The Democratic Republic
of Congo (DRC) is one of the biggest countries in Africa, with
trillions of pounds' worth of mineral wealth beneath its fertile
soil. If this land and its minerals were properly managed, the
country could easily feed its population. Yet the DRC sits at the
bottom of world league tables - 187th out of 187 in the UN Human
Development Index - and half of its 30 million children are
Part of the reason for
this gross inequality is that the DRC is experiencing the world's
deadliest conflict since the Second World War, in which disease,
malnutrition, and murder have killed 5.4 million people since 1998.
One of the most disturbing aspects of the long-running conflicts is
the use of rape as a weapon of war, which has led Eastern Congo to
be dubbed "the rape capital of the world". More than half the women
and girls in the region are thought to have suffered sexual
It is impossible to
identify one single culprit or factor for fuelling the war.
Neighbouring countries have been accused of participating in the
conflict. The wider international community has neglected the
world's worst humanitarian situation, and repeatedly failed to
intervene in any decisive way. The political leadership of the DRC
is frequently inept and corrupt. Further back in history, Belgium,
the former colonial power, set in motion many of the causes of the
More recently, private
individuals and governments have plundered the DRC's mineral
resources for their own profit, stealing what should be the biggest
endowment for Congo's children.
But each culprit can also
be seen differently. Neighbouring countries have also been
traumatised by bloody conflicts. Creating a robust national
government is extremely difficult after generations of neglect have
left the most basic physical and social infrastructure
dysfunctional or absent.
It is also important to
recognise that the international community has ploughed hundreds of
millions of dollars of assistance into the DRC, but has struggled
to bring change when the causes of conflict are so complex and
The misuse of power and
the absence of leadership are at the heart of the problems of the
DRC. The words attributed to the 18th- century Irish philosopher
Edmund Burke resonate powerfully here: "All that is necessary for
the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."
What is needed is for
good men and women to lead and take action, locally and
internationally. Ivan Lewis MP, the Shadow International
Development Secretary, who has visited charity projects in the east
of the country, said: "In the DRC, the scale of the ambition has
yet to meet the scale of the challenge. It's time to do more to
break the cycle of conflict and extreme poverty."
He concluded that three
things are needed: security, politics, and development - a proper
force in place to protect civilians; a political solution to the
underlying and historical factors; and real investment in
development and governance, not just short-term humanitarian
Opportunities for this
exist, as African Union leaders and the UN discuss a stronger UN
presence in eastern DRC, and peace talks continue between the
Congolese government and rebels.
The response of charities
and development agencies needs to combine advocacy for change,
long-term development to empower communities, and continued
humanitarian relief, so that children and women in the DRC are
One approach is "citizen
voice and action" (CVA), which empowers communities and holds local
government more accountable. It has been successful in Afghanistan,
where a maternity unit in the Ghor province did not have a single
trained midwife, in an area the size of Leeds. After training in
CVA, people in the province lobbied local-government officials, and
there are now 200 midwives being trained across western
Afghanistan. Midwives are crucial to preventing death in childbirth
and protecting children, so the change is significant.
The temptation in the DRC
is to let the horror repel us, and the complexity cause us to
despair. As the American author Philip Gourevitch wrote in the
magazine The New Yorker (27 November 2012): "Oh,
Congo, what a wreck. It hurts to look and listen, and hurts to turn
We must not turn away. We
can each do something, whoever and wherever we are. As individuals,
we can help with the immediate humanitarian crisis by supporting
charities such as World Vision and others working in the DRC. We
can also promote political change by writing to MPs asking them to
press the Government, and to sign up to plans such as the
Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).
This movement is chaired
by the former Development Secretary Clare Short, and is aimed at
overcoming the "resource curse" - the phenomenon whereby countries
rich in natural resources such as oil and gas have tended to
under-perform economically, and have a higher incidence of conflict
and poor governance.
The DRC is a prime
example of this. So the EITI standard is designed to ensure that
companies disclose what taxes and royalties they pay, and
governments make this information public. In a country such as the
DRC, this information is crucial to ensuring that the population
receives a fair share of its wealth.
Two Congolese women
shared their thoughts with me when I visited them recently: "If we
can't prepare these women for new lives, our hearts will be broken
like theirs." Another told me: "We've lost a generation."
Please, God, let us not
turn aside. Please, God, act in and through us all.
Justin Byworth is the
chief executive of World Vision UK (www.world-vision.org.uk).