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James Oatway

The UN and Canada need to understand that peacekeeping in Congo must not become a perpetual project. As a sovereign state, DRC needs to strengthen its leadership, governance and the institutions that deliver essential political goods to the population: safety and security, government transparency, the rule of law, political participation, human rights protection, sustainable economic opportunities and integral human development.

In December 2016, the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo Joseph Kabila had the opportunity to maintain a democratic process and institution by announcing when the next elections would take place and thus allow the process of electing the next president. He did not. A coalition of opposition groups forced him to commit to elections next year, which observers see as a very tenuous compromise.

Canada is planning to join the UN peacekeeping mission once again with a contribution of 600 soldiers, civilian supports and $450 million over three years. However, to be effective in ending the war in the region, and supporting the democratization of Congo, Canada has to engage in peace making though economic and social development. Being born in the region and after six months of research in Congo, I have seen how little progress there has been from past efforts.

The Democratic Republic of Congo now has the largest UN peacekeeping mission with about 20,000 personnel from different nations. The United Nations Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) has operated since 1999, yet peace remains elusive.

Peace keeping will remain ineffective without preventing the factors contributing to the prolongation and vicious cycle of protracted conflicts. Addressing the structural injustices of poverty and unemployment is needed to ensure economic opportunities, especially for the youth. Systemic exploitation by regional, national and international players must end - arms trafficking, plundering minerals, money laundering, collaborations with warlords and government officials at the expense of human lives. The system that prioritizes profit over human life hurts poor nations regardless of their natural resources.

Peacekeeping in Congo should not be considered a perpetual project. As a sovereign state, DRC needs to strengthen its leadership, governance and the institutions that deliver essential political goods to the population - safety and security, government transparency, the rule of law, political participation, human rights protection,  sustainable economic opportunities and integral human development.

Multi-national corporations,  including Canadian, ones are exploiting the natural resources, displacing civilians from their land, degrading the environment and polluting water resources.  This behaviour embroils Congo in a cycle of violence. Yves Engler, in his book ‘Canada in Africa: 300 years of aid and exploitation’ observes that, “Nowhere have Canadian extractive companies been linked to more rights violations than in eastern Congo” (p.8). He adds that these companies benefit from “aggressive government lobbying and a slew of ‘aid’ initiatives to advance their interests”.  

In 2002, eight Canadian companies violated OECD guidelines in mining activities during the Congo war - American Mineral Fields, Banro, First Quantum, Harambee Mining, International Panorama Resources, Kinross Gold, Melkior Resources and Tenke...  The companies deny any wrongdoing. However there is evidence that the structural injustices committed by corporations contribute to armed conflict and maintain Congo in a constant state of armed conflict, which is not being tackled by UN peacekeeping. 

In eastern Congo, the majority of the people cannot afford a meal a day. Due to insecurity, people have not been able to cultivate their lands since 1996.  Even when the war ends, they will find their land occupied by the rich, including corporations. The institutions are in a shambles.  There is no healthcare, no functional and well-equipped education institutions. Many youth are unemployed. Besides being raped, children and women are sold for sex for as little as $5. Children and women are enslaved in the mines. Millions of children born out of rape are loitering city streets without education or families. Violence is on the increase.

In 2015, the Rift Valley Institute discovered more than 40 armed groups in South Kivu only. President Kabila has postponed the national elections until 2018 on the basis of an authoritarian leadership that might plunge the country into renewed waves of violence.

The way forward

Military solutions, including peacekeeping, are failing in Congo. Sustainable peace will not come from the barrel of the gun.  What is needed is first to ensure human security, to prevent the youth from joining the armed groups. Increasing economic opportunities will deter many youth from joining. 

Second, the rule of law must be strengthened by bringing to justice national, regional and international human rights violators, individuals and corporations that have committed crimes against humanity and those who have perpetrated war crimes and plunder of Congo’s resources.  Canada could assist by supporting international lawyers to investigate the crimes committed in Congo and to assist in law enforcement.

Third, Canada should ensure that Canadian companies follow the same rules for business as they do at home. It is important to ensure that they do not displace people as BANRO moved people from their ancestral lands in South Kivu. It will be a peace contribution if Canada investigates the practices of all Canadian corporations and those found guilty of human rights violations should be forced to compensate the local communities involved. Canadian companies should set an example in following business ethics.

Fourth, Canada should not promote paternalistic support for Congo through official aid which engenders corruption. Corruption is rifle in Congo and the rest of Africa because of foreign aid. Instead, Canada should work with the civil society organizations at the grassroots to better the living conditions for the majority of the people. 

Finally, Canada could collaborate with the U.N. and governments to devise an action plan for research and consultation on finding appropriate long term solutions to Congo’s problems. Such an action plan could focus on concrete strategies to (1) prevent armed conflict (2)  assist victims of war especially the women and children (3) prosecute criminals (4) strengthen the rule of law and  (5) end support and foreign aid that  encourages war economies to flourish. If Congo attains peace, it will continue to give aid to the whole world that benefits from her resources. Important it to ensure people’s security in the first place.  

If Canada and the U.N. are serious about helping the Congolese people (and other war torn African nations), they should do more than just send peacekeepers. All efforts must be carried out with local actors, as sustainable peace, security and development must be established by the Congolese themselves.

* Evelyn N. B Mayanja is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Manitoba, Canada.



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