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DR CONGO: Election Promises of Peace and Security

Badylon Kawanda Bakiman

KIKWIT, DR Congo, Nov 12 2011 (IPS) - The 11 candidates contesting presidential elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo all pledge to improve peace and security in the country – promises received with varying degrees of scepticism by Congolese voters.

“Our ambition is to provide our country with 150,000 soldiers and 200,000 police officers – well- trained personnel – with a view to greater stability in terms of both national defence and public security,” declared Prime Minister Adolphe Muzito on Nov. 4, as he announced the campaign platform of the Presidential Majority, the group which is campaigning for another term for the incumbent president, Joseph Kabila.

Muzito believes that reforms of the army, police and security services which are already under way are on the right path. “The improvement in pay, with the objective of paying every last soldier and police officer more than 100 U.S. dollars (a month), as well as the cleaning up of staff, will contribute to the establishment of a strong army and national police.”

DRC’s army in particular includes large numbers of poorly-trained personnel, former members of armed groups who have been absorbed into the national army. Training – and in some cases dismissing – unsuitable fighters is a key task facing the government.

Meanwhile, insecurity remains a pressing problem, particularly in the east of the country. Members of the national army, as well as fighters belonging to the country’s myriad rebel groups, have been implicated in widespread assault, murder, rape and terrorisation of the population.

The National Strategy for the Fight Against Gender-Based Violence, a document published in 2010 by the Ministry for Gender, the Family and Children, estimates that six million people have been killed or displaced by DRC’s successive wars, the majority of these women and children.

“The growing number of attacks by armed men against civilians has forced tens of thousands of people in (the eastern provinces of) North and South Kivu to flee,” notes the DRC chapter of the International Committee of the Red Cross on its website.

According to an independent study carried out recently for the ICRC, 76 percent of the country’s population has been affected by the armed conflict. Fifty-eight percent have been displaced from their homes; nearly half have lost a close relative; and more than one in four people know someone who has suffered sexual violence.

Working with responses provided by a nationwide sample of more than 3,400 women in the country’s most recent Demographic and Health Survey, U.S. researchers calculate that between 1.7 and 1.8 million Congolese women have been raped in their lifetime: over 400,000 reported having been raped in the year preceding the data collection in 2007.

In an article published in the American Journal of Public Health in June, the study’s authors – Amber Peterman of the International Food Policy Research Institute, Tia Palermo of the School of Medicine at Stony Brook University and the World Bank’s Caryn Bredenkamp – also report that more than one in five women surveyed reported suffering sexual violence from their husbands or partners – leading them to suggest future policy.

Yet Muzito did not set out clearly what President Kabila will do to fight against gender-based violence, if he is re-elected.

“The improvement of working conditions for magistrates and measures to boost morale in the justice sector aims to establish a judicial system better able to guarantee the rights and freedoms of citizens, and to put an end to the impunity that has been so widely condemned,” he explained.

Vital Kamerhe, who is running against Kabila as the presidential candidate for the opposition Union for the Congolese Nation, has offered a more concrete proposal: “If we are elected, we will put in place a joint international court to try and severely punish the perpetrators of rape and violence against women.”

Kamerhe, a former ally of Kabila who served as president of the National Assembly from 2006 to 2009, says the joint court would have competent and incorruptible judges who would be well paid – all part of measures to ensure the judicial system is well equipped to end impunity.

“For good security, we will have a well-trained army and police, strong and very well paid,” he adds.

“The 150,000 troops and 200,000 police called for by (Kabila’s Presidential Majority) will prove insignificant for a country of 2,245,000 square kilometres and around 63 million inhabitants,” says Viviane Lengelo, president of the Network of Women in Action for Integrated Development in DRC. However, she strongly supports the creation of a joint international court for gender-based violence. “Women have suffered so much for nothing.”

Politicians’ promises don’t seem to have convinced a sceptical public. “Simple demagoguery,” says Rose Muntupanza, a farmer in Bandundu, in the southwest of DRC. “For years now we have heard so many honeyed words – but without concrete actions.”

“Promises are only promises,” agrees Mbuta Mwashi, a member of the Union of Mobutuist Democrats, one of the 400+ political parties. “We are waiting for concrete action.”

“To ensure security for all citizens in a country as large as the DRC is not easy – a country where women suffer from violence of all kinds,” says Laurent Bwenia Muhenia, of the African Association for the Defence of Human Rights, a local civil society organisation. The winner of the elections must respect his promises, “if not, that will not go down well with the population, above all with women,” he added.

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