Part 1: Democratic Republic of Congo: Presidential elections and blood minerals

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By Natricia Duncan

As we see landmark election in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the discussion at the Frontline Club turned to the way forward for this troubled nation.

Chaired by Mary Harper, Africa Editor at the BBC World Service, who opened by asking:

“Why a country that is so rich in so many ways is often labelled a failed state?”

The response was a picture of corruption and violence, where women had to be escorted on the roads for fear of rape. Award-winning filmmaker Fiona Lloyd- Davies highlighted impunity as one of the challenges to progress.

“You can’t have generals and senior military people being rewarded by the government for committing human rights abuses and committing crimes. They have to be brought to Justice!”

Jean-Roger Kaseki, human rights campaigner and Labour Councillor for Tollington Ward, Islington, focused on the need to “build institutions”.

He described Congo as an “abandoned country” and called on the international community to offer more support.

“Congo needs allies like the UK. We need security; we need a proper and workable strategy for disarming the militias.”

Kaseki also warned that the current government, headed by Joseph Kabila, should not “cling to power” as this will cause a regression into war.

Natznet Tesfay, head of Africa Forecasting at Exclusive Analysis Ltd, pointed to the “seeds of unrest.”

 “Most people may have assumed a number of peace-keeping and peace-making efforts have restored stability to the region, but it’s more the quiet before the storm […..] reported irregularities by election observers gives the opposition fuel to stoke unrest.”

Mike Davis, a conflict mineral campaign leader from Global Witness, spoke of positives – which he described as being more “on the level of policy and rhetoric than actual change on the ground.

“The Congolese Government has gone from a situation in which it’s been in complete denial about the problem to admitting it in a surprisingly public way […..] you have a president who has actually gone on record saying we have mafia groups in our army.”

He also spoke of the positive impact of new legislations and established trading standards, on the behaviour of international companies with interests in Congo. To which Kaseki added:

“Congo is a very rich country with mineral resources. I think there could be plenty of opportunities if those resources are used properly and then if we manage to stop the illegal exploitation of those minerals.”