click http://cmlsociety.org/wp-includes/shortcodes.php geneva;”>The fall of Goma has been accompanied by the killing and wounding of scores of civilians – many of them children.
Tens of thousands of civilians have fled, and many journalists, human rights defenders, and local officials have received death threats from M23.
At a crisis meeting over the weekend, regional leaders said the fighters must leave Goma before any negotiations could be held with them.
This weekend, the military commander of M23 rebels in the DRC’s east has said his troops will begin to withdraw from recently captured towns, but said 100 fighters would remain at Goma’s airport.
M23 spokesman Lt Col VianneyKazarama told Reuters that a handover ceremony would take place on Friday in Goma, where a UN peacekeeping contingent is based.
Following the rebel capture of Goma, the UN has warned of a growing humanitarian crisis in the mineral-rich region.
Aid officials said the fighting has made camps for people displaced by earlier conflicts inaccessible, with food and medicines running short.
Some five million people died during the 1997-2003 DR Congo conflict, which drew in several regional countries.
Both Uganda and Rwanda strongly deny UN accusations that they are backing the M23.
This is a briefing by ActionAid on the latest developments in Congo.
- LUCY WANJIKU – Opens with introductions to the panel and background on issue (3 mins)
- WOMEN FROM GOMA – Give Personal Reflections on what is happening (2 mins each)
- FLORENCE MWENGE FROM DRC: (3 mins)
- Goma is calm but tense. No fighting in the city. Most businesses and some banks are open. Schools are closed.
- Shortage of cash in banks: There is reportedly a shortage of cash in Goma. Some INGO are having problem getting the cash needed to run activities.
- It is assessed that shortage of cash may lead to social unrest on the long run. The new administration will have to pay government employees at some point, which may cause disruptions, protests and unrest.
- Goma airport closed. According to relevant heads of humanitarian agencies, MONUSCO is preventing the opening of the airport. The rationale is that if the airport did open, it would seem as if the M23 is settling in Goma and assuming administration.
- The humanitarian community has been suggested to advocate with MONUSCO for a reopening of the airport, both to assist humanitarian assistance and to facilitate possible evacuations. Other landing areas, such as stadiums may be explored by some humanitarian agencies.
- M23 Dynamics: There are reports of M23 movement in and out of Goma; however, at this time, it cannot be ascertained if there is a reduction of M23 troops in the city.
- Some members of M23 are reportedly involved in looting government assets-including vehicles and possibly ammunition.
- Looting at private properties is also reported. The movement is also reportedly asking for taxes on transport, but it has not yet affected the INGOs.
- The humanitarian needs of those affected by the recent round of fightingare huge. The UN estimates that there are approximately 140,000 IDPs living in 12 camps and spontaneous settlements in and around Goma. ActionAid is working with approximately 17,000 of these IDPs in the eastern province of North Kivu.
- Basic needs for food, water, and shelter are key at this stage. Food security is increasingly being compromised by a combination of increasing food prices (partially as a result of taxes imposed by M23 at roadblocks) and limited agricultural productivity (a consequence of farmers being unable to access their land due to continued insecurity).
- One groundnut seller ActionAid spoke to in Goma reported that the price of 100kg bag of groundnuts had risen by 33% (from $60 to $80) since the recent upsurge in fighting. Similarly, a 25kg bag of rice has jumped from $12 to $35 in the past week.
- Yesterday, after a long period of obstruction, ActionAid received confirmation that it can now re-enter North Kivu, where we are supporting 17,000 internally displaced people and where we are the sole humanitarian actor.
- Seventy percent of the population is returning home. Our task now is to support the most vulnerable to meet their immediate food and sanitation needs, but to also re build homes and support them to re-establish their livelihoods.
- ActionAid will target its support to pregnant women, orphan headed households, handicapped people and children under two years of age.
- In addition ActionAid will be working with partners to not rebuild schools destroyed by conflict in Kivu and to rehabilitate children back into education.
- JOHN ABUYA: From IECT (2 mins)
- ActionAid is calling on Heads of State to:
- Bring an immediate end to all fighting and engage in peace negotiations that will lay the foundation for sustainable peace.
- Provide immediate security and safety to innocent civilians, particularly women and girls, by ensuring the UN peacekeeping force does the job it is mandated to do and eventually through setting up a working and effective police force.
- Ensure that affected populations are included in the peace negotiations. Our experience shows that women bring a different perspective to peace discussions. Their role in ending the conflict and restoring peace in their communities is fundamental, and one that those responsible for signing peace deals cannot afford to overlook. Here with ActionAid today are three women from the Sautiya – a women’s network in DRC.
- We want them to be granted access to the East Africa Heads of State Summit alongside ActionAid to demand that women be given the space to influence the decisions being taken on the country’s future.
OPEN TO QUESTIONS FROM JOURNALISTS
What AA must avoid:
- Criticizing other charities.
- Taking a political side on the conflict.
Answers to controversial questions:
- Britain and other donors bankrolled flawed elections that handed power to a greedy elite incapable of constructing a viable state isn’t that right?
(To legitimise Joseph Kabila the aid donors paid for and organised two elections, each costing more than a billion dollars. In 2011 that came out of a national budget of £4.6 billion ($7.3 billion). The elections satisfied the western political need to give Kabila international legitimacy so he could now receive aid. But the elections in Congo divided rather than united.)
No one would describe the last presidential elections in DRC as anything but seriously flawed. There are certainly valid questions to be asked of donors and the rest of the “international community” concerning not just that election, but how and why the shaky political structure of DRC has been allowed to stay in place with no significant efforts at reform for over ten years.
But donors would also say, in the short term, what other choice was there than to try to run a democratic election? The previous election was described by most as better than expected, so there were grounds for hope.
And once they took place, what should they have done – insisted on an expensive re-run, with no better guarantee of a fair result?
In short: ActionAid believes that greater efforts must be made to give the people of DRC a democratic and fair choice about how they wish to be governed. We also acknowledge that there are tremendous complexities to be dealt with in making that happen.
We hope that the unfortunate events of recent weeks can serve as a catalyst for reflection on the state of DRC’s government and a spur to discuss genuine reform of the country’s democratic structures.
2. Are cash hungry NGO’s using the conflict in DRC as a way of raising funds in a difficult economic environment?
No. Given the widely acknowledged gaps in governance and provision of services in eastern DRC, our focus is on ensuring that vulnerable peoples are protected and provided with adequate life-preserving services, leading to restoration of homes and livelihoods so that they can attain self-sufficiency as soon as possible.
We can’t do this without funds, but any funds we raise are used for the benefit of vulnerable people in DRC, and are fully reported on and audited.
- Are NGO’s exaggerating the use of rape as a weapon of war – particularly in DRC – as a means of raising funds?
No. The DRC has tragically become ground zero for innovative uses of sexual violence in modern war. While it is very hard to get reliable statistics on how many people are abused, no one argues that the numbers are anything less than staggering, and no one could argue that the fear of such assaults is a major factor in the response of vulnerable people to moves by any armed groups. That said, ActionAid specifically does not claim that it can stop the use of rape as a weapon, nor are we specialists in treating the victims of such crimes.
- With all this talk of responsibility to the people of DRC, what is AA doing? What will it do if it regains access to affected communities?
In the areas where we work – our local rights programs (LRPs) – we need to insure that the needs of both internally displaced persons (IDPs) and the host communities are being met, and their rights respected.
There are an estimated 17,000 IDPs in one of our LRPs. Supplying them with life-preserving services is a massive undertaking, and ActionAid will work with all available partners to make sure it is happening efficiently.
At all times, our goal is to restore communities to self-sufficiency as soon as possible, and to create the conditions that allow people to defend their rights – both to life and well-being and political rights of participation and justice.
- Has aid made matters worse in DRC? What has wrecked the Congo is not lack of aid. It is politics. Aid has probably made things worse by offering development which may never be delivered?
The causes of DRC’s problems are numerous, but aid cannot be credibly listed among them. The fact that so much of the aid delivered must be provided on an emergency basis, rather than for medium or long term development projects, means that it is primarily preserving life rather than advancing development. That must change.
For it to change, the competition for political control and material wealth must be tamed to the point where plans can be made, and projects both initiated and completed.
- Should Congo come under UN mandate?
No. The people of DRC are not incapable of governing themselves, and ActionAid will not be party to any suggestion that they be denied that right.
Solutions to the current conflicts are difficult, but can and must be found. On a more practical level, the UN has not succeeded in winning the trust of the people in eastern DRC, so such a suggestion would be very unlikely to win the trust of the people – and no other institution has the legitimacy to fill that role.
- Unfortunately, and embarrassingly for the British and American governments, Rwanda and Uganda, their closest allies in the region, have been accused by a well-researched United Nations report, as the suppliers of weapons to M23. The US tried to suppress the report. The British suspended aid to Rwanda. On his last day at DfidMitchell restored it. What is AA’s stance on this?
The causes and responsibilities for the situation in eastern DRC are so complex that ActionAid will not claim it knows the full truth, nor that it could determine the right course of action for donor or regional governments in all matters.
We do, however, know that withdrawal of aid is a serious decision with consequences that affect the most vulnerable people quicker and more deeply than they affect government officials.
Already projections for development outcomes in Rwanda are being recalculated because of the withdrawals of several major donors. While there may be undeniable political imperatives in dispensing or withholding funds, they must be weighed against the impacts on the ground for people who benefit from quality aid programming.
- M23 spokesman Lt Col VianneyKazarama told Reuters that a handover ceremony would take place on Friday in Goma, where a UN peacekeeping contingent is based. Do we know anything about this? Do we think this will happen? What impact will this have?
We have no reliable information.
- Surely the answer is for or the UN to send in an army and rid DRC of M23? Why are aid agencies suggesting otherwise?
Aid agencies with experience in DRC know that any proposal that expresses certitude is probably under informed.
They also know that there are an estimated 40 armed groups in the region, and that vulnerable peoples in many places place no more trust in, nor express any less of, the FARDC (national army), and also have multiple complaints against some UN forces, including reported abuses.
For anyone who values the preservation of life and the restoration of order, the only sensible hope is for a complete end to armed actions and interventions, and the settlement of disputes through negotiations instead.