This Friday on Al Jazeera’s global talk show South 2 North, Redi Tlhabi looks at the ongoing conflict in The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
“By general consensus, the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo has failed,” said Redi at the start of the show, which is broadcast from Johannesburg. “The conflict continues and by some estimates 5.4 million are dead and hundreds of thousands of women are raped every year. Fearing the rising death toll, the UN has broken tactic: the peacemakers are going to war. Is this the way to create internal peace and prosperity in the Congo and is it the way forward for international peacekeeping?”
Redi was joined by Ambassador Bene M’Poko, the DRC ambassador to South Africa; civic leader Bernard Katompa, former CEO of Liberty Africa; and American Jason K. Stearns, author of Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: the Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa.
Jason said the DRC conflict has not received the global press coverage it deserves because of the complexity of its situation.
“Five million people have died but they died in ways that are very difficult to simplify and to tell,” he said. “In the Congo more than 90% of the victims… are indirect victims of violence – in other words these are people displaced by violence who then died due to diarrhea, malaria and pneumonia, far away from TV cameras and not due to direct violence. The conflict they died in involved several dozen different armed groups and at one point nine different African countries, so you can already see that it is a very difficult story to tell. Journalists used to tear their hair out and ask me, ‘How can I possibly tell this story in 400 words?’ I think that’s the tragedy of the Congo – we care less about stories that are difficult to understand.”
The ambassador stressed the DRC’s potential, pointing out that the country provides 80% of the minerals used to make satellites and cellphones and has the agricultural potential to feed the rest of Africa. “We have an economic growth projected by the World Bank this year of 9.6 percent, with double digits next year.”
He said this has been a mixed blessing. “The source of the conflict is resources,” said the ambassador. “If Congo was a desert country someplace without resources, nobody would touch us and nobody would be interested.”
Jason believes the current UN intervention marks a “crucial moment.”
“The weakness of the Congolese state and interventions from neighbouring Rwanda were never really addressed by past peace processes,” he said. “This intervention brigade of South Africans, Tanzanians and Malawians… is deploying within the context of a new peace framework that was created in February and involves exactly that – reforming Congolese institutions and [trying] to prevent Congo’s neighbours from meddling in each other’s business. This provides hope but it will have to tackle vested interests.”
The ambassador welcomed the UN intervention. “We requested it. SADEC requested it. We needed a temporary intervention from outside to solve the problem and with the intervention brigade, by the end of the year, the problem will be solved so that our newly-formed military can take over the responsibility to secure the Congolese borders.”
Later, he added, “I will give the special brigade six months to resolve the problem. We should look at Congo today as a post-conflict country.”
But while the ambassador praised the current regime, both Bernard and Jason were more critical.
Bernard called it “a geological scandal” that in a country with “some 24 trillion dollars of resources… 70% of the population lives below the poverty line…”
Is the DRC’s copper-based growth benefitting the poorest of the poor? Is the current regime outsourcing too many of the functions of government? What is the blueprint for the way forward? Watch Redi ask the important questions in this week’s episode of South 2 North, which premieres at 19:30 GMT on Friday, 28 July 2013 and also screens on Saturday at 14h30, Sunday 04h30 and Monday 08h30.
For more information, visit http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/south2north/, where all episodes are available to watch online.
You can also tweet your questions, comments and opinions to @AJSouth2North or find South 2 North on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/South-2-North/255419671252120.
Catch up on last week’s episode of South 2 North, where Redi discussed the pros and cons of the Egyptian situation, at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rp2_NOQAXvU.