In many parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), outside aid is finally beginning to arrive to needy people (Background Report). The country has only recently emerged from a civil war which lasted almost five years and killed millions of people. It involved several other countries and even now that it is officially ended, rebel gangs still roam the countryside in several areas. Occasionally, they fall back into violence and when they do, about all the authorities can do is count the bodies when it is all over.
As aid workers arrive with their food and medical supplies, they are often greeted by rifle-toting rebel militias. Sometimes, the rebels simply observe; sometimes, they liberate the supplies for themselves. Historically, it has been supposed that most of these rebels are not Congolese but rather from neighboring countries, particularly Rwanda and Uganda. Although those neighbors deny any recent involvement, a United Nations report issued this week disagrees. The UN prepared this report for the Security Council and it has not been made public but a portion of it has recently been leaked in the Rwandan capital, Kigali. It accuses both Rwanda and Uganda of continuing to supply weaponry to rebel factions within the troubled DRC province of Ituri as recently as two months ago. Again, there is denial but local wisdom would suggest the UN is more than likely to be correct.
Various aid agencies have been working against incredible odds in DRC ever since the civil war officially ended and the chances of them helping while keeping themselves alive improved. This week, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) announced that it has finally been able to complete a delivery of aid to the isolated northwestern province of Equateur. Even in good times, this is a remote area with difficult travel and ICRC notes that it will probably be December before they can line up the logistics to make another delivery.
But it is estimated that more than half a million people remain displaced across DRC in addition to perhaps an equal number who fled violence in Ituri earlier this year and crossed the border into Uganda. Local citizens are grateful that there is a functioning central government in Kinshasa but they are quite clear that it has made little difference to them so far. Worse, it is clear that tensions are again on the rise in the eastern provinces of Ituri and the Kivus. Foreign rebels remain on DRC soil and it appears that further violence is simmering just below the surface. A common refrain among the Congolese is that "the war is over, or at least it's over for now."
Experts and observers in the area say that addressing the underlying cause of the war, poverty, would go a long way toward easing the tensions. A local UN official, wishing anonymity, has said: "Western donors have promised millions in aid to the transitional government, but delivered little."
In one positive note, hundreds of foreign rebels and their families are currently being processed for repatriation to their own countries. Most of them arrived during the civil war and they are now anxious to go home. Most of these rebels are Ugandan but there are also Burundians, Rwandans and Sudanese. A DRC government spokesperson says these people have voluntarily asked to go home and the DRC government is helping in the process.
YellowTimes.org correspondent Paul Harris drafted this report.