/ 13 November 2008

Kinshasa fears spread of DRC conflict

There are growing fears in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that the Nord-Kivu conflict could escalate, with the potential to bring violence to the normally far-removed capital, Kinshasa.

With rebel leader Laurent Nkunda threatening to oust the government unless it agrees to direct negotiations, and the United Nations hesitating to send more peacekeepers, people in Kinshasa are increasingly concerned about the conflict.

”The blood of our brothers has been shed enough,” said post office worker Tina (30), referring to the violence going on more than 1 500km away.

”The government must negotiate with the CNDP [Nkunda’s National Congress for the Defence of the People] in order to avoid war flaring up all over the country,” she added.

The CNDP, formed in 2006, has regularly clashed with the DRC army (FARDC) in the east of the vast country, which is bigger than the whole of Western Europe.

But since the end of August, the clashes there have intensified.

More than 250 000 people have been displaced by the violence, according to the UN. The New York-based Human Rights Watch has put the number of civilians killed at more than 100.

Nkunda has threatened to sweep away the government, which is refusing to negotiate directly with his group.

The stalemate is forcing people to reflect on how the conflict can be resolved without any further escalation of violence.

The concerns are real among a population that watched the last rebellion to bloom in eastern DRC reach all the way to the capital itself, when Laurent Desire Kabila, the current president’s assassinated father, overthrew the long-time dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in mid-1997 and declared himself president.

”We want peace and reconciliation between the Congolese people,” said Caroline, who owns a small business.

”We are fed up with these repeated wars. Papa Kabila [President Joseph Kabila] only has to negotiate to establish peace,” added Jeanne, who runs a restaurant and is a supporter of the Unified Lumumbist Party, which supported Kabila in a presidential run-off in 2006.

Kabila came to power in 2001 and was returned in 2006 pledging to return peace to the strategically positioned country rich in natural resources.

”The solution is dialogue,” said Bruno, a police officer.

”The armed forces are not paid properly or regularly, don’t expect FARDC to be victorious,” he said.

But for some Kinshasa residents, a return to peace can only come through the use of force.

”Force is necessary to crush Nkunda and [Paul] Kagame [the Rwandan president], who are just puppets of the West in order to help themselves to our natural resources,” said Masmu, a 58-year-old actor.

Kinshasa accuses neighbouring Rwanda of supporting the CNDP, a charge that Kigali has denied.

”The military option is the way out of this slaughter,” added another man named Herady.

Junior, a shoe-shine, however, said he still found it difficult to worry about this far-flung war.

The 23-year-old struggles to makes ends meet in a country where three-quarters of the population live on less than a dollar a day.

”I have to fight to earn my living,” he said. ”I am ready to welcome who ever beings me happiness, whether it is Nkunda, Kabila or someone else.” — Sapa-AFP