Written by Brad Calloway
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has fallen upon tough times for the past several hundred years. The influence of a string of oppressive rulers, coupled with its location at the heart of the largest African conflict in history, form what many observers see as the major raison d’être for the country’s current state. While “sexual violence” and “rebel groups” continue to be inseparable from the DRC in international headlines, one cannot ignore the recent events which have been showing signs of progress for the country.
One of the most publicized events in the DRC has been the groundbreaking trial of nine Congolese soldiers accused of raping 62 women in Fizi on New Years Day. Despite the outcome of the trial – which fell short of the widely expected death penalty for the accused – it marked the first time in DRC history that a Lieutenant Colonel has been sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for crimes against humanity.
The mobile court attributes its success not only to the funding by several NGOs, but also to the UN-funded City of Joy, a centre for rape victims. The newly opened centre, based in the eastern Congolese town of Bukavu, allowed for 49 victims of the New Years mass rape to gather and come forward as witnesses for the trial.
While this case proved to be monumental in domestic Congolese law, the International Criminal Court (ICC) made strides in the international arena by holding five court cases involving key rebel leaders from the DRC.
Outside the court room, central rebel leader Samuel Bisengimana of the FDLR recently peacefully surrendered to the UN mission in the Congo. His surrender is expected to bring an increase in resignations and a decrease in morale within one of the largest rebel groups plaguing the eastern DRC.
Economically speaking, the Paris Club, a group of 16 industrialized countries, recently decided to alleviate and reschedule half of the $6 billion debt owed to the group by the DRC. As a result of the debt write-off, coupled with increased investment in the country’s mining industry, the Congolese government was able to acquire a $77 million loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). With a $300 million investment from China for a hydroelectric power plant, and Zimbabwe now importing electricity from the DRC, it is of little surprise that the Congolese economy is expected to increase by 6.6% by the end of 2011. Although this series of fortunate events have not alleviated the DRC of its many problems, consecutive signs of progress should not be taken for granted.