Elections and a great deal of hope

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The long awaited DRC elections are on Sunday. There is some good news, quite a bit of scepticism and still much cause for concern. The good news is that more militias have come forward to surrender themselves and their arms. What percentage this 20,000 represents is not clear as no one really knows how many militias there are – it is doubtful the militias themselves know their numbers. Many of the militias are child soldiers who are traumatised and in desperate need rehabilitation without which they remain vulnerable to further kidnappings by armed militias, traffickers looking for child labour to export or work in the mines.

Considering the high stakes involved, the presence of thousands of militias and number of political parties (33) involved in the elections the level of violence has been relatively low. Whether the 17,000 MONUC presence has been a deterrent is not clear but certainly all the factors are there for the violence to have been much worse. However it is very worrying that supporters of the UDPS party, led by Étienne Tshisekedi have held demonstrations calling for the elections to be boycotted due to pre-election irregularities. The Catholic church has also called for a boycott on the same basis. If Tshisekedi and other opposition leaders have no trust in the outcome of the elections it is difficult to see how this will be resolved in the post-election period when Joseph Kabila, predicted to win, takes control of the country and it’s natural resources.

Another unresolved issue is how will victims of violence during and since the end of the war obtain justice. During the transition period, militias were offered amnesty in return for laying down their arms. Whilst it is positive that they are surrendering it is at the expense of the millions of victims, dead and alive who have suffered hideous atrocities at the hands of various militias over the past 5 years. It makes a mockery of human rights. How are these people supposed to rebuild their lives when they have to share the same space with their rapists and murderers of their families and communities. The Truth and Reconciliations Committee exists but according to Theodore Kasongo Kamwimbi writing in Pambazuka News, no one is telling the truth.

Reconciliation can indeed begin when perpetrators are held accountable for their wrongdoings. But in the DRC context that is not the case as former perpetrators have not been prosecuted and have not acknowledged or disclosed their wrongdoings. Therefore, they have not shown any remorse to the victims and the community as a whole. It is obvious that the decision to grant amnesty to them for political reasons is unlikely to promote national reconciliation and meet the population’s demands for justice.

In the Congolese public opinion, the best way of holding someone accountable for his act or omission is through the judiciary system as established by the law. If a presumed perpetrator does not appear in a court of law for his alleged criminal actions or omissions, that is considered to breed impunity. This absence of justice has created frustration among the Congolese and caused private vengeance and cycles of violence between communities.

Atrocities continue to take place amongst militias not yet disbanded, local miners and the continued illegal mining that is taking place in the mineral rich regions of Katanga and Kivu provinces.

The most positive element in the elections are the people of the DRC themselves who are desperate for peace and at the very least, the opportunity lead lives free of fear and violence. From that starting point they can begin to build a life and meet their aspirations for the future.