Steps toward peace in CongoBy Angong Acuil
For the first time in 40 years, the people of Congo practiced a right that has long been denied them. They voted and democratically elected a president, Joseph Kabila Kabange. He was sworn in Dec. 6.
It has been three years since Congo emerged from a five-year conflict that resulted in the deaths of 4 million people since 1998. The International Crisis Group termed the conflict in Congo as one of the world’s deadliest since World War II.
Despite the elections, Congo’s transition from war to peace is shaky. The new president now has the challenge of leading a country that continues to harbor one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.
With a mortality rate of more than 1,000 people every day, Congo faces many hurdles. The International Rescue Committee has found that 31,000 people are dying monthly. Many of these deaths are from preventable diseases and hunger caused by ongoing conflict and displacement.
Sporadic violence also has marred the past election year, showing there is a deep divide between the followers of Kabila and his main rival, Jean-Pierre Bemba.
This divide is symptomatic of a larger divide between the east and west of Congo. Kabila is popular in the Swahili-speaking east, while Bemba has wide support in the west, where Lingala is the main language. This divide presents a challenge to Kabila, who has the task of bringing peace to the east as well as bridging the gap between both parts of the country.
Lack of infrastructure, such as roads, schools, hospitals and other social services, continues to hamper progress in Congo. The disarmament and reintegration of former combatants is also a challenge. The return and reintegration of refugees and internally displaced people is a priority. But above all, the establishment of a central government to control Congo’s vast territories and promote good governance and reconciliation is an important need.
The international community has helped Congo transition from war to peace and has been instrumental in organizing the constitutional referendum and presidential elections. Despite many obstacles, the elections have been a success. Still, the goal of a peaceful Congo is distant, and many challenges lie ahead.
The U.S. Congress has been very supportive of a peaceful way to end the Congo crisis. This commitment was shown through a bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate “to promote relief, security and democracy” in Congo. The bill was sponsored by Sens. Barack Obama and Richard Durbin, both D-Ill., Sam Brownback, R- Kan., and Mike DeWine, R-Ohio. The bill would establish core principles of policy for the United States that would help save lives and rebuild this war-torn country.
U.S. support for Congo is critical to stop the conflict. The bill calls for the authorization of a 25 percent increase in U.S. assistance for Congo, a special envoy to eastern Congo, a strengthening of United Nations peacekeeping forces by the U.N. Security Council and the reinvigoration of economic, social and political infrastructure as Congo transitions out of war.
The bill was passed unanimously in the House of Representatives Dec. 6 and cleared in the Senate for the White House Dec. 9.
Many people worked on getting this bill passed on behalf of the Congolese, and our gratitude goes to them. Take the opportunity to thank your senators and representatives for passing this bill and serving as a voice for the people of Congo.
Angong Acuil is a legislative assistant in the Mennonite Central Committee Washington Office.
Comment on the article Steps toward peace in Congo
Please keep comments civil. MWR editors reserve the right to remove any comment. When posting a comment, you agree to the MWR Comments Policy. Name and comment will be posted; commenters are strongly encouraged to give their full name. Email address is for follow-up only and will not be made public.