In April Felix Tshisekedi, president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), visited the United States. Controversy and protests around his victory in the long-delayed presidential election linger on, even as the transition and transfer of power has been described as the most peaceful since DR Congo’s independence.
In Washington Tshisekedi met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to discuss U.S.-DR Congo relations, including Tshisekedi’s “change agenda,” which includes attracting U.S. investments to the country. In light of the humanitarian crisis facing DR Congo, the meeting raises questions about the politicians’ priorities.
As of December 2018, there were about 4.5 million Congolese people displaced from their homes. They have been forced to flee as a result of violence in North and South Kivu, Ituri and Kasai regions, as well as political tensions around parliamentary elections. In August 2018 camps of more than 200,000 internally displaced people in North Kivu and Tanganyika provinces were closed despite unprecedented humanitarian needs.
In eastern DR Congo, displacements continue to increase as a result of excessive rains and flooding that have destroyed homes and livelihoods. In addition, they are experiencing the world’s worst Ebola outbreak, according to the World Health Organization. Attacks on health workers by armed groups have impaired combating the spread of Ebola.
Other Congolese have sought refuge in neighboring nations. As of February 2019, 826,000 refugees were hosted in Angola, Zambia and other neighboring nations. Some have been forced to return home to communities that are not rebuilt or safe. They often lack adequate food and health care, in addition to being stigmatized.
Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) supports the work of the Mennonite Church of Congo, the Mennonite Brethren Church and the Evangelical Mennonite Church of Congo to distribute food, hygiene kits and other emergency relief items to vulnerable people displaced by violence. MCC also supports Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities in North and South Kivu to help break cycles of violence and restore dignity through trauma awareness training.
One of the most urgent issues that should be addressed in U.S.-DR Congo relations is how to address the humanitarian crisis. The efforts of organizations like MCC are not enough to adequately address the enormous humanitarian needs. DR Congo’s government and the international community must prioritize and support programs that help rebuild the lives of those displaced by violence. According to USAID, the U.S. government obligated about $363 million in Fiscal Year 2018 humanitarian funding for DR Congo, but more is needed.
Ask your members of Congress to support poverty-focused development assistance and peacebuilding programs in the appropriations process. As Christians, we are reminded that “a generous person will be enriched, and one who gives water will get water” (Proverbs 11:25). Support MCC’s work in DR Congo.
Photo: People who have been displaced from their homes walk through a field in Baraka, Fizi, South Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The group has received support from MCC and the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. MCC photo/Mulanda Jimmy Juma.