Link here: http://www.irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID=53459
Link here: www.irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID=53459
NEW YORK, 22 May 2006 (IRIN) - The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is a country at a crossroads. Its humanitarian situation ranks among the worst in the world, and it is just about to hold general elections that could usher in democracy and end years of unrest. Ross Mountain, the deputy special representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for the DRC, spoke to IRIN on Friday about the unrelenting humanitarian crisis, the security challenges of holding the first elections in 45 years, the need to ensure tangible progress after the votes are cast, and the "extraordinary thirst for moving ahead … and getting a new tomorrow".
QUESTION: You have called the situation in the DRC an "absent emergency", with 1,200 unnecessary deaths per day, 1.6 million internally displaced people and an ongoing protection crisis. How would you describe the situation now?
ANSWER: It's a humanitarian catastrophe. This high death rate is the direct result of the conflict, in that the services that would have ensured that this didn't happen have been destroyed. So, while we are seeing quite a number of people caught in crossfire, killed, murdered and raped, most of these [deaths] are people succumbing to disease, to dirty water, to malnutrition and neglect.
Q: Given the scale of the catastrophe, why do you think there hasn't been the sort of international attention one would have expected? Are you concerned that the DRC has been somehow eclipsed by other crises in the region?
A: I do understand that we are dealing with a situation in DRC where most of the world has seen it through the prism of the last 40 years of dishonest rule and corruption. It became a byword for a state that doesn't work.
So I appreciate that we are dealing with an attitude of My God, what can we do there after all? It's so huge, so vast. People have basically given up. With some exceptions, there has been more tokenism in terms of trying to deal with the problem than being able to focus on the enormity of the process.
The issue now is to help the DRC's friends - for example the donor missions in Congo - and to give them the political support they need to get people to allocate more [resources] above and beyond what has been the holding pattern previously. That's why I keep talking about a glass ceiling at the moment. We've actually arrived at the level where we were last year. We have a consolidated action plan, we've got more now than what we had in the CAP [Consolidated Appeal Process] last year, but that's not the calculation we need to make. For example, we have nongovernmental organisations in the action plan now. The amount that is pledged - but not paid - is about the amount that was forthcoming for all of last year.
We have had a couple of donors, the UK and Sweden, who have upped their ante. But that's why the advocacy is so important - if we get people to understand: (a) the enormity of the crisis and (b) the appropriateness, the importance of the moment, and that the country really is at a crossroads. The very bad news is the humanitarian [situation]; the good news is this extraordinary thirst for moving ahead and voting for the first elections in 45 years and getting a new tomorrow.
Q: Are you hoping the elections planned for 30 July will create a window of opportunity that will make people in the country, and those outside, realise that progress can now be made?
A: Yes, I'm certainly hoping that. But let me just say that the elections of course are not going to be a silver bullet. When you have a new government installed, it's not from one day to the next going to be able to solve the problems of corruption, of mismanagement, the breakdown of rule of law, and an army that is not adequately trained.
There is a need for the international community - and this is the third line in our action plan - to be able to help the government to deliver the results of “going democratic” and to be able to make a difference in the lives of the population. One widespread criticism heard over the three years that the transitional government has been in position is that it has not managed to substantially improve the quality of life for the population. It would be tragic if, after all this effort to get Congo back up on the rails, there was not that kind of support forthcoming.
This doesn't have to be forever. We're talking about a country that has enormous mineral resources - salt, diamonds, coltan, cobalt, timber, hydroelectric resources - some of which, alas, are being exploited now and smuggled out of the country, and is not benefiting the population.
Q: Coming back to the elections, what are your primary concerns during and after the election? What measures is the UN taking to counter these?
A: Frankly, one of our concerns, as humanitarians, is security-sector reform. We have to ensure that the army is paid, trained and those going back into civilian life are properly disarmed and reintegrated in appropriate programmes. I say this as a humanitarian because one of the greatest concerns of the population is to be free of the worry that they might be attacked at night and their wife and children raped, which unfortunately is all too frequent.
Human rights violations are largely, almost entirely, done by men in uniform. The bulk of them, unfortunately, are men in the uniform of the national army. They're inadequately paid, they're inadequately trained and they're inadequately led. This is such a priority for the future and for doing humanitarian work.
On the humanitarian side, we need more partners and more resources. Clearly, wherever possible, we would like to move out of the handout programme into programmes that re-establish infrastructure that can be sustainable. That's why in the action plan we have these half a dozen programmes that range from building up local capacity, to providing basic services through employment, through running local elections and reconciliation, programmes for getting arms out of society, and so on. These are areas that fast-track national strategy and are drawn from past experience on what needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency in order for stability to be promoted in society.
Q: So we can expect to see a rapid implementation of activities that will basically support the government in the post-election phase?
A: Inshallah [Arabic for God willing], as one says, but we need the resources and we're working on that. These programmes will be done with government mechanisms, particularly at the regional level. They will seek to show that the government is able to deliver services for its population so that the newly elected government legitimises itself by showing its value to the population.
Q: Do you currently have sufficient resources to put that plan into action?
A: No. All of these things are going on in parallel. The humanitarian work, the elections, have been very generously supported by the international community, very notably the European Commission and the European Union member states, who have accounted for much of the funding. With the extension of the time this is taking, we need more resources as well. So the plan is looking for significant, upfront investment. I would use the word "investment" because this is a country that has the opportunity of being extremely valuable in the whole regional context.
Q: You mention the need for security-sector reform. In this crucial phase of the election and post-election, how confident are you that MONUC [UN Mission in DRC] will be able to maintain control in some of the more far-flung districts?
A: First of all, we have 17,000 troops. This sounds a lot but is less than the number that was in Sierra Leone, which is a considerably smaller country. They regard the elections as the top priority right now, and they will be deployed in areas to facilitate the electoral process and to provide security as is possible. We also have MONUC police that are employed to that end as well.
That will not provide complete cover. Indeed, the UN Secretary-General about 18 months ago asked for another brigade of troops for Katanga [Province]. We didn't get it, and we now have 165,000 displaced persons in Katanga as a result of fighting.
At the request of the humanitarians, our military has deployed to Katanga with a very limited force. But it has made quite a difference. In Mitwaba [northern Katanga], less than 100 men have provided stability in an area, which was a serious humanitarian crisis, exacerbated by a brigade of the national army, who were basically preying on the civilian population.
We have excellent collaboration between humanitarians and our military. They recognise their active role in the protection of civilians. The [MONUC] force commander has been prepared to deploy in support of humanitarian operations as well, which is rather unique in my experience.
So I think we have a fair shot at managing the elections, but it's obviously going to be a challenge. It's a huge country and a huge operation. It's going to be important for those participating in the elections to see beyond them, in terms of the reconstruction of the country. It cannot be a winner takes all situation. One hopes that all the players will see that they have a role to play in the future political life of the Congo, not in armed opposition, but in the parliamentary opposition.