DR Congo’s uphill battle for peace

By Jacob Martin and Charles Kwuelum

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is at a critical historical moment. That was the conclusion during a recent workshop held by Church of Christ in Congo (known by its French acronym, ECC), which focused on creating teams to prevent electoral violence. Long-expected parliamentary elections, a chance for the first peaceful transfer of power since independence, will be held on December 23.

After the assassination of his father Laurent Kabila in 2001, Joseph Kabila became president and has remained in office beyond the country’s two term limit. After much local and international pressure, he has agreed to not run again. But many hurdles to a democratic transition remain, including ongoing fighting and corruption, along with humanitarian crises and now an Ebola outbreak.

Congo is often described as a geological scandal. The country’s poverty level remains high, despite having the second largest rainforest in the world and a huge amount of diamonds, gold, tin, tantalum, copper, lithium, coltan and cobalt. In 2009, the country’s total mineral wealth was estimated to be worth $24 trillion. Unfortunately, this natural wealth drives the politics of division and exclusion, causing the displacement of over 4 million people.

Although it seems likely the elections will happen, Congolese are pessimistic about the results. Recent polling shows that 64 percent of responders do not trust the electoral commission, citing concerns about possible fraud through use of voting machines.

As the international community continues to monitor and support the electoral process in DR Congo, the U.S. government released a statement calling for credible elections in December. The House and Senate have also passed a resolution in support of credible elections in DR Congo. In the past year, the U.S. has spent $16.63 million on democracy, human rights and governance sectors in DR Congo. This is a good step, but the work is far from over.

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) supports the work of ECC in monitoring, advocacy and education on the need for credible voting and prevention of election-related violence. It organizes workshops in communities and creates teams to prevent violence across the country through local advocacy and mediation.

DR Congo will not magically solve all its problems this December. But we can support the Congolese people as they work toward peace and democracy. Give to MCC programs in DR Congo and ask your representatives to support credible elections in DR Congo, as well as increased humanitarian assistance.

Jacob Martin is a peace coordinator for MCC in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Charles Kwuelum is Legislative Associate for International affairs in the MCC U.S. Washington Office.

Photo credit/ECC: Training of ECC election violence prevention teams in Goma, DR Congo.

Click here for more by Charles Kwuelum.