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Mon. May 27, 2024
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A Forgotten War – the Democratic Ruined Republic of the Congo
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By Anuradha Kataria As conflicts of the oil rich Middle East forever grab media attention, a far deadlier war, Congo civil war stays in the shadows. This conflict that started in about 1997 – 98 has claimed over 4 – 5 million lives and expended heinous brutalities on women and children. (As a comparison, the Syrian conflict has claimed about 7000 – 13000 lives thus far as per various estimates). For the scale and level of brutalities, DR Congo’s civil war is often claimed as the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II. Yet it neither finds as much media focus nor debates about its future – has the world perhaps given up on it? As is the case with other conflict torn African nations, a question is always asked of Congo as well – is the nation even capable of self rule? Amidst such prevailing cynicism on this nation’s future and capabilities, let us explore possible ways out of this war and what role can the international community play. The war started in about 1997 when Laurent Desire Kabila led a rebellion to overthrow Mobutu Sese Seko’s over 30 years long authoritarian rule. This was done ostensibly in the name of establishing democracy though the elections were never held. No sooner had Mobutu fled the nation creating a sudden power vacuum at the top, than the civil war started with various rebel factions vying for control. Congo’s neighboring nations too, got embroiled in the conflict and the eastern border particularly bore the brunt of this war as it was already teeming with refugee camps which were a spillover from the earlier Rwandan genocide. Laurent Desire Kabila assumed control of the capital Kinshasa but was soon assassinated in 2001, post which his son Joseph Kabila ascended the throne. Young and inexperienced, Joseph Kabila was unable to control the war. While on paper he declared the war over in 2003, the International Rescue Committee estimated that the war casualties continued unabated at the rate of 45,000 a month. It was then believed that democracy would help the nation resolve its problems and the country held its democratic elections in 2006 which Kabila won owing to his ethnic loyalties. However, the violence escalated post this and now also spread to the western Equateur region. The parliament in Kinshasa became a mere paper-pushing entity, passing several laws which had absolutely no enforcement in reality. The decentralized power at the grassroots was in the hands of various rebel factions that plundered the nation’s resources to further fund the war. The government troops themselves got involved in worst forms of brutalities. In Nov 2011 Congo held its second elections and now also suffered pre and post electoral violence which is yet to subside. Why is there no end to this civil war? No doubt lack of good leadership is at the heart of the problem but more than that, is there something amiss with our political thinking that may be adding to the problem? Democracy is a bit of “work in progress” in most nations, more so in some (particularly the developing ones) than others. It is no doubt an evolved model and despite its imperfections, has achieved a lot in the Western developed world, in terms of individual freedom, human rights, women’s rights, transparent governance and rule of law etc. These are ideals worth striving for and some of the developing nations are “trying” and must continue to do so. But in war torn nations like Congo, democracy is not work in progress – it is “work stopped” as the nation continues its steep decline on all parameters of governance. At the grassroots power is usurped by warlords who constantly feed the conflict, using plunder, ethnic divisive games and violence to exploit the populace rather than emancipate them in any manner. Shattered, abused and exploited this is the not the state in which perhaps a society is ready to take on the mantle of democracy. It would likely never stabilize. This form of quasi-democracy where elections are won through division and violence is only legitimizing a regime that is delivering nothing to its people. Instead, should not a leader or party in power derive its legitimacy from their ability to bring down the violence and tame the war? Is democracy the right model for Congo, or for that matter most war torn and conflict ridden nations? Neighboring Rwanda did manage to contain violence following the 1994 genocide under a single party rule, mostly under Paul Kagame’s leadership. While Rwanda has received much criticism for its role in the Congo war as well as lack of genuine democracy and political freedom, it is a stable state which has many achievements to its credit including the highest number of women parliamentarians anywhere in the developing world. Is there a lesson for Congo therein? Can it achieve stability and end its civil war under a centralized power structure as opposed to a decentralized democracy it is now in the grips of? The same question could also be asked of other ruined nations shattered by war and internal conflict like Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. Can democracy ever take root and be sustained amidst war and wide spread violence, or is it put to its most subversive use at the grassroots with power in the hands of warlords, rebels, militants, etc? Can the international community engage in a debate over our basic political assumptions about war-riddled states and specifically, do we need a political rethink on Congo to seek an end to its tragic war? About the Author Anuradha Kataria is the author of the book Democracy on Trial, All Rise!, which is a critique of democracy in the developing world. She is at present staying in Delhi NCR, India. Email: anukat3@gmail.com Website: www.anuradhakataria.blogspot.com

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