DR Congo: without peace there can be no end to the Kasai crisis

from Christian Aid
Published on 10 Jan 2018

By Michael Arunga, Programme Communications Advisor, Christian Aid.

One might be forgiven for assuming that any country overflowing with valuable natural resources is also, by definition, overflowing with wealth and prosperity. History, however, has taught us otherwise. This is certainly the case for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Rich in gold, gas, diamonds and other rare minerals, this vast nation is also home to one of the worst – and most under-reported – humanitarian crises of recent times.

Last month, the DRC was declared the country most affected by conflict-related displacement in the world; and according to the United Nations, the crisis there is now on a par with those in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

In other words, it has reached grave proportions. At the epicentre of this unfolding disaster is an ongoing deadly conflict in the Kasai region of the DRC.

A UNICEF report released in September of last year places the need within Kasai in the millions. It warns that 3.2 million people do not have enough food, and 350,000 children are severely malnourished.

Without peace, there can be no end to this humanitarian crisis. If peace had prevailed, food delivered by relief organisations could be channeled to agricultural development, since the DRC has fertile arable land, with predictable rainy seasons that defies climate change conditions prevalent in other parts of the world.

However, peace has not prevailed. Now, 1.7 million people have been forced to flee their homes in 2017 alone, to escape the protracted conflict, which is especially intense within eastern DRC. The internal fighting has led to loss of lives, sexual violence and an acute lack of essential basic needs such as food, water and shelter.

The internally displaced people live in precarious conditions, with an estimated 42 per cent of the households facing food insecurity. Sadly, this is not uncommon among those internally displaced. Fortunately, the 20th anniversary of the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, this year, presents an opportunity to strengthen their protection by highlighting their plight and promoting the integration of the Principles into national laws and policies.

Despite the grim picture in the DRC, there is a ray of hope. In Kasai, humanitarian agencies such as Christian Aid, Start Fund, the World Food Programme (WFP) and ACT Alliance have been responding to the needs of some of the most vulnerable and hardest-hit civilians, and working with and through local organisations with the best access to those most in need.

Indeed, it is hard to imagine where local communities would be without the support of local and international organisations, who have helped avert the death of thousands of vulnerable people who rely on relief distributions for their survival.

“In August this year, in partnership with the World Food Programme, we undertook two food distributions that targeted 75,000 people,” says Salome Ntububa, Regional Emergency Manager for Christian Aid.

The distributions included: 60 tonnes of maize floor, 18 tonnes of beans, 4.5 tonnes of vegetable oil and salt 0.75 tonnes of salt. Each household received an agricultural kit that had vegetable-market garden seeds and farm tools. Working with local organisations, Christian Aid has also helped to provide protection services for those at risk of or affected by sexual violence.

This humanitarian work is a necessity in a country that is one of Africa’s richest, and has been bedeviled by both bad governance and cross-border ethnic tension that has spilled over to Burundi. Previously, neighbouring Rwanda also faced the worst genocide on the continent that claimed the lives of around 800,000 people.

Conflicts such as these make humanitarian work within this area risky. On December 7, 2017, some 15 Tanzanian UN peacekeepers were killed in eastern DRC, by gunmen suspected to have been from the Allied Democratic Forces, a Ugandan Muslim rebel force. According to the United Nations, this attack was the biggest single loss of peacekeepers in nearly a quarter of a century.

Many NGOs are running peace initiatives that help to highlight the root causes of the conflict, to help bring an end to the violence. They also address high unemployment rates, especially among the youth, who are driven to join rebel and militia groups.

These initiatives are being run by agencies such as ACT Alliance: a global network of faith-based humanitarian and development agencies, which includes Christian Aid. ACT Alliance is helping to address ethnic tension between Luba and the Tshokwe communities. It is also reaching out to the Pende and Batetela ethnic groups, who at times been involved in violent conflicts.

ACT Alliance’s Protection and Peace-building Project promotes conflict resolution and peace-building techniques. Its activities include training traditional and church leaders on conflict transformation techniques, and sensitisation of representatives from local civil society organisations and the media. This has helped raise awareness, promoted peace, and facilitated dialogue and reconciliation within communities, including churches.

There is clear evidence of life-saving work by humanitarian organisations within Kasai Province. However, their relief efforts – no matter how effective – can only ever go so far. Unless authorities highlight and address the root causes of the crisis, and increase humanitarian access to affected communities, the plight of the Congolese people can only deepen in 2018.