Despite the media attention on them, neither the Syrian civilians who have fled war in the Middle East nor the Rohingya Muslims who have fled repression in Myanmar are the world’s largest group of displaced people. That record goes to 4.1 million people dislodged in Congo.
The little-noticed crisis in the heart of Africa has worsened over the past year to the point that the European Union and the United Nations announced this week that they are seeking to double foreign aid to the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is four times as large as France. An estimated 7 million Congolese are considered to be “food insecure.” Only 1 in 7 earns more than $1.25 a day. Last October, the UN refugee agency declared a Level 3 emergency in parts of Congo, the highest possible ranking.
The country’s woes stem from two major conflicts less than two decades ago that have left a governance vacuum. Some 120 rebel groups are fighting either for ethnic dominance or to control the country’s vast mineral wealth, which is estimated at $24 trillion.
Yet the biggest crisis is whether President Joseph Kabila, who has ruled for 16 years and remains very unpopular, intends to hold elections and step down as he has promised. In recent months, his forces have killed nearly a dozen people in peaceful protests called by the Roman Catholic secular leaders. Another protest is called for Feb. 25. (Also this week, Switzerland imposed sanctions on 14 allies of Mr. Kabila who might have stashed ill-gotten wealth in Swiss banks.)
Both the political crisis and the violence of the militias make it difficult for foreign groups to reach the millions of people in need. The situation in Congo is not the image that Africans want to project to the world just when they are hailing the version of a fictional and wise African nation, Wakanda, in the Marvel movie “Black Panther.”
In recent weeks, the continent has seen two democratic successes with the ouster of corrupt presidents in Zimbabwe and South Africa. Now it may be Congo’s turn. Its people have a strong national identity and a desire for duly elected leaders. With more foreign assistance, they might be able to be the next success story in Africa.