On May 1, 2021, President Félix Tshisekedi announced an “état de siège” – effectively martial law – in Ituri and North Kivu, two eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The état de siège has been prolonged no fewer than 22 times. But violence continues to worsen: abductions have more than doubled and destruction of property has trebled over the last year.
By some estimations, DRC has seen the deadliest conflict globally since World War II. More than five million people remain displaced. All DRC’s eastern neighbours have interests in its security, and are far closer to the conflict than DRC’s capital Kinshasa. Uganda, for example, is keen to secure the route of a pipeline destined to export its rich but landlocked oil reserves.
The east’s estimated 1,000 artisanal gold mines produce probably 8-10 tonnes of the precious metal each year, but only two percent of that is legally exported from DRC itself. Much of the rest is smuggled across borders and sold there, boosting the neighbours’ tax receipts and the wealth of the well-placed smugglers.
The Congolese army, Ugandan forces, and the UN’s largest peacekeeping mission, MONUSCO, have all been playing their part in a big push against the region’s myriad armed groups. A summit chaired by Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta on April 21 agreed to deploy a new regional force in eastern DRC, issuing an ultimatum to the armed groups to engage in dialogue or face the consequences. Military action shifts the problem elsewhere, as armed groups simply move to new areas. It does not solve it.
For every three Congolese soldiers supposedly deployed in the east, only one is actually fighting: of the other two, one is fictitious (their salary used to pad officers’ pockets), and one deployed to guard a mine, securing the army’s revenues from DRC’s mineral wealth.