By: Harold Niebel*
April 7, 1994 marks a day of solemnity and mourning for Rwandans, as it is a day to reflect on the Rwandan Genocide that occurred in the early 1990s. In 100 days, 800,000 Tutsis were massacred on the streets of Rwanda, and millions of Rwandans fled over the border to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Since 1994, the eastern Congo has been embroiled in continuous war and inter-ethnic violence. Consequently, while the genocide occurred in Rwanda, the lasting effects on stability in the eastern DRC have been ignored. The conflict has crippled the eastern Congo’s productive potential and the wellbeing of its population. Several programs can encourage peace in the DRC. Using the local economy to reintegrate rebels into the workplace along with pursuing political alternatives to violence enable the DRC recover from the decades of civil war.
The genocide in Rwanda can only be compared to the mass extermination of Jewish communities during the Second World War. However, the conflicts that began in Rwanda were a precursor to what would become a much larger, and more destructive conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Many are aware of the events that unfolded in Rwanda in 1994, but fewer are aware of the unfortunate and crippling ripple effects the Congo has endured. Between 1996 and 2003, over 5 million people perished in the DRC, more than have died in any conflict since the second World War. The conflict has resulted in rampant disease, displacement, and the removal of productive potential for the eastern DRC. Conflict in the Congo makes it difficult for the government and international institutions to pursue health initiatives to prevent the spread of sickness and disease. Of the 5 million deaths that occurred in the DRC between 1997 and 2002, three million of the deaths were due to malnutrition and the spread of preventable diseases, like cholera, malaria, and tuberculosis. In 2018, an Ebola outbreak in the Kivu provinces has been extraordinarily difficult to contain because NGO workers are attacked by armed rebel groups. The conflicts in eastern Congo have stifled the efforts to maintain reasonable and effective healthcare initiatives, which has only added to the carnage.
The conflict has resulted in the Internal displacement of millions of Congolese that reside in the Kivu provinces and the Ituri district. Cumulatively, about 4 million people have been displaced because of conflicts unfolding in the Congo, a phenomenon described as “a displacement crisis worse than the Middle East.” The costs that are associated with the displacements are staggering and cost the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees 90 million USD per year. The crisis is both crippling to the inhabitants of the eastern portion of the DRC, but also places a heavy financial burden on organizations trying to mitigate its effects. The displacement and health costs associated with the conflicts unfolding in the Congo have made the development of productive potential virtually nonexistent. Children are unable to attain sufficient education to contribute to society and many have been conscripted by local armed groups and are forced to fight. Over 30,000 children have been abducted by rebel groups to participate in the violence. Disease takes a disproportionate toll on the younger population, with half of the deaths from sickness being in children under 5 years old. Adults who fall victim to sickness often are unable to work and suffer from lasting side effects associated with the diseases. The young are suffering from disease and involuntary conscription into rebel groups, and adults are not able to settle down to pursue a career because of the disease and conflict. Violence and instability thrives where there is little economic potential, which is apparent in the DRC.
To improve the livelihoods and prevent the further deterioration of the quality of life in the eastern DRC, current disarmament and reintegration programs must be supplemented to encourage sustained growth and development in the region. From March 2002 to March 2011, the UN successfully demobilized over two hundred thousand combatants in the DRC. The demobilized were either absorbed into the Congolese military or returned to their place of residence. Surveys taken by the UN indicate that half of the people disarmed have improved their livelihoods, and two-thirds were either working or in school following disarmament. The existing disarmament and reintegration programs are successful in reintegrating ex-combatants; however, violence continues to persist. Between 2015 and 2016, violence flared in the east which significantly impacted the amount of foreign direct investment (FDI) the DRC received and severely contracted its GDP. Between 2014 and 2016, the Congo’s FDI dropped over 300 million USD. The DRC’s GDP plummeted from 9 percent growth per year to 2 percent growth per year from 2014 to 2016. The drop in economic growth and development is attributed to the political (concerning presidential elections and candidates) and ethnic violence that took place between 2015 and 2016, deterring many potential investors from investing in the DRC. According to the BBC in September 2018, the Congolese army was attacked by Mai-Mai rebel groups which led to the additional displacement of thousands of people in three days. In November 2018, the head of the World Health Organization announced it was suspending its efforts to mitigate the Ebola crisis, since rebel groups regularly attack WHO workers, only adding to the humanitarian disaster in the east. To rectify the issues found in the east, the remaining rebel groups must continue to be demobilized and reintegrated into the local economy and political community, which will ensure the economic security, development and recovery of the communities in the east.
The UN has successful demobilization campaigns in the east, but the reintegration of ex-combatants into the economy is still a challenge. Coffee, found in the eastern provinces may be the key to lifting the eastern Congo out of its history of violence and instability. Coffee grown in the DRC is a rare and highly valuable special blend of ‘Arabica varietals’ that attract significant demand from coffee sellers around the world. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in 1993, before the Conflicts in the Congo, one hundred and twenty-three thousand tons of coffee was being exported from the DRC per year. By 2016, only eight thousand tons of coffee was exported per year. The numbers suggest that coffee production in the area could skyrocket, given the correct conditions of security and peace. Disarming and demobilizing combatants, then encouraging the demobilized to enter high-demand industries like the coffee trade will provide ex-combatants a secure and worthwhile ‘way out’ of armed movements. By employing ex-combatants, the number of Congolese displaced and killed diminishes significantly, which will rebuild the health and functionality of the eastern provinces of the DRC.
Inclusion of militia groups in the Congolese political arena is equally as important to alleviate the issues in the east. According to Joseph Apollo, leader of Fizi, a civil society organization in eastern Congo, several rebel groups want to be integrated into the political structure of the DRC. By creating opportunities in local, provincial, and national government political positons for groups operating in the east, rebels can vocalize their interests, concerns, and desires in a non-violent and productive method. The National People’s Coalition for the Sovereignty of Congo (NPCSC) is a coalition of rebel groups operating in South Kivu; its goal is to overthrow the Kabila regime and install itself as the leader of government. If the federal government devised an agreement that proposed the disarmament of the NPCSC in return for political and economic inclusion, members of the group would be more likely to compromise. Similar arrangements can be made for other groups, particularly in local or provincial governments. Such is the case of Jean-Pierre Bemba, leader of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), a formerly active rebel group that is now a political party. While Bemba’s presidential political agenda remains somewhat of a mystery, he says “[I will work] to solve the problems of the people of Congo.” By including formerly ostracized groups, the DRC can pave its way to peace.
The violence in the eastern part of the DRC facilitates poverty in the region, which results in the cyclical history of violence and instability the DRC is experiencing. While existing demobilization campaigns are successful, reintegration programs must focus on ensuring ex-combatants remain involved in politics and the economy. Stability will attract foreign direct investment, which will make violence more costly to communities of Congolese and will promote political cooperation in the DRC. By bolstering the demobilization and reintegration campaigns, the legacy of the Rwandan Genocide can be uprooted and replaced with stability, development, and growth in the Great lakes region.
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“Ebola Treatment Challenged by DR Congo Rebel Activity,” BBC News, August 24, 2018, Accessed October 09, 2018, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-45295217.
 “DR Congo Displacement Crisis ‘worse than Middle East’,” BBC News, December 06, 2017, Accessed October 09, 2018, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-42250230.
“Democratic Republic of the Congo,” World Health Organization, April 13, 2012, Accessed October 09, 2018, http://www.who.int/hac/donorinfo/campaigns/cod/en/.
“DRC: Helping Child Soldiers Back into Society,” OCHA. February 23, 2017, Accessed October 09, 2018, https://www.unocha.org/story/drc-helping-child-soldiers-back-society.
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“Foreign Direct Investment, Net Inflows (BoP, Current US$).” World Bank Open Data. 2017. Accessed October 31, 2018, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/BX.KLT.DINV.CD.WD?end=2017&locations=CD&start=2011&type=points&year=2013.
“GDP Growth (annual %).” World Bank Open Data. 2017. Accessed October 31, 2018, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.KD.ZG?end=2017&locations=CD&start=2011.
 “Coffee: Providing an Economic Jolt to Eastern Congo?” Center For Strategic and International Studies October 26, 2018, Accessed October 31, 2018, https://www.csis.org/analysis/coffee-providing-economic-jolt-eastern-congo.
 “La Lutte Anti-Ebola Suspendue En RDC,” BBC News, 2018.
 “World Report 2018: Rights Trends in Democratic Republic of Congo.” Democratic Republic of the Congo: Events of 2017. January 18, 2018. Accessed November 27, 2018. https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2018/country-chapters/democratic-republic-congo.
 “Bemba: Sympathy for Victims but Justice Has Been Served.” Al Jazeera. July 30, 2018. Accessed November 27, 2018. https://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/talktojazeera/2018/07/jean-pierre-bemba-set-shake-drc-politics-180729165628076.html.
*Disclaimer: The content contained in the following material is the sole ownership of the author and does not reflect the Towson University Journal of International Affairs nor Towson University in any respect whatsoever.