DRC: Peace and Prosperity

in August

With the successful July 30th vote, that saw millions of participants in the Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) first free elections since 1965, concluded without a major incident, the country has taken the direction of the DRC  to improve stability, prosperity and peace to harness her vast potential to address her myriad of social problems.

 

As the count proceeds for the election termed by President Joseph Kabila as “the most important day in [the DRC’s] history since 1960 [in which] the ultimate winners will be the Congolese people who have suffered so much,”[1] marred by only a few immaterial problems, namely isolated incidents of alleged vote buying and voter intimidation, “ballot sheets collected late from polling stations due to a lack of petrol, [and confusion at some centers] where the results of individual polling stations were being [counted due to the arrival of] some ballot sheets… in partially opened boxes,”[2] there is reason for optimism, despite fraud allegations made by Presidential candidate, Azarias Ruberwa (a Vice President in the transitional government and former rebel leader). Ruberwa has ruled out “returning to arms”[3] while the Carter Center and international observers have given a “cautious thumbs up”[4] with the former stating, “although there were procedural problems, ‘on the whole, these appear at this point to be minor.’”[5]


Presently early results show incumbent President Joseph Kabila and Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba as the “leading contenders” with Harvard-educated Dr. Oscar Kashala “receiving strong support in opposition areas.”[6] A run-off election between the two leading candidates is likely and is slated for October 29th.

 

However, more important than the actual Presidential winner and the composition of the country’s parliament is the direction the DRC will take to improve stability and peace to harness her vast potential to address her myriad of social problems.

 

While a state of peace and stability has held in most of the country since the end of “Africa’s first world war” in 2002 that saw the direct military involvement of Uganda, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia, Chad, and Sudan at one time or another, a state of war has lingered in the eastern portion of the DRC. To help bring an end to this low-level war that includes Hutu and Ugandan rebels seeking to overthrow the elected governments in Rwanda and Uganda, respectively, the DRC’s government has agreed to participate in a joint operation with Uganda. Peace and stability are essential if the DRC is to benefit from her vast mineral reserves to solve her social ills – high poverty, illiteracy, and mortality rates – and improve standards of life through the expansion of her electrical grids, running water, plumbing, and sewage treatment facilities. Peace is also critical since “about 30,000 [Congolese] children have been forced into militias, while untold thousands of girls have been raped”[7] during the fighting that dates back to 1996, according to a UNICEF estimate.

“…the DRC is perhaps Africa’s richest nation when it comes to natural resources. With huge deposits of cobalt, copper, diamonds, and gold, and smaller deposits of silver, coal, manganese, tin, uranium, zinc, and oil, the country holds the potential of becoming an African economic power alongside South Africa and Nigeria.”[8]


Yet because of the 1996-2002 war and lingering instability and violence in her eastern region, the DRC’s mortality rate remains among the highest in Africa, especially when it comes to children. This is exacerbated by the fact that the country’s hospitals are in dire need of life-saving equipment especially when it comes to infant care. Currently many, especially in the eastern region, lack ultrasound machines, incubators, and even air-conditioners forcing expectant mothers to moan in labor “in suffocating heat.”[9] As a result while Congolese children die of “the same ailments that needlessly kill children all over Africa – malaria, diarrhea, measles, malnutrition – [they die] on a vast and cataclysmic scale” with the mortality rate in eastern DRC standing at “almost twice that of the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, which already has the world’s highest rate… kill[ing] one in four children before the age of 5”[10] there is an urgent need to improve medical care, which can only be accomplished when resources can be diverted away from warfare and weapons.

 

At the same time it is important that the array of companies benefiting from the DRC’s resources mirror the progressive steps taken by organizations operating in South Africa, such as Anglo American that invest in the “health of [their] employees” which includes the introduction of comprehensive HIV programs that consist of funding for “antiretroviral therapy.” Per Dr. Brian Brink, a senior vice president for health at Anglo American who was instrumental in developing the company’s approach, “Before [2005], people feared AIDS. They feared stigma. They feared discrimination, but now with a good treatment program, people understand it. The fear of the disease, the stigma, the discrimination, it all disappear[ed] into the background. We’ve come out of the valley of the shadow of death and [are looking] at a whole new vista of inspiration… [As a result] …the [2005] HIV prevalence rate is exactly the same as [2004], which means no new infections, no one is getting sick and no one is dying.”[11]


Such an approach is especially important since based on a 2005 estimate by the DRC’s national AIDS program, PNLS, 1.2 million Congolese comprising 4% of the country’s population is HIV+ (which includes 20% of female war rape victims) with new cases exceeding the current mortality rate and fears that a “very explosive” outbreak is pending according to UNAIDS coordinator Pierre Somse.[12]


Another constructive contribution, one that requires a partnership between government and business that can be made in post-election DRC is the elimination of under-aged child labor and improved working conditions. Currently young children and adults “labor under toxic conditions in [the country’s] gold and diamond mines” while “orphans choke the streets of Kinshasa” among the nation’s major cities.[13]


Yet all is not dire, bleak nor hopeless. With the end of the major fighting and expressed willingness by opposition candidates to pursue “peaceful protest” in lieu of armed conflict to solve disputes, the expansion of established cell-phone networks, the introduction of proactive healthcare programs (e.g. The International Rescue Committee’s training of people “to recognize and treat three common but potentially deadly diseases – malaria, pneumonia and diarrhea… through simple… life-saving [measures]”[14]) and increasing allocations of resources to social programs, benefits have already been experienced, most notably 50% reduction in the child mortality rate since 2002. And with the DRC on the verge of forming a “grass-roots” popularly elected government the future appears bright since the added stability will lead to respect, reconciliation, and greater funding for education (to reduce illiteracy) that will lead to better opportunities, proactive healthcare and medical treatment, including of war victims, expansion of the electrical, plumbing and sewage infrastructures (of which the latter two are especially critical since contaminated water and untreated sewage pose the greatest risk for epidemiological outbreaks). In short, the DRC could follow Rwanda’s inspirational example (overcoming the continent’s worst episode of genocide in 1994) and also rise from the ashes of war and conflict, eventually joining Nigeria and South Africa as a continental leader.

____________________________

[1] Congo flocks to vote in first elections in 40 years.eitb. 30 July 2006. 30 July 2006. http://www.eitb24.com/portal/eitb24/noticia/en/international-news/historic-elections-in-africa-congo-flocks-to-vote-in-first-electi?itemId=B24_1767&cl=%2Feitb24%2Finternacional&idioma=en

[2] Chaotic vote counting in Congo, demands for more caution.Africa News. 1 August 2006. 1 August 2006. http://news.monstersandcritics.com/africa/article_1185981.php/Chaotic_vote_counting_in_Congo_demands_for_more_caution

[3] Edward Harris. Congo presidential hopeful claims fraud.1 August 2006. 1 August 2006. [http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/world/4087678.html]

[4] Chaotic vote counting in Congo, demands for more caution.Africa News. 1 August 2006. 1 August 2006. http://news.monstersandcritics.com/africa/article_1185981.php/Chaotic_vote_counting_in_Congo_demands_for_more_caution

[5] Edward Harris. Congo presidential hopeful claims fraud.1 August 2006. 1 August 2006. [http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/world/4087678.html]

[6] Edward Harris. Congo presidential hopeful claims fraud.1 August 2006. 1 August 2006. [http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/world/4087678.html]

[7] Lydia Polgreen. War’s Chaos Steals Congo’s Young by the Millions.The New York Times. 30 July 2006. 8.

[8] William Sutherland. 2006 Elections: Democratic Republic of Congo's Best and Last Hope?EzineArticles 04 July 2006. 01 August 2006 http://ezinearticles.com/?2006-Elections:-Democratic-Republic-of-Congos-Best-and-Last-Hope?&id=236553

[9] Lydia Polgreen. War’s Chaos Steals Congo’s Young by the Millions.The New York Times. 30 July 2006. 8.

[10] Lydia Polgreen. War’s Chaos Steals Congo’s Young by the Millions.The New York Times. 30 July 2006. 1.

[11]Charlayne Hunter-Gault. New News Out of Africa.(Oxford University Press, New York, 2006) 40.

[12] Congo-Kinshasa: Hoping to Counter the War Legacy of Rising HIV/Aids.allAfrica.com. 1 August 2006. 1 August 2006. [http://allafrica.com/stories/200608010849.html]

[13] Lydia Polgreen. War’s Chaos Steals Congo’s Young by the Millions.The New York Times. 30 July 2006. 8.

[14] Lydia Polgreen. War’s Chaos Steals Congo’s Young by the Millions.The New York Times. 30 July 2006. 8.

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Additional Source:

Uganda, Congo to launch joint operations against rebel groups.29 July 2006. 30 July 2006. http://english.people.com.cn/200607/29/eng20060729_287816.html

 

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William Sutherland has 1 articles online

William Sutherland is a published poet and writer. He is the author of three books, "Poetry, Prayers & Haiku" (1999), "Russian Spring" (2003) and "Aaliyah Remembered: Her Life & The Person behind the Mystique" (2005) and has been published in poetry anthologies around the world. He has been featured in "Who's Who in New Poets" (1996), "The International Who's Who in Poetry" (2004), and is a member of the "International Poetry Hall of Fame." He is also a contributor to Wikipedia, the number one online encyclopedia.

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DRC: Peace and Prosperity

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This article was published on 2010/05/22
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