The United Nations’ mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) reported today that there has been a series of “low-level” assaults against humanitarian vehicles in eastern DRC. The latest incident on Monday had armed men in military uniforms stopping two vehicles belonging to a French relief agency called Solidarity International in Congo's North Kivu province. No one was injured, but the cars were looted and the agency decided to temporarily suspend operations in the area, MONUC said.
Eastern DRC is one of the most violent regions in the world, but this story has been grossly under-reported. Kemal Saiki, spokesman for the U.N. force in Congo reports that in the eastern town of Kisharu about 25,000 displaced civilians have been unable to receive assistance because of the risk of looting. Many have fled their homes towards the Ugandan border.
Kivu Province is located thousands of kilometers from the capitol city of Kinshasa and is a no-man’s land of rag-tag militias, rebel and government forces. It was unclear who was behind the attacks.
Despite over a hundred years of colonial intervention, and billions of dollars in foreign aid, DRC has few roads and virtually no electricity outside of the major cities and the infrastructure is tenuous at best in these areas, with frequent power outages. Put into perspective, DRC is about the size of Western Europe.
With vast reserves of diamonds, gold and coltan, the country has been unable to capitalize on its own resources due to a hundred years of colonial rule, followed by dictatorships and years of war that may have claimed over 6 million people. Multiparty elections held last year for the first time in 40 years have failed to provide any relief for the civilian population.
In North Kivu, clashes between predominantly Hutu Rwandan rebels and Tutsi-dominated Congolese army brigades have forced more than 130,000 people from their homes since January.
The newly elected government of Congolese President Joseph Kabila has criticized MONUC for the instability, but having traveled in this region, I can say that MONUC is doing the best it can with the resources at its disposal.
Force spokesman Kemal Saiki hit back on Wednesday saying its peacekeepers were ready to assist the army but Congolese authorities, elected in landmark polls last year, needed to fulfill their obligations to protect the people.
"Defense of the territorial integrity of a sovereign nation and that of its people is firstly, principally, primordially, crucially, and incontrovertibly the responsibility of the state and that brings us to the question of the 'raison d'etre' of the state and of its authority," Saiki told a weekly news briefing.
This writer found that the villagers respected and welcomed the protection of MONUC, but were skeptical of the aid organizations working in the areas we visited. Without the protection that the 17,000 MONUC forces provide, it would be absolutely impossible for journalists to undertake any travel in this region whatsoever.
Serge Maheshe, MONUC broadcaster for Radio Okapi, was murdered in Kivu last week.
The situation begs the question as to the amount of foreign aid that has disappeared into DRC and the obvious lack of any results in terms of infrastructure and protection of law for the civilian population.