Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo: The President’s Elusive Peace Effort

People in the volatile east feel abandoned ahead of Democratic Republic of Congo vote

The squalid displacement camp near the city of Goma in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is evidence of the government's struggle to resolve insecurity, a key issue ahead of elections later this month.

Many people in this impoverished but mineral-rich east of Central Africa, torn by conflict, feel abandoned.

“We live like animals,” said Anna Mastaki, 28, who lives in one of the camps on the outskirts of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province.

Chantal Wimana, who also evacuated from the Masisi area west of Goma, said she was unable to register to vote on December 20.

“Aren't we refugees, after all, Congolese like everyone else?” asked the mother of eight children.

“We're going to be living outside in the rain and watching this election take place.”

Much of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is prey to armed groups, a remnant of regional wars that raged in the 1990s and 2000s.

One of them, M23, has occupied large areas of territory since the end of 2021, displacing more than 1 million people from their homes.

Doctors Without Borders says tens of thousands of families are still fleeing violence in North Kivu.

However, ongoing conflict and escalating violence mean the scale of the humanitarian disaster in the region is enormous.

According to the United Nations, nearly 7 million people are displaced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the highest number ever recorded in the country.

President Felix Tshisekedi, 60, who is running for re-election, has promised to address the prevailing security situation.

“My mission will not be accomplished unless we resolve security issues,” he said during his 2021 visit to the east.

But after five years in power, the situation in eastern DRC has only worsened.

Thousands of civilians were killed and tens of thousands of women raped, according to statistics from research groups and humanitarian organizations.

– 'Right to vote' –
Hundreds of thousands of people live in displacement camps near Goma, most of them fleeing violence in the province.

After years of dormancy, the Tutsi-led M23 group re-armed in 2021 and launched operations that took control of strategic cities across North Kivu and came within tens of kilometers of Goma.

Independent experts from the DRC, Western countries including the United States, and the United Nations have accused Rwanda of supporting the M23, an allegation denied by Kigali.

After several months of calm on the front, clashes broke out again in October, pitting M23s against Congolese soldiers and pro-government militias.

Bahati Nuvano, 45, who lived in extreme poverty in one of the camps, said she felt abandoned as the rest of the country prepared to vote.

He fled his hometown of Kiwanja, about 70 kilometers north of Goma, with his children, but ended up crammed into a makeshift tarpaulin tent.

“We have not yet received our voter cards,” he said, expressing concern as the document is one of the few forms of identification accepted in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Nubano said he was “appalled” to not be able to vote on Election Day.

“Every Congolese has the right to vote,” he shrugged.

– 'Trial and error' –
After a failed military counterattack against M23 in mid-November, Tshisekedi declared that parts of North Kivu province would “unfortunately” be unable to vote.

Voting will not take place in the Masisi and Lutsuru regions, where M23 fighter jets are active.

Fred Bauma, director of the Kinshasa-based think tank Ebteri, said Mr Tshisekedi's recent conflict management policies appeared to have been ineffective.

There is a perception that he is doing “trial and error,” Bauma added.

Tensions in the region have exploded since last year, with UN Secretary-General António Guterres expressing concern in October about the risk of direct confrontation between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda.

Many see the president as having failed to calm tensions in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Rising inflation has also hurt his popularity in the region.

Still, most displaced people around Goma interviewed by AFP said if they were able to vote, they would choose Mr Tshisekedi to give them a chance to resolve the chaotic situation he inherited.

Several presidential candidates took to the campaign trail in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, vowing to bring peace to the region.

Source: guardian.ng

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