The history of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is not a happy one. The central African state has seen more than its fair share of civil war, violence and poverty, as competing factions fight for control of the country’s considerable mineral resources. And that strife continues today, with the recent taking by M23 rebels of Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu, and the subsequent emptying of its central bank, being matched by reports of rape and looting by Congolese government troops.
Whilst the leaders of the International Conference of the Great Lakes demand M23’s withdrawal from Goma, and Justine Greening, the UK’s International Development Secretary, withholds £21 million of budget support from the Rwandan government who have been accused of supporting the DRC rebels, the country’s population continues to bear the brunt of the suffering.
Whether western aid previously directed towards the DRC - especially to support the recent, apparently-flawed, election process – has been wisely spent is a question that cannot yet be answered, but there is no doubt that the engagement of the international community has borne fruit at a local level. For example, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Dimitra project has done fantastic working in setting up Community Listeners Clubs which, using Freeplay radios, offer access to information and provide a forum in which local communities can share their experiences, learn from each other and find their own solutions to local issues.
But these positive steps are now threatened by the rapid spread of violence. A week ago it was estimated that 100,000 Congolese civilians had been displaced, and that figure is likely to be much higher now. The end to the fighting cannot come soon enough. Perhaps then we can see a resumption of the community development and infrastructure-building in the DRC that seemed, until recently, to hold so much hope for its people’s future.