Since its founding, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been riddled with conflict. The Second Congo War (2003-2016) and its ongoing violent aftermath in the east of the country comprised the bloodiest conflict since World War II. More violence flared up at the end of 2016, when President Joseph Kabila failed to hold elections at the arrival of his constitutionally-mandated two-term limit. In the end, the government and opposition agreed to a deal brokered by the Roman Catholic Church under which Kabila would remain in office until elections in late 2017 but rule with a new premier chosen from the opposition as well as a transitional watchdog.
Recently, a spotlight has been placed on the ethnic conflict tearing across the nation’s Kasai region. It began in August 2016, when government security forces railed to recognize a local chief called Kamwina Nsapu. In retaliation, Nsapu founded a militia group named after himself. He was soon killed in subsequent clashes with government forces; since his death, the militia has split into various factions and conflict has spread to five different provinces.
There have been over 3,000 deaths, and the UN has discovered dozens of mass graves. Both the militia groups and security forces have been accused of egregious human rights violations, with reports of civilians’ homes and crops being burned down, people being drowned or hacked to death by machetes, and pregnant women having their children cut out of their wombs.
The result has been a massive influx of refugees into northern Zambia. Each day, it’s estimated that between 60 and 100 individuals cross its border with the DRC, the total number of Congolese refugees reaching about 30,000 earlier this month. A full 60% of these are children who have walked hundreds of kilometers by themselves over the course of several weeks and show signs of disease, malnutrition, and trauma. According to UN’s children agency, UNICEF, as of July, violence in the Kasai region had displaced at least 850,000 children. The UN Human Rights Council has assisted the Zambian government and Zambian Red Cross in the distribution of food, tents, mosquito nets, and hygiene materials and has started to build another refugee camp to address overcrowding.
On October 29th, the head of the UN food agency appealed for aid to avert a humanitarian crisis in Kasai, asserting that more than three million people are at risk of death by starvation. The World Food Programme currently possesses only 1% of the funding required to address this issue. The imminent rainy season will soon render many roads impassable, but delivering aid by air would cause costs to skyrocket. The response remains to be seen.