CIVICUS speaks about the ongoing protests against the United Nations (UN) Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), MONUSCO, with social activists Espoir Ngalukiye and Sankara Bin Kartumwa.
Espoir and Sankara are members of LUCHA (Lutte Pour Le Changement), a civil society organisation (CSO) that advocates for human dignity and social justice in the DRC. It has played a role in peaceful protests against MONUSCO.
What triggered the anti-MONUSCO protests?
The eastern region of the DRC has faced security issues for over three decades. People are protesting for MONUSCO to leave because its strategy to maintain peace has failed.
MONUSCO was deployed to restore peace in the DRC by protecting civilians, facilitating safe electoral processes and fighting rebel groups. But it has been in the country for close to 20 years and the opposite has happened: the number of armed groups has risen, people continue to live in unsafe conditions and innocent lives are being lost despite the presence of MONUSCO.
It was the peacekeeping mission’s job to prevent that happening, but it has not served us diligently and has proven to be useless. Right now, extremely high levels of violence are causing many people to migrate in search of safety. This alone is evidence enough that the peacekeeping mission has failed.
Many people in local communities do not have a good relationship with MONUSCO because they believe the mission has not taken up its role to protect them. Civilians’ lack of trust, in turn, makes it challenging for MONUSCO to carry out its mandate. But if it was effective, people would not be protesting against it.
How have the authorities responded to protesters’ demands?
The immediate response has been violence by both MONUSCO and the Congolese authorities. We have seen people injured and killed just because they were part of the protests. People are angry because security issues have been ongoing for years, and MONUSCO should have seen this coming: it was only a matter of time before people started acting on their anger towards the mission. MONUSCO should have come up with ways to deal with the situation without people having to lose their lives.
As for the Congolese authorities, they have arrested people unlawfully. Most people who have been detained are facing terrible conditions in prison and our concern is that they all get justice. We do not want them to be tortured for fighting for their rights.
The UN Secretary-General has condemned the violence and called for the Congolese government to investigate it. But the demand for MONUSCO’s departure has not been addressed, and protesters say they will not stop demonstrating until MONUSCO leaves.
Unfortunately, the Congolese authorities have not addressed our concerns either. From our standpoint, they will be the next to be targeted because they have been elected and are paid to protect us. If they cannot live up to their responsibilities, we will hold them accountable. They must join their voice to ours and ask MONUSCO to leave.
What is civil society in general, and LUCHA in particular, doing to help improve the situation?
LUCHA is a CSO that advocates for change in a non-violent manner. We have tried to show people it is possible to advocate for change without using violence. Our members have participated in protests against MONUSCO, which we believe are legitimate and constitutional, so we also demand non-violence and respect for the law on the government’s part. Our country has a violent history, and we would like to change that narrative.
We are an organisation led by young people who have experienced war and conflict and want to see a better society emerge, and a better future for all. We struggle for Congolese people and their right to have access to basic needs, starting with living in a safe environment. We have members on the ground in the areas where the protests are happening, and their role is to monitor the situation and report on the events taking place.
LUCHA is using our social media accounts to inform people in and outside the DRC about the situation and how it is impacting on so many innocent lives. We hope this will create awareness and push the authorities to address our demands.
Our monitors on the ground also work to ensure protesters do not employ violence, but this has proven to be a challenge because most people are tired and at this point they are willing to do whatever it takes to get MONUSCO to leave, even if it means using violence.
What should the international community do to help?
The international community has been hypocritical and has always prioritised their own needs. It is unfortunate that the recent events are happening in a mineral-rich area of our country. Many powerful people have interests there and are willing to do anything to ensure they are protected. That is why so few countries are speaking up against what is happening.
Geography also puts us at a disadvantage. Maybe if we were Ukraine our voices would have mattered but we are the DRC, and international players only care about our resources and not our people. But the people who are getting killed in the DRC are human beings who have families and lives and dreams just like the ones being killed in Ukraine.
The international community must understand that we need peace and security, and that MONUSCO has failed to deliver and needs to leave our country. It must listen to the voice of the people who are sovereign. Listening to the people will be the only way to stop the protests. Trying to stop them any other way will lead to more violence and more deaths.