What is going on in the Democratic Republic of Congo?
The DR Congo is a former Belgian colony and the largest country in Africa. After it gained independence in 1960, it was governed for a long time by dictator Mobutu, who named the country Zaïre. The country received its present name after the coup d’ètat by Laurent-desiré Kabila in 1997. The two recent wars of 1997 and 1998-2003 resulted in five million deaths, 1.9 million displaced people and 440,000 refugees. These wars were largely characterized by many forms of extreme violence, often perpetrated by members of the government troops. Although the conflict came to an official end in 2003, to this day Eastern DR Congo in particular has to contend with violent conflicts between armed resistance groups and government troops. The situation here is therefore still extremely dangerous. The 20,000-strong peacekeeping force of the United Nations cannot guarantee safety in Eastern DR Congo.
Because the extremely weak government of the DR Congo is not able to establish order, the country is sinking deeper into chaos and disorder, and rebels have free rein. Moreover, the government shirks its responsibility to provide assistance to and protect the displaced people and refugees. They are therefore completely dependent on assistance from the international community.
The DR Congo has vast mineral reserves but these are only extracted to a limited extent. The agricultural sector therefore continues to be the most important economic sector.
The majority of the population live in rural areas and depend on the meagre produce of the land. In Eastern DR Congo, 70% of the people live in abject poverty. They are deprived of food, medical care and education. If there are any basic facilities, they are of very poor quality. For this reason, diseases such as malaria, TB and HIV/AIDS claim many victims. People sometimes literally have to get into debt to visit a doctor or buy medication.
Armed gangs have a major impact on the social life in Eastern DR Congo. Many people live in constant fear. Moreover, people are continuously forced to drift. As a result, any incipient sense of community among villagers is often stifled. Women in particular have a very hard time. They are systematically discriminated against. The human rights situation is bad. The armed groups, the police authorities and the secret services are all guilty of executions, torture and sexual intimidation.