There are many issues that must be addressed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for there to be peace and development. The below is just a snapshot of some of the major issues facing the country.
Presidential Election Crisis and Poor Governance
Currently, the major challenge facing the DRC is the Presidential election crisis. According to the Congolese constitution presidents may only serve two terms in office. The current President, Joseph Kabila, has already served two terms (first elected in 2006 and re-elected in 2011), and as such is constitutionally barred from a third term. However, Kabila refuses to relinquish power and shows no signs of stepping down.
All other issues in the DRC — corruption, armed groups, conflict minerals, security sector reform, development, etc. — will be impacted by whether or not President Kabila stays in power. Protests against Kabila’s refusal to hold elections have resulted in violent crackdowns by the police, unlawful detentions, and even death.
A deal led by the Catholic Church was reached at the end of 2016 for Kabila to remain in power until elections could be held in 2017. Unfortunately, elections will not take place this year. After initially hinting at delaying the elections until 2018, Congo’s Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) announced that elections could not be held before April 2019. Kabila is delaying elections to extend his presidential mandate through a de facto decision, since he has not been able to pass a law to extend his term legally. Opposition and civil society groups are now saying it is up to them to bring change to the country, with or without Kabila’s cooperation.
Violence in the Kasai region has created an unknown death toll, but estimates are in the thousands, with mass graves found on a semi-regular basis, and since late 2016, more than 1.4 million people have been displaced.
Additional international pressure must be put on Kabila to step down. Financial support to allow elections to take place before 2019 is crucial, as are security guarantees for Kabila to assuage any concerns of violent retribution or arrest against him or his family if he steps down.
A History of Corruption in the DRC
The DRC has been plagued by poor governance and corruption since Joseph Kabila first took office in 2001, assuming power after his father’s assassination. Since he has been in office, Kabila and his cronies have benefited greatly by selling off major mining concessions in the mineral rich southern province of Katanga. In the years between 2010 and 2012, Global Witness found that major mining concessions were sold to mining corporations in secret, bypassing the Congolese state and benefiting private individuals. Global Witness says, “most of that money never reached the Congolese state coffers. The assets were sold in secret, initially transferred at knockdown prices to a series of offshore companies, which then made the sales to the major multinational companies. The Congolese state is estimated to have lost out on at least $1.36 billion in the process – equivalent to twice the country’s health and education budgets combined.” $1.36 billion lost in just two years. With the high level of corruption and secret deals, it is impossible to assess how much money has been stolen since Kabila first took office.
JWW is proud to be a partner in the #StandWithCongo campaign which seeks to shine a light on the gross corruption in the DRC. Watch a trailer of the documentary “When Elephants Fight” by our friend and director Mike Ramsdell below, and visit Stand With Congo’s website to sign the petition calling for transparency of the mining sector.
Since the First and Second Congo Wars, eastern DRC has been subjected to protracted violence led by various armed groups of different size and strength, and the Congolese army known as the FARDC. Some armed groups have stated objectives and a somewhat clear raison d’etre, while others’ reason for existence is less understood. But all groups have one thing in common: the mass atrocities they commit against the Congolese people.
Insecurity in eastern Congo is largely driven by cycles of violence where one group attacks another, and in retaliation the attacked group rises up against the attackers. Additionally, the predation by armed groups against the civilian population for power, wealth, and to sustain their movements has led to extreme insecurity in the region. The Congolese army, which is supposed to protect civilians, is guilty of abuses too. The army has historically underpaid or not paid its soldiers, has weak command and control structures, and has incorporated many former rebels into the armed forces.
Serious security sector reform and an expansion of disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) programs for former rebels are desperately needed. The cooperation between the UN’s MONUSCO force and the FARDC is a welcomed step forward, but until abuses by the FARDC are appropriately addressed, and leadership to end the violence is present, insecurity will continue.
One of the main drivers of violence and the predatory nature of all armed groups is the vast mineral resources in the eastern region of North and South Kivu. Violence is being fueled by a multi-million dollar illicit mining industry of minerals such as the 3 Ts (tin, tantalum, and tungsten) that can be found in all of our electronic devices including: smartphones, gaming systems, computers, and military equipment. Gold, used in our jewelry and electronics, is also regularly mined and easily smuggled by armed groups out of the country.
In response to the realization that US companies may be inadvertently helping to fuel mass atrocities in eastern Congo by using minerals sourced illicitly in their products, the US Congress passed a ground-breaking law that requires publicly traded US companies to determine and disclose whether their products contain one or more of the 3T and gold minerals from the DRC or its surrounding countries. Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank) was passed in 2010 and requires companies to do due diligence reporting on their supply chain to determine if the minerals they are using in their products may be benefiting armed groups in Congo.
While the law is not perfect, and the due diligence reporting is only a small step in the right direction, some companies are working hard to ensure their products are not helping fuel violence in the Congo. The answer is not for companies to leave Congo and find these minerals elsewhere. Doing so would cause many Congolese to lose their jobs and make life even more difficult. Instead, companies should find ways to source these minerals responsibly, and only from mines that have been certified to be conflict-free.
Intel and Apple are leading the way by dedicating significant time, money, and resources to responsibly source minerals from Congo. Unfortunately, even with these tremendous efforts, without stronger institutions and oversight by the Congolese government and neighboring governments, conflict minerals will continue to be a source of income for rebel groups and corrupt officials, making it extremely difficult to 100% guarantee conflict-free products. Even so, Intel has recently announced they have created the world’s first conflict-free microprocessor (see video below), and have even created a page on their site about our own 5 Steps to Conflict-Free Consumer Advocacy.
Intel Creates World’s First Conflict-Free Microprocessor
JWW remains committed to finding ways to break the link between illicit mining and the financing of armed groups, as well as the state-level corruption that does not allow for the vast mineral wealth to benefit the Congolese people.
In eastern Congo, one of the most notorious and vicious practices by the armed groups has been the use of rape and sexual violence against women and girls. The total number of rape victims is unknown, but a 2011 study found that approximately 1,152 women were raped every day, equal to about 48 women raped an hour. This number incorporates those raped from armed groups, but also from within the family and community.
Women are at the center of the community in Congo, and armed groups use rape as a tool to destroy communities from within, and exert their power and control.
Mass rape—along with other mass human rights violations—continues in Congo because it can. Weak governmental institutions and a corrupt and ineffective judicial system foster a culture of impunity that leaves an open space for the frequent and uninhibited destruction of women’s bodies. Incidence of rape has not decreased, and impunity is so ingrained that violence against women is being used by civilians to demonstrate power relations.
Rape traumatizes girls and women, humiliates their husbands, and breaks up families. Women become fearful of working in the fields and taking goods to sell at market, thereby reducing family incomes. Some women are so brutally attacked that they may not be able to have more children, could be left incontinent, or even die. Many who are raped are divorced by their husbands, kicked out of their communities, and lose their home. Some women become pregnant as a result of rape.
One of the often under covered issues surrounding rape is the brainwashing and psychosocial damage that is associated with members of armed groups. Many armed groups utilize child soldiers to fill their ranks, and believe in the power of ‘witchcraft’ to help them fight. Some perpetrators of rape have been victims of forced conscription into armed forces, are psychologically damaged, and are unable to seek help. Some fighters believe in witchcraft and that by raping women, especially young girls, they will receive special protection in combat, or live a long life.
JWW has been supporting programs in eastern Congo to help survivors of sexual assault heal physically and emotionally, as well as provide them with education and vocational training so they can be self-reliant. Visit our Projects page, to read more about some of our current projects and projects we have supported in the past.