‘Only democracy can end the violence in DR Congo’

Not a month goes by without a massacre taking place in Beni, in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Earlier this month over 30 people were killed.

Eyewitnesses tell harrowing stories of people being senselessly hacked to death. Pictures widely circulated in social media, within Congo and in its diaspora, show disemboweled women, mutilated children and people with their hands tied to their backs and their throats slit open.

In Beni alone, since October 2014, 600 people have died such a horrific death. If you add those killed in neighboring territories of Lubero and Butembo, the figures almost double, as pointed out in a recent open letter by civil society leaders from North Kivu.

Both the Congolese government and the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Monusco) have long blamed the Ugandan rebel group, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), for these mass-killings.

They have characterized them as revenge killings after the Congolese national army and Monusco carried out joint military operations against the ADF.

The victims of violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
The victims of violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

However, researchers at the Congo Research Group (CRG) have called this account into question. CRG claims that criminal responsibility does not lie with the Islamist group alone, but also with elements of the national army, former members of disbanded rebel groups and communal militias.

Their findings show that only in 47% of reported attacks were Luganda and Kiswahili spoken, which are languages generally used by members of the ADF. Whereas in 29% of cases, the assailants used Kinyarwanda to communicate, and in 13% of them they spoke Lingala. Both these languages appear to indicate that other ethnic groups other than those generally associated with the ADF have been involved.

It is crucially important to carry out a serious investigation to conclusively establish who the perpetrators of these heinous crimes really are so as to bring them to justice.

This would give peace a real chance to succeed. Unfortunately, the Congolese government and the international community have not given this problem the level of attention it requires.

After joint-military operations by the Congolese national army and the UN troops led to the defeat of the M23 in November 2013, they both stopped military cooperation in February last year, giving ample opportunity to armed groups in the area to regroup.

Part of our problem in the Congo has been our dysfunctionally weak institutions. The current government does not feel beholden to Congolese citizens. After two decades of violent conflict and lawlessness, it is almost impossible to envisage long term stability and peace without having in place an accountable government.

This is why it is so important to hold timely credible elections as required by our constitution. Such a democratic process can contribute to restoring legitimacy in our institutions and produce a legitimate government with a truly popular mandate.

Unfortunately, the current president, Mr Joseph Kabila, has shown worrying signs that he intends to cling to power. Although presidential elections are due to be held in November this year, little effort has been made to even register voters.

There has also been a crackdown against opposition leaders, journalists, human rights and pro-democracy activists.

The international community, however, has a window of opportunity to put pressure on the current regime by supporting the fast growing national consensus, in the Congo, to demand long-lasting democratic change.

A peaceful constitutional transfer of power would contribute to restoring the rule of law, end decades of impunity, and address the deep-rooted security problems the country has endured in our recent history.

Bandi Mbubi is the founder and director of Congo Calling, an organization working to bring attention to the atrocities being committed in the Congo and a peaceful resolution to the ongoing war. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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