President Joseph Kabila insists that there is no humanitarian crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo, even as millions of children starve. Kabila “doesn’t want anything to reinforce what is widely understood: that the instability in the country is caused in large part by his refusal to step down from power,” says Friends of the Congo’s Maurice Carney
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo the humanitarian crisis is worsening by the day. The chief of the UN High Commission on Refugees Filippo Grandi had this to say about the intensifying humanitarian catastrophe.
Unfortunately, operations, refugee operations, humanitarian operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo continue to be underfunded everywhere. And this is unfortunately in common with many other emergency operations, humanitarian operations, in Africa. And I want to make a strong appeal to the international community. Africa is far away. It’s far away from the rich countries. Many of these refugees will not trek for thousands of miles, and cross the sea, and arrive in Europe to remind the world of their existence as the Syrians did, as others did. They stay here. They suffer here. But they are equally in need.
SHARMINI PERIES: Although the UN claims that the problem is funding, President Joseph Kabila has decided to boycott a donor conference aimed at raising 1.7 billion dollars of relief aid scheduled for next week, stating that there is no humanitarian crisis in the DRC. Now, Joseph Kabila refused to step down in 2016, although he exceeded the two-term limit imposed by the Constitution. So in addition to the humanitarian crisis there is also a political governance crisis, as well as the long-term political crisis imposed on Rwanda because of the Rwandan genocide in the region. Joining me now to discuss these developments is Maurice Carney Maurice is co-founder and executive director of the Friends of the Congo. Maurice, good to have you back.
MAURICE CARNEY: It’s a pleasure.
SHARMINI PERIES: It is very sad circumstances. The conditions, the humanitarian conditions in particular, has worsened, has gotten very intense. Give us a just a survey of the crisis at hand.
MAURICE CARNEY: Well, thank you. According to the United Nations there are some 13 million Congolese, 13 of the total 18 million in the country who are in need of emergency aid. As a result of the instability in the country we’ve had some 4.5 million or so people displaced. There are three acute areas in the country. You have in Tanganyika and the whole Katanga province. Instability there. And we have in the Ituri region recent flare ups. And certainly in the Kasai region, which is a central part of the country bordering Angola. Since 2016 there has been growing instability.
So it’s really beyond severe, what the Congolese people are, are facing. In addition to the emergency humanitarian need of the 13 million or so, you have children who are facing starvation. Some 2 million children are so severely malnourished, about half a million are facing immediate starvation. So the humanitarian crisis is well known in the international community, and it requires a mobilization across the board to try to bring support to people who are in immediate need. This is of course with the full understanding that this is a just a bandaid, because at the core of the humanitarian challenges is really a political crisis, and a political crisis that is feeding and perpetuating the instability that we see throughout the, throughout the country.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now Maurice, why is President Kabila refusing to attend this conference? Obviously the humanitarian crisis is so great and so vivid, and so many people are asking not only the UNHCR head there, but the people in the region are asking for an international response. But Kabila is refusing to acknowledge that.
MAURICE CARNEY: Yeah. Not only is Kabila refusing to acknowledge, the Congolese government’s also pressuring some of the organizers, like the United Arab Emirates, for example, supposed to be one of the convening countries for this upcoming conference in the, in the Netherlands. And it appears that the United Arab Emirates may be conceding or succumbing to the pressure on the part of a Kabila regime. Which is understandable, because one of their major corporations, DP World, has a contract with the Congolese government to build a port in the in the Banana region of the Congo, where they’re bordering the, the Atlantic. And this is quite a lucrative contract that DP World has, so they may succumb to the Kabila regime and not participate in the conference.
But overall, Joseph Kabila doesn’t want any hints of anything to reinforce what is widely understood, that the instability in the country is caused in large part by his refusal to step down from power. His Constitutional mandate as president of the country ended in December 2016. And in an effort for him to maintain his hold on power through fear, through force, and through fomenting instability, we see that the humanitarian situation in the country has gotten worse, and was already in a fragile world.
Speaking about a fragile environment, in a post-war environment, not necessary post-conflict, but a post-war environment where the United Nations says that from 1996-2007 some 6 million people perished in what is known as the deadliest conflict in the world since World War II. So these are some of the reasons why Kabila wouldn’t want to downplay the scale of the humanitarian crisis, because the extent to which people recognize the severity of the crisis is the same extent to which the blame falls at his doorstep because of his lack of willingness to step down from power, organize elections, free, transparent, and fair, so that there could be a peaceful transition of power in the country.
SHARMINI PERIES: It is difficult to understand why Kabila would refuse aid. One would think that this would only help him. Let’s say he doesn’t want to step down at this time because it’s not a good time for a transition of this sort. But if he would go to the conference, get more aid, help more of the people, wouldn’t stand a better chance at succeeding and politically, you know, providing for his people and also politically succeeding to regain power at another time?
MAURICE CARNEY: You have to understand they, are in battle formation. Really, truth be told, Sharmini, the Congolese government is waging a war against its own people. That’s really what’s at stake. We talk about the humanitarian crisis, but you also have a situation where activists are being gunned down in the streets, being arbitrarily arrested. The head of the Catholic church in the Congo, Laurent Monsengwo, stated for all intents and purposes, our Congo is currently an open-air prison. That is to say, the Congolese people are being held hostage by , really, a criminal regime, and through force.
And the Kabila regime, this is the reality for the people on the ground, but the regime wants to present a different picture to the world. So they hired, for example, an Israeli lobby firm to lobby in Washington. They paid 6 million dollars to hire the Israeli lobby firm to paint a particular picture of the Congo. And this conference really contradicts that picture. So for them to actually go and participate would go against their diplomatic offensive that they’ve launched over the last few years, an offensive that they tried to show, to present to the international community or to the world that all is fine in the Congo, there is no humanitarian crisis, there is no political crisis. So they hired lobby, Israeli lobby firms to lobby the United States, they take out ads in The New York Times, all in an effort to paint a picture that’s drastically different from the reality, the reality of suffering, the reality of starvation. The reality of arbitrary arrest, reality of summary executions.
So it’s, from their point of view it’s totally logical that they would not want to participate in this conference, which goes counter to all that they’ve invested in in the last few years in order to present a different picture to the world than what’s actually happening on the ground.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Maurice. So much more to discuss. That 6 million dollars would go a long way in one of these refugee camps to feed the children. I will come back to you, Maurice, in the near future, and we can continue this conversation, but let’s keep an eye on that conference that’s being organized in terms of aid and see where that goes. I mean, it doesn’t stop the U.N. from delivering aid. Kabila hopefully cannot stop that. So perhaps there is things that the U.N. can do in spite of Kabila. Thank you so much for joining us.
MAURICE CARNEY: Thank you.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on the Real News Network.
Maurice Carney is Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Friends of the Congo. He has fought with the people of the Congo for 20 years in their struggle for human dignity and control of their country. He has provided analysis on the Congo for Al Jazeera, ABC News, Democracy Now!, Real News Network, Pambazuka News, All Africa News and numerous other media outlets.