CBC briefing on the DRC crisis ignites tension

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Forum gets heated in talking about deteriorating conditions in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Shouts and accusations peppered a briefing hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus Taskforce on Wednesday, to discuss the deteriorating conditions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

A number of debilitating issues have converged within the DRC. Currently, the country is dealing with a deadly Ebola virus outbreak against the backdrop of intermittent civil battles over the control of minerals between militias, guerrilla armies, and the government military.

To worsen matters, a breakdown in presidential and legislative elections has placed the election process in an indefinite limbo.

“Just last week, there was a hearing focused on democratic backsliding and the crackdown on civil liberties in the African subcommittee and the DRC was a country that we were all concerned about,” said Congressmember Karen Bass (D-Calif.) who recently met with United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley and expressed her concerns.

Bass is co-chair of the CBC’s Foreign Affairs and National Security Task Force, the committee that oversaw the forum.

During the briefing, discussions intensified after panelists brought up a host of issues plaguing a country that is rich in some of the world’s most coveted natural resources,. Mineral deposits, mainly the control over mined cobalt, coltan and diamonds, in the eastern part of the country, have been the source of ongoing conflict for decades.

Kambale Musavuli, one of the panelists, focused on the DRC’s structural challenges in what he described as “weak institutions.” Said Musavuli, “The 2006 constitution was changed, just for Joseph Kabila. Specifically to change the age of running for president.”

Joseph Kabila, President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) at the United Nations in 2016.
Joseph Kabila, President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) at the United Nations in 2016.

Since 2017, elections have been placed on hold by Kabila. In the region, protests have taken place with demonstrators clashing with security forces.

Musavuli also mentioned the “privatization of natural resources that’s been very well documented … by multinationals and foreign countries.” He also identified “Congolese elite” as embezzling natural resources.

“The DRC potential is one of the richest countries on earth. We all know that it has abundant resources … the stark reality is that it is one of the poorest,” said Bass

Mike Jobbins, a panelist who has worked extensively on conflict areas brought up the rising incidents of sexual assault against women and girls. “Just last week nine women were raped by 30 men in Tanganyika,” he said.

To respond to dire reports, the DRC ambassador to the United States, Vincent Bikaya, who was amongst audience members, said that for 20 years, the critiques of the country are “rhetoric also based on rumors and not on complete facts.” He continued, “young Congolese from the diaspora go from one social media to another and spend more time on social media than learning,” about the history of the DRC.

“They’re criminals …. you guys kill and rape girls,” retorted an audience member to Bikaya.

“8 million women [are] raped. Young people are getting murdered,” said another audience member.

“The dictators in Africa represent the worst that Africa has to offer,” added a man who identified as a member of the Africans diaspora.

Another audience member who worked at a medical non-profit said, “There is a cervical cancer outbreak.”

As tensions flared, one audience member who said that they were from Nigeria challenged, “Enough of the screaming and anger and hurt. The end game is positive change.”

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Yolanda Aguilera focuses on culture, politics, policy and Afro-Latinidad.

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