President Joseph Kabila (right) speaking to journalists in Nairobi last week. Left is Anna Tibaijuka, Director-General of the UN office at Nairobi and Executive Director of UN Habitat.
KINSHASA, 19 Dec 2006 (IRIN) - Joseph Kabila won Congo's first democratic presidential elections in decades, but now the 35-year-old former guerrilla leader faces the daunting task of rebuilding from scratch a country almost the size of western Europe.
Apart from resettling internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees in neighbouring countries, he needs to address widespread insecurity and human-rights abuses, including sexual violence committed by government troops and different militias, and reintegrate ex-combatants into society.
There is also a lack of basic medical facilities in a country where an estimated 1,200 people die every day and 80 percent of the population is considered food insecure.
"The population is fed up with war," Ross Mountain, United Nations Deputy Special Representative and Humanitarian Coordinator for the DRC, said in New York recently. "That is the bottom line."
The UN and partner agencies estimate they require US$687 million next year to deliver essential relief aid and humanitarian support to affected communities across the country.
"We hope that 2007 will be a year for the return of the most of the refugees and IDPs," said Jens Hesman, external relations officer at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Kinshasa.
"But there is still some concern because conditions for return have not been met, with human-rights violations in the east," he added. "For example, it is difficult for returnees to come back to North Kivu province while there is fighting."
According to the UNCHR, there are an estimated 1.2 million IDPs in the DRC and 410,000 refugees in neighbouring countries - excluding 35,000 who came back in 2006 to Katanga and South Kivu provinces.
Security key to development
The country has taken a battering since its first democratically elected government 46 years ago. Transport infrastructure is old and in disarray; agriculture is moribund; the health system has virtually collapsed; and insecurity reigns in the eastern province of North Kivu.
Of all the problems facing the DRC, analysts and Kabila say, insecurity and continuing violence need the most immediate attention. Without security, there is no hope of addressing the nation's other ills.
"In a country the size of the DRC, all sectors are a priority," Kabila told reporters in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi last week. "But my priority for the country is to consolidate peace and stability."
While Kabila was taking the oath of office on 6 December, fighting was raging between loyal troops and army dissidents in Bunagana, near the Ugandan border. The dissidents were supporters of former army general Laurent Nkunda, who first revolted against the central government in 2004, saying he was protecting his Tutsi people from persecution.
Kabila said his government would pursue reconciliation to bring about peace in the east, but if this failed it would use military force. "We want, at any price, for the DRC to have peace," he said. "Militia activities [in the east] are the kicks of a dying horse at a time when the country is in a period of transition."
Nkunda's refusal to end his rebellion reflects the slow pace at fully integrating former belligerent factions into a national army under civilian control, according to Jacques Ebenga, a former Congolese army colonel and now independent military analyst heading the NGO, Labor Optimus.
Army estimates support this argument. Only 14 brigades (about 49,000 men) have been integrated into the national army, yet 18 should have been processed by 29 October. There has been no public assessment of the quality of the integrated units - their training, equipment, discipline and loyalty to the state.
Failure to manage the armed forces could make it difficult to quell Nkunda's revolt and expel the thousands of Rwandan Hutus in the east any time soon.
The leaders of the Rwandan rebels are accused of masterminding and executing the genocide against Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus in that country. Their continued presence in the DRC has irritated the Rwandan government which, at one time, threatened to send troops to stamp out the threat. However, Rwanda has since expressed confidence in Kabila's willingness to deal with the problem.
Analysts say the solution to the Nkunda problem must be political and he must be engaged in talks. They say he needs assurances of safety for his Tutsi ethnic community in the east.
"The dialogue should not, however, last indefinitely and become a weak instrument," Ebenga said. "Any soldier who refuses to rejoin the ranks should be regarded as demobilised. But before that can happen the [different factions of the] army must be welded together, then deployed to pacify the east."
Congo's eastern borders will also need to be secured and for this there needs to be a full normalisation of relations with Uganda and Rwanda, which once supported the Congolese rebel movements. Speed is of the essence, otherwise the Rwandan rebels, known as the Interahamwe, will continue to undermine Congo's nascent democracy.
One way to achieve this, Ebenga says, would be for the Rwandan government to guarantee the safety of the returnees. However, Rwandan President Paul Kigame has said he would not exclude them from prosecution for genocide-related crimes.
Small progress has been made. The UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC), with its 17,000 blue berets deployed across the country at an annual cost of US$1 billion, has been helping to repatriate Rwandans. Under its voluntary disarmament, demobilisation, repatriation and reintegration programme launched in 2001, it has returned 8,000 fighters and their families. Nearly 12,000 Rwandan combatants and their families still remain.
Another reason why disarmament should be speeded up is that friendly foreign forces cannot stay in Congo indefinitely. The 2,400 European Union troops who had come to support UN forces to secure the election will complete their withdrawal before Christmas. Then it will be up to the UN and the Congolese army to maintain the peace.
"We hope the Congolese will be able to preserve what they have gained in these elections," Gen Christian Damay, the EUFOR commander, told IRIN.
Although MONUC might stay another few years, troop numbers are bound to be scaled down. The UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, said during Kabila's inauguration ceremony that MONUC's mandate could be extended for another two years.
After fully integrating its forces, Congo will have 200,000 men under arms. Soldiers must, however, be paid regular salaries to avoid mutinies, as in the past. Only then can the government begin sifting out unsavory individuals. But, because of the current sensitivity in integrating and moulding former enemies into the same army, the clean-up will take time.
"They need to ensure that the DRC army is trained to protect civilians, not prey on them," Mountain said.
Once the security situation is under control, the government can turn its full attention to revamping health, electricity, water, education, services and infrastructure. To do this Kabila will still need political space. His potential headaches are his beaten presidential rival and former rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba, and veteran politician Etienne Tshisekedi.
For now, Bemba has undertaken to be the loyal opposition, despite his disenchantment with the election process. As long as there is freedom of expression and respect for human rights, his supporters say, they are willing to engage in the political process. The local rights body, La Voix de Sans Voix, said it was concerned by the lack of improvement in human rights.
However, progress is being made on the political front. Bemba says he will run for a Senate seat in January. His chances of winning are high, since his Mouvement pour la liberation du Congo has the majority of local members of Parliament in the Kinshasa constituency.
Tshisekedi, unlike Bemba, refused to take part in the electoral process and his supporters took to the streets several times in the run-up to the elections. Tshisekedi holds sway in his native east and west Kasai provinces but it remains to be seen if, having excluded himself from the polls, he can keep his supporters in check. Analysts say political instability in the Kasais could halt the nation's recovery.
Tshisekedi has made no reassuring public statement on how he intends to act in opposition. His alliance with Bemba has yet to be decided, although their aides have made contact.
"There is rapprochement but we will discuss the leadership of this opposition," says Valentine Mubake, a leading parliamentarian for Tshisekedi's Union pour le démocratie et progrès social.
Analysts say that stability could be achieved if the police force, army and other security forces learn to respect human rights. Politicians, too, are expected to display greater responsibility by keeping the peace and being constructive either in opposition or in power. They are, however, expected to speak out against ills such as the diversion of public funds.
At his inauguration Kabila promised to provide leadership and good governance during his five-year stewardship. If he can be held to this, then the Congo, potentially the wealthiest mineral-rich country in Africa, will have a foundation on which to build a strong, prosperous and peaceful nation.