Synthesis of the debate organized during the 2019 Normandy World Peace Forum.
Moderator: Mathilde Boussion, Freelance Journalist
Speakers: Jérôme Delay, Africa Photo Editor, Associated Press; Maria Malagardis, Journalist, Libération; Sonia Rolley, Journalist, RFI

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the second largest country in Africa after Algeria, is extremely rich in minerals and has fertile land but is severely lacking in infrastructure. The country has witnessed successive conflicts since independence was declared in 1960 but the peaceful departure of President Kabila, who has now been in power for seventeen years, may herald the beginning of a new era.

Although the election did not take place in exemplary democratic conditions, the new President, Felix Tshisekedi, who was previously a member of the opposition, nonetheless called for the formation of a coalition with Joseph Kabila’s party when the results were announced. Given the situation, will he be able to implement his own policy?

During the election campaign, every journalist in the DRC feared an explosion of violence. Yet despite the operational difficulties and the obstacles which characterised the election campaign, the mobilisation and the patience of the voters were genuinely surprising for international observers. Residents of some provinces, however, were not able to vote, either because of the presence of armed groups or because of the Ebola outbreak. While Kinshasa witnessed war-like violence in 2006, even before the publication of the results, and the 2011 elections were marked by a week of post-election violence, for the first time in 2018, Sonia Rolley observed a complete absence of violence, despite a closely contested result.

In Jérôme Delay’s view, it would appear that the ruling party influenced the election to ensure that the opposition party won, undoubtedly considering its candidate to be “the most controllable”. This incongruous situation can also be explained by a certain understanding on the part of Joseph Kabila and, in particular, by “people’s fatigue” after so many years lost to conflict. For Maria Malagardis, the departure of the former President was probably even more important than the identity of his successor in the eyes of the country’s citizens. In addition, the violent repression of previous demonstrations was bound to discourage Congolese citizens from taking to the streets to demand the real results of the election.

Moreover, the Democratic Republic of Congo was closely involved with the consequences of the Rwandan genocide: two million Rwandans, including the perpetrators of the genocide, crossed the border into eastern DRC. In the refugee camps, the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide gathered in armed groups and sought to protect themselves by joining forces with the Congolese rebellion of Laurent Désiré Kabila, Joseph Kabila’s father. “A period of ten years of crimes” then began, Sonia Rolley explains, amounting to more than six hundred war crimes and crimes against humanity, documented by the UN in its Mapping Report, published in 2010.

These armed groups remain very active today. Although they were exploited by neighbouring countries, they claimed to have political demands, in the wake of the genocide, which they often used to ensure that they were able to join the army; today, they function much more like mafioso and criminal organisations and are involved in metal trafficking, racketeering and the abductions of businessmen. The country’s citizens are also worried about their presence in Goma, a city which is almost under siege and whose residents are caught up in an obvious humanitarian crisis. Yet “the humanitarian response is not the right one”, in Maria Malagardis’ view: the work of NGOs, despite its importance, has so far led to a striking reconstruction of a colonial city on the one hand and an African city on the other.

Armed groups have become so fragmented over time that insecurity is now a reality throughout the country but the main insecurity continues to come from the country’s security forces, in Sonia Rolley’s view: according to UN data, state agents are responsible for more than 60% of human rights’ violations across the country. While the names of these soldiers do not appear in UN reports, they are the same individuals. The Minister of Development has publicly announced that if he became governor of South Kivu, he would ensure that all armed groups were under his authority. Another element confirms the complicity between the state and armed groups, according to Maria Malagardis: while the arms embargo was only lifted for the security forces, their arsenal is currently in the hands of armed groups and other militias.

For the parties involved, the end of the crisis will have to involve a fight against impunity, which must be a priority in the Democratic Republic of Congo.


Audience contributions

Three eminent public figures attended this debate, sharing their views of the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Doctor Denis Mukwege, winner of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize, who is Congolese, expresses his outrage at the use of rape as a weapon of war in the DRC. In his hospital, he has heard the testimony of many women who have been subjected to sexual violence, perpetrated by members of armed groups who have direct links to certain members of the government. With regard to the situation in Eastern DRC, he condemns the “chaos organised by the government of Kinshasa and neighbouring countries” for the economic benefit of a few individuals. The state’s complicity seems obvious to him.

Denis Mukwege believes that peace cannot be built without justice. Consequently, he feels that the UN must play its role in the DRC as a supranational body to denounce the perpetrators of crimes against humanity, not all of whom are Congolese nationals.

Pierre Buyoya, the former President of the Republic of Burundi, Representative of the African Union for Security in the Sahel, recalls that the United Nations has already intervened extensively in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, without addressing the complex challenges which face the country.

According to Jean-Marie Guéhenno, the former United Nations’ Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, the presence of peacekeepers in the DRC “limits the chaos” and it would be reckless to withdraw them. However, he feels that the United Nations’ loss of credibility in the Democratic Republic of the Congo means that it cannot lead the country towards a political solution, something which can only be done by the Congolese themselves.