Africa News Bulletin

DR Congo Election: Citizens Express Desire for Peaceful Voting, Yet Struggle with Voting Access.

Musa Bi’s harrowing journey began as heavily armed rebels encircled her small village in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Carrying six young children, she trekked for seven days until reaching a UN-operated refugee camp. Amidst chaos and violence instigated by the M23 rebels, she lost track of her husband and two other children, separated from her in the turmoil.

The imminent December 20 presidential election barely occupies Musa Bi’s thoughts as conflict ravages several regions in North Kivu, rendering voting impractical due to ongoing unrest. “M23 came. They were fighting with our [government] soldiers. We started running and those who could not run away, they were killed,” she recounted to the BBC.

Arriving at the Bushagala camp, Musa Bi and her children found themselves once again exposed to the elements, enduring nights in the open and often in the rain. The UN refugee agency, inundated by the sheer volume of displaced individuals – an estimated 700 to 1,000 daily – strains to register newcomers. With patience, Musa Bi awaits registration, reliant on the already registered refugees to share their food supplies, typically consisting of sorghum and millet flour, with her and her children.

DR Congo faces a staggering internal displacement crisis, with nearly seven million people forced from their homes, marking the highest number of internally displaced persons in the country’s history. However, Musa Bi’s village near Masisi once fostered self-sufficiency, sustained by their farm until the M23 forced them to flee anew, rekindling regional hostilities as ceasefire efforts falter.

The M23 rebels, former Congolese army deserters, claim that the government marginalizes the ethnic Tutsi minority, refusing negotiation and targeting the hills around Masisi, which they consider their ancestral territory. Ahead of seeking a second presidential term, President Félix Tshisekedi has been mobilizing nationalist sentiment, characterizing the rebels as a front for neighbouring Rwanda’s perceived expansionist agenda. His rhetoric escalated, drawing parallels between Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame and Adolf Hitler, prompting concerns and diplomatic retorts.

While Rwanda denies supporting the M23, they have reproached Congolese authorities for failing to disarm ethnic Hutu rebels, some linked to the Rwandan genocide in 1994. The mineral-rich region harbors numerous militias competing for profit from the mining industry, fuelling instability for decades.

Further amplifying nationalist fervor, President Tshisekedi recently expelled an East African peacekeeping force, following a prior year of welcoming its presence. His directive to withdraw the UN mission, Monusco, comprising over 17,000 personnel, reflects frustrations over their perceived ineffectiveness in protecting civilians.

The mounting threat of the M23’s proximity to Goma, with the city’s one million residents under imminent danger, heightens concerns of history repeating itself – reminiscent of a decade ago when Goma briefly succumbed to rebel control. This led to regional peace negotiations and the formation of a UN intervention brigade, aiming to disarm the M23 and restore stability.

Despite past attempts to pacify the rebels, their resurgence in Mrs Bi’s village and nearby Masisi demonstrates their strengthened position. With the DR Congo army unable to counter the rebels, President Tshisekedi seeks intervention from the Southern African Development Community (Sadc), appealing for their assistance in this escalating conflict.

The regional bloc, comprising countries like South Africa, Tanzania, and Angola, has agreed to deploy troops to assist, although specifics and timelines remain unclear. President Tshisekedi’s decision to oust the UN force follows public protests in Goma against their perceived inability to repel the rebels.

Yet, while the withdrawal of Monusco phases out over several years, concerns arise among locals reliant on UN bases for protection. As the situation remains precarious, the plight of individuals like Musa Bi is disregarded amid unfulfilled election promises and escalating conflict.

Echoed sentiments from refugees at Bushagala camp emphasize the enduring struggles and a plea for peace, underscoring the government’s failure to prioritize the safety and stability that citizens desperately seek.

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