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Dieu-Donné WEDI DJAMBA explores what reconciliation means for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Reconciliation will not only allow Congolese people as a community to know the truth about their past in order to build a better future but also will heal their wounds, writes Wedi Djamba.

Introduction

With the election of Joseph Kabila as the fourth president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the DRC started a new era. This era is the Third republic. For a country dealing with a legacy of two undemocratic regimes (theMobutu regime of 1965-1997 and the L.D. Kabila regime of 1997-2001) and two deadly wars (1996-1997 and 1998-2002) many challenges are faced by the elected president and his government. Amongst them is the reconciliation of the Congolese people. In this regard, many Congolese define reconciliation wrongly in terms of power-sharing while others define it through the words “forgive and forget”.

To achieve national reconciliation it takes more than power-sharing between politicians or the use of the words “forgive and forget”. Indeed, the DRC is emerging from two wars that affected her deeply and is also recovering from the legacy of dictatorship. During those two eras (war and dictatorship) many human rights violations occurred and many injustices were experienced by the population. Congolese people were divided and many disappeared. In this regard, many families are still trying to find out what happened to their loved ones.

Therefore, to move on from the past it is important to turn the page of the history. But first, there is a need to read this page. [1] Indeed, reading the page of the past allows for understanding the past mistakes in order to avoid them in the future. For a country like the DRC, the amnesia is the worst option because it is the best way for people to repeat the same mistakes. George Santayana [2], so often quoted in relation to Nazism and the Holocaust, confirmed this view when he said, `Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it’. Consequently the DRC has to read the page of her history before turning it.

Furthermore, in the DRC, reconciliation is a process which needs to know who did what. In this regard, Alex Boraine [3] argues that transparency, accountability and truth are essential ingredients in any nation which seeks integrity, the consolidation of democracy and a culture of human rights.

Accountability

Alex Boraine argues that: “For the sake of justice, for stability and the restoration of dignity to victims, there must be accountability for the past”. [4] Indeed, all these years of the reign of undemocratic regimes and two deadly wars have left the DRC with thousands of victims but also the same amount of perpetrators. All past abuses and its victims and perpetrators has to be disclosed in order to heal the wounds of the victims and to send a deterrent message to the perpetrators.

The accountability for past abuses can be made judicially or extra-judicially. It is not possible to prosecute everybody in case of the mass abuses. Therefore, there is a need to hold those responsible for the past abuses accountable through other mechanisms such as removal from office, retirement or an obligation to apologize publicly for the wrong done. In this regard, to set up an independent commission to deal with the issue, is important.

Furthermore, accountability for the past in the DRC will draw the line between the past characterized by injustice and impunity and the Third republic that has just been born. The sentence “the recreation is over” used by the elected president, Joseph Kabila expresses the willingness to draw a line between a wrong past and the new era. And this line should start by holding accountable all those implicated in the past abuse.

Reparation

In the restorative justice perspective, reparation is defined as including any form of compensation, ex-gratia payment, restitution, rehabilitation or recognition. [5]

Reparations aim to redress injustices suffered by one or several individuals or communities. In the context of the mass past abuses in the DRC, reparations can be granted by the court through a judicial process but also by the national authority. Currently it is utopian for those victims to expect any reparation from the judicial process because firstly this involves fees which the majority cannot afford and secondly the judicial system in the DRC as noticed by Human Rights Watch [6], is in state of disarray. Thirdly, the judicial system is corrupt and was listed among the four most corrupt institutions during the transitional period in the DRC by the report of Observatoire du Code d’Ethique Professionnelle (OCEP) [7] (an anti-corruption commission set up by the state department). Therefore, the only way for the thousands of victims of past abuses to expect any reparation is through and from the government. This reparation will not change the pain suffered in the past, but will help victims to face the future.

In addition, reparations aim to restore the dignity of the victims and to heal their wounds. Indeed, in the DRC any reparation to the victims of past abuses will be an acknowledgement of their pain and a condemnation of the abuse they suffered.

The government should grant individuals reparations such as money, rebuilding of houses, free health care, free education to the children of victims, free treatment for the victims of rape or those affected by HIV/AIDS in the wake of the rape. They should also grant symbolic reparations such as building a memorial statue for those victims, or dedicating a memorial day to those victims.

Reparations will not only help victims to turn the page of the past but will also pave the way for the reconciliation process between victims and perpetrators, in particular and between the Congolese people in general.

Telling the truth

Telling the truth about terrible events is a prerequisite both for the restoration of social order and for the healing of individual victims. When truth is finally recognised, survivors can begin their recovery. [8] Furthermore, the research for truth and a commitment to truth must be undertaken by the entire nation: ordinary people, government, agencies, poets, writers, historians, academics, and whoever cares about the future. [9]

Indeed, many injustices and conflicts that occurred in the past decades left thousands of victims and divided the Congolese community as a whole. The past in the DRC is filled with plenty of mass violations of human rights - atrocities such as mass killing, rape, burning of houses, disappearance, torture or ethnic cleansing such as the conflict between Kasai community against Katanga community in 1992-1993 in Katanga province; and the conflict between Hema community and Lendu community in Ituri District between 2001 and now.

The road to reconciliation between victims and their perpetrators, or between communities, passes through a truth telling. In this regard, George Bizos [10] argues: ”It is not possible to simply forget the past, it will sooner or later come back to haunt the nation.”

Furthermore, truth telling will not only allow Congolese people to know the truth about their past in order to build a better future but also will heal their wounds. Indeed, the disclosure of the past will help many families to know what happened to their loved ones and finally to end their long mourning.

In addition, truth telling is an opportunity for those who committed any abuse to cleanse themselves of the ghosts of the past by acknowledging their wrong doings, asking for forgiveness and for the victims to forgive them. Thus, Congolese as a whole can say ‘never again’ for what happened and then turn the page of the past. To do so the establishment of a forum for national reconciliation becomes urgent.

Conclusion

This paper analysed the conditions for reconciliation in the DRC. Congolese people need to move on from the past. But they need to look back in order to move forward. Looking back has to be a national concern. This will include accountability for the past abuses, the reparation for victims of those past abuses and truth telling involving victims, their perpetrators, and all divided communities as well. Reconciliation which leads to the national unity in the DRC comes at this price.

• Dieu-Donné WEDI DJAMBA is a lawyer(Advocate)at the Lubumbashi Bar association/DRC; Independent consultant; Assistant lecturer in a College of Law in Lubumbashi/ DRC; Human Rights Activist and Writer. Tel:+243812485222;+27738362921 ; Fax:+18016727206 Email: [email][email protected]; [email][email protected]

• Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at www.pambazuka.org

References:

[1] Alex Boraine, ’A country unmasked’ ,Oxford University press, 2000,p5
[2] Alex Boraine,op.cit,p4
[3] Alex Boraine,op.cit,p8
[4] Alex Boraine,op.cit,p8
[5] Wendy Orr, `Reparation delayed is healing retarded’, in Charles Villa-Vicencio and Wilhelm Verwerd (eds), Looking back reaching forward: Reflections n the Truth and Reconciliation commission of South Africa ,Cape Town :UCT,2000, p239
[6] William W.Burke-White, “International Criminal Court, Complementarity in practice: The International Criminal Court as Part of a System of Multi-level Global Governance in the Democratic Republic of Congo”,Leiden Journal of international Law 18( 2005),p576
[7] Radio Okapi,`Quatre services de l’Etat indexes dans la lutte contre la corruption’,accessed 10 december 2006.
[8] Nomfundo Walaza, ’Insufficient healing and reparation’ in Charles Villa-Vicencio and Wilhelm Verwoerd,(eds) op. cit p253.
[9] Alex Boraine,op.cit, p8
[10] Georges Bizos ’Why prosecution is necessary’, in Charles Villa-Vicencio and Erik Doxtader,(eds), The provocations of Amnesty: Memory, justice and impunity, Institute for Justice and Reconciliation,2003, p5