When Laurent Kabila was installed as president of Zaire in 1997, he changed its name to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. After he was assassinated by one of his body guards in 2001, his son Joseph Kabila succeeded him 10 days later.
At the time that Joseph Kabila became president, there were lingering historical challenges related to rebel and ethnic violence that the Lusaka ceasefire agreement had attempted to address in 1999. A United Nations peacekeeping mission was formed in 2000 to monitor the ceasefire.
Following years of economic and political decline, the war of 1998-2002 led to extreme violence, massive population displacement and widespread rape.
In 2002, the Sun City Agreement and Pretoria Accord put an official end to the civil war. Rival parties signed a peace agreement in Sun City, South Africa, laying down a framework for a peaceful and democratic transition and creating a transitional power-sharing government. The deal was backed by a separate agreement between the Congolese and Rwandan governments, providing for the withdrawal of Rwandan troops from DR Congo.
Despite these formal peace agreements, violence continues in eastern Congo, causing loss of life and uprooting families. The International Rescue Committee reports that the number of deaths related to the conflict, either directly or indirectly, since 1998 is estimated to be 2.5 million.
DR Congo is the world’s least developed country in terms of life expectancy, education, standard of living and key health indicators such as maternal and child mortality. The state provides little in the way of protection and basic services to its people, who continue to suffer from poverty and neglect.
After being elected in 2006, Joseph Kabila was re-elected in 2011 in a disputed election. Later this year, key elections are to take place again.
Since 1994, Mennonite Central Committee has been working with the Église du Christ au Congo (ECC), the umbrella organization of the Congolese Protestant churches, in support of peace in DR Congo especially in the eastern part of the country. The support from MCC and other organizations has helped build the capacity of the ECC, which has carried out election monitoring to help ensure transparent and credible elections.
In the midst of complex conflict dynamics, there is a great need for support from the United States and others in the international community to support the electoral process and institutions, such as the Electoral Management Body and civil society organizations.
Diplomatic assistance, as well as resources for electoral equipment, personnel and logistics should be prioritized. This assistance would help encourage and build the resilience of Congolese in their desire for good governance, peace and sustainable development and could be a first step toward sustained peace and stability in the country.
Charles Kwuelum is Legislative Associate for International Affairs in the MCC U.S. Washington Office. Story originally published on May 13, 2016. Reprinted with permission from Third Way Cafe.