach FDLR is on foot, it has led the FARDC to go through many villages. Along the way, there have been numerous attacks on civilians by the government, including looting and rape.
During the period of military operations, freedom of expression has been noticeably tightened. Several journalists have experienced threats to write about Kimia I and II. Furthermore, with the United Nations Department of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) at the forefront, the humanitarian apparatus has been in direct opposition to the military section of MONUC, as the UN force has supported operations that create imminent danger to civilians. There has also been agreement between Rwanda and the Congo that there is peace in Eastern Congo, which has led to humanitarian organizations not being allowed to set up camps for internally displaced people. This is highly critical in view of the sharp increase in internally displaced persons that arose when Kimia I and II were initiated.
The International Criminal Court
As Norwegian media have often pointed out in connection with the trial against two murdered Norwegians in 2009, the professionalism of the Congolese judiciary is low and prison conditions are poor. The International Criminal Court (ICC abbreviated by Abbreviationfinder dictionary) in The Hague has therefore been given responsibility for parts of the court settlement of war criminals. Former Congo Vice President Jean Pierre Bemba is awaiting sentencing for war crimes committed in the Central African Republic. There have also been indictments against three opposition leaders in the Ituri district, located northeast of Congo, against the border with Uganda. These are Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui. The charges against these three include the recruitment of child soldiers and massacres against civilians. However, not all Congolese are equally satisfied with the ICC. This is especially true of the people of Western Congo, who believes that the court favors Kabila. The president has its popularity in the east, while the accused former president Bemba is popular in the west. There is also uncertainty about the security of the witnesses against the three other defendants in the Ituri trial. Many of the witnesses are minors.
Area: 2.35 million km2 (3rd largest)
Population: 64 million
Population density (per km2): 27
Urban population: 33 percent
Largest city: Kinshasa – approx. 7.8 million
GDP per capita: USD 181
Economic growth: 6.2 percent
HDI Position: 176