Can Tshisekedi cut the eastern Gordian rope?

Author:Collins, Thomas
Position:Analysis / DRC

The eastern provinces in the vast DRC have been racked by violence for decades as a bewildering array of groups have been battling it out for all sorts of reasons. Former President Kabila simply ignored the troubles but current leader, Felix Tshisekedi (right) has pledged to solve the problem. What is he up against?

When Joseph Kabila's 18-year-long stranglehold over the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was partially brought to an end by Felix Tshisekedi's controversial ascent to office in January, many hoped the change of guard would signal a change of fortune for the war-torn country.

Arguably the most pressing issue to be faced is instability in DRC's eastern provinces; North and South Kivu and Ituri Province, on the Lake Albert border with Uganda.

Amid the violence, Ebola has killed more than 1,600 people in less than one year and the deadly virus has been reported in the North Kivu capital of Goma, which operates as a major access point to East Africa.

Kabila was happy to leave the region largely ungoverned provided the numerous rebel groups were no threat to his power in the capital Kinshasa, 2,500km away.

The former President was even hesitant to combat the Rwanda-backed M23 rebel group, which took control of Goma in 2013 and posed a serious threat to his rule.

Many now wonder whether Tshisekedi will bring a fresh approach or simply follow in his predecessor's footsteps.

The new President has begun his first year in office by making big promises. As part of his election campaign, Tshisekedi promised to raise the average wage from $1.25 to $11.75 a day.

He also claims to have devised a plan for the "complete eradication" of more than 120 armed groups in the eastern provinces.

His first foray into the region involves sending the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FADRC) into Ituri, which has experienced a flare-up of violence.

Experts, however, believe that Tshisekedi has neither the power nor ability to bring meaningful change.

Ituri flare-up

Since 10 June, more than 160 civilians have been killed in a longstanding conflict between Ituri's Lendu farmers and Hema herders. (See pages 62-63.)

On a three-day visit, Tshisekedi described the violence, which has led to over 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), as "attempted genocide".

According to the United Nations, more than 60,000 people were killed and over half a million displaced as a result of inter-ethnic clashes between the two groups from 1999 to 2003.

As the humanitarian situation worsened...

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