UNA-USA’s Council of Organizations Holds Briefing on Conflict in Congo

August 22, 2011|By Logan Meltzer
To better understand the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo) and raise awareness about its presidential election on Nov. 28, UNA-USA's Council of Organizations held a briefing last month with Kathryn Jones, senior political affairs officer of the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping, and Sasha Lezhnev, policy consultant of the Enough Project, and author of the book Crafting Peace: Strategies to Deal with Warlords in Collapsing States.

Congo held its first free elections in 2006, electing current president, Joseph Kabila. The election this year is especially important because of the deteriorating conditions and political climate in the country, primarily the extraordinarily high number of sexually violent crimes and the frequent killings of civilians and political dissidents.

The UN peacekeeping operation in Congo (UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or MONUSCO) has increased the protection of civilians there and put more emphasis on human rights in the region.

In her presentation, Jones primarily addressed the role of MONUSCO and the UN's role in the country's preparations monitoring the elections. In a country that is half the size of the United States but with virtually no roads, the main concern revolves around the ability of the 31.6 million registered voters to successfully cast their ballots at one of the 65,000 voting centers despite security and logistical challenges. Jones insisted that there was undoubtedly a need for national election observers in the country to maintain the credibility of the election and to assist voters at the voting centers.

This election will cost $240 million, around 60 percent from the Congolese government and $100 million from donors. President Kabila has eliminated the traditional two rounds of voting in favor of one round in which he must win 30 percent of the vote to win, or an opposing candidate must win 50+ percent to unseat him. Additionally, reports indicate that women voter registration is lower than the 2006 election, a point of concern for the international community.

Addressing the situation on the ground leading up to the elections and the challenges in Congo, Lezhnev reiterated many of the points Jones touched on while also explaining the importance of the election on both an international and domestic scale. The election is critically important for Eastern Congo, the primary target for militias such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and the Congolese army. Voter registration in the region went poorly, and according to Lezhnev, the area is gearing up for an escalation of violence among various ethnic groups.

The violence stems primarily from the abundance of natural resources in the Congo – "the link between conflict minerals and mass rape is crystal clear" said Lezhnev. Although the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of July 2010 is helping to quell the influx of conflict minerals in an effort to stem the violence, Lezhnev believes there needs to be an independent monitoring system that penalizes traders dealing with armed groups.

The presence of the United Nations in the region provides hope that the Congo can follow the successful elections that occurred in South Sudan recently. The UN is playing a supporting role to the Congolese electoral committee, providing logistical and technical support while leaving security primarily in the hands of the government.

The discussion was moderated by Carole Connors, co-chair of the Council of Organizations. The Council of Organizations is a network of more than 90 nongovernmental organizations with interests in education, social justice, peace and security, labor, sustainable development, human rights, and health and women's issues that share the common goals of promoting greater public awareness about global issues and the United Nation's importance in world affairs and strengthening the US-UN relationship.

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