Congo takes first steps in quest for peace and unity

By staff writers
January 3, 2007

The recent peaceful election in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is just the first step in uniting a country ravaged by decades of war and dictatorship - writes Alain Kabeya N'tumba, advocacy officer for the Kinshasa office of CAFOD, the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has just held what observers adjudicate to be a democratic, fair and transparent election, at the end of which Joseph Kabila was elected and installed as Congo’s first freely elected president in decades.

After a four-year transition out of a devastating war preceded by thirty years of dictatorship, President Kabila inherits a country potentially rich but partially ruined.

The great fear was that this large country would fall again into chaos if Jean-Pierre Bemba, who lost the landmark vote to Kabila, decided to keep his sword. Hopefully he will stand by his oft-repeated promise to lead a "republican opposition”.

In spite of an abundance of natural resources, many of the DRC’s 60 million people live in extreme poverty, with three-quarters surviving on less than one dollar a day, without access to water or electricity.

It goes without saying that this is a territory named by some as “geologically scandalous”. Sheltering the second-biggest tropical forest in the world, and crossed by the second longest river after the Amazon, it holds 34% of the world’s reserves of cobalt and 10% of its copper reserves - not to mention gas, gold and uranium reserves.

In a recent interview, Kabila said he has identified five urgent areas of work. Infrastructure is first, such as roads, bridges, and rail, because he says it is necessary that the region is linked up, so people can move around.

Then jobs creation. Currently, less than 5% of population works in formal employment. Investment is needed for jobs creation.

The third area is education, with promises to rebuild primary and secondary schools, as well as universities.

Then comes water and electricity – which is a huge problem all over the country – and finally, of course, health.

The fact that Kabila is elected as president does not resolve these problems as his government will immediately be confronted by people’s expectations that are not easy to meet.

At the social level, there is a general breakdown. The government must get down to reducing the painful inequalities which have been developing for decades.

Extreme poverty in Congo can be seen every day. Homeless people sleep on the sidewalks, street children are a worrying phenomenon, schoolboys are chased from their schools because their parents can not pay the school fees.

All this while the key decision-makers live luxuriously and send their children abroad for studies.

Security still remains weak, mainly in the eastern part of Congo. People are still affected by the presence of armed groups. The new government is tasked with the challenge of bringing peace and stability to DRC.

But beyond the security issues it is necessary to deeply reform public services. The institutionalised corruption has affected the state at all stages, so that even the allocation of contracts is not spared.

The reign of impunity should be stopped - this has always led to human rights abuses, embezzlement and other forms of “anti-values”.

Another corrupted sector is mining. Many reports by international NGOs show that the mining sector in the DRC is the most corrupt worldwide. Although Kabila pledged to end corruption in the country during his swearing-in ceremony, reform is needed.

The Transitional National Assembly set up an investigation, known as the Lutundula Commission, which reported that many of the mining contracts granted to multinational mining companies were to the detriment of Congolese interests.

These dishonest contracts deprive Congolese people of their own mining wealth, mainly to the benefit of international mining companies. The report recommended either the re-negotiation or the cancellation of many contracts.

Elected institutions in DRC now have to show good governance - as much at the political level as at the administrative level - so that the country can control its own resources and ensure the Congolese people are the ones to benefit.

Also, because DRC is surrounded by nine neighbours, it must develop a dynamic foreign policy based on development diplomacy and alliances with other African countries.

With its vast continental size, the Congolese people need to be united in order to cement the internal cohesion needed as a key factor of true nationality and dignity.

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