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Congo election violence: Time to address root causes of conflict

Election violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo this week didn't surprise me. Nor did my country's last place ranking on the UN's Human Development Index. Congo's sources of conflict are known; the solutions are less obvious. But there are signs of hope and paths forward.

By Sosthène Serge Nsimba / December 1, 2011

Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo

I wish I could say I was surprised when violence erupted during my country’s elections this week. I wish I could express disbelief when the United Nations Development Programme released its annual Index of Human Development earlier this month – and the Democratic Republic of Congo ranked last among all nations of the world. 

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But I see my countrymen and -women every day, living their lives in a struggle to survive, and I see the violent conflict, which escalated during this week’s elections, that holds them back. Unless we transform our conflicts and address their known causes, DRC will remain trapped at the bottom. Fortunately, there are signs of hope and paths forward.

In the DRC, the sources of conflict are well known; it’s the specific solutions that are less obvious. One of the foremost issues the DRC faces is a painful economic reality.

The country is rich in valuable minerals and precious stones – yet the Congolese lack opportunities for basic education or economic advancement; 80 percent live on less than $2 a day. We suffer a much higher risk of disease, and perhaps most crucially, our society is beset with brutality and violence, often at the hands of those charged with our protection.

Indeed, this violence is at the root of our extreme poverty. The DRC’s last war officially ended in 2003, but continuing hostilities destroy economic progress, stifle growth, and lead to human rights violations on a massive scale.

The central government seems weak and lacks legitimacy. This week’s elections and the violence between sides further cloud the future of Congo’s governance. Tension in the cities is palpable; there are already too many dead from these elections.

Furthermore, many members of Congo’s army and police force maintain the cycle of violence and are the major perpetrators of human rights violations across the country. Even as men in the cities find themselves prosecuted under rape laws for failing to pay dowries, many soldiers, police, and rebel groups rape with impunity in the countryside. As more people are displaced by further violence, they are in turn at greater risk for rape and other abuses.

In the face of such disheartening news, it’s vital to note sources of hope: Wherever the army and police have been engaged in retraining, exposed to the testimonials of rape victims, and monitored from within their units, sexual violence has been reduced.

If we are to prevent election-related violence on a massive scale for the remainder of this election – and for those in the future – we must reach the Congolese people on an equally massive scale, to remind them how poorly violence has served them in the past and to present viable alternate approaches to existing conflicts.


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