By Georges Budagu Makoko
The people of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) continue to suffer from chronic wars and conflicts that have lasted decades. Hundreds of armed groups have devastated the country; millions of people have lost their lives; millions more live in desperate circumstances; still more millions wander the world looking for a safe place to call home. For those of us whose lives have been directly touched – as well as others who empathize with our pain – the lack of political will to protect the innocent on the part of people in power is devastating.
I was invited to participate in the third Inter-Congolese Peace Consultation in Nairobi, Kenya, from November 28-December 4, along with hundreds of participants from the eastern part of the Congo representing different armed groups, as well as civil society. We all gathered at the Safari Park High Hotel.
The initiative was sponsored by the East African Community under the mediation leadership of the former president of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta. I was filled with great anticipation and hope at the start of mediation, on behalf of my own people, and of all the people of DR Congo. I am from one of the minority tribes in DR Congo that has suffered tremendous loss as a result of the decades-long conflict.
The opening words of the November 30 session by Kenyatta were inspirational as he called on all participants to come together and actively work to build up the country, as well as the entire beautiful African continent. Our common enemy is not any particular tribe, he said – it is poverty, problems with healthcare, and illiteracy. He noted that finding solutions to these issues is not possible when gunshots are constantly ringing out. In life we can make choices about who we take as our friends, he said, but the Lord has given us neighbors – we have to respect them despite our differences, and we are wrong to try and remove them from our neighborhoods.
President Felix Tshisekedi’s Special Envoy Serge Tshibangu also spoke early on, encouraging armed groups who were not present at the mediation to join the talks. He said that any armed group that engaged in acts of violence during the negotiations would be immediately excluded from the peace talks, and prosecuted.
We were still in the early stages of the talks, and filled with optimism, when devastating news arrived: seven people had been killed, and 10 more wounded, in a Banyamulenge village, as a result of attacks conducted by some of the armed groups that were sitting right next to us during the peace talks. My tribe is the Banyamulenge, and our team decided to suspend participation, and demand that those responsible be excluded from the peace talks – as Tshisekedi’s envoy had promised during his opening session. This demand was not granted. A second episode of violence also took place, resulting in the massacre of 300 residents of Gishihe village of eastern Congo. The Tshisekedi government alleged that M23, a rebel militia group that had not been invited to participate in the talks, was behind the massacre. M23 denies the allegations.
The international community, led by the United Nations, should conduct investigations of these atrocities, and all those perpetrated against innocent people. My hope is that peace talks will continue and will bring about a durable peace in DR Congo. But this can only happen when the political will is there, not only from all the armed groups, but also from the Congolese government, and the international community. Meanwhile, innocent people continue to suffer while the world watches. I call on those invested with power and influence to support the process of peace in DR Congo.