When we think of Africa on our part of the Mediterranean, it is impossible to build a precise image of this continent, so large and heterogeneous, for the most unknown and for everyone fascinating and mysterious. Although unknowingly, it is, however, likely that if and when we try, our first, confused thought is directed directly to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). An immense country that has changed its name five times and that Africa is perhaps the archetype: in its geography, history and society it is an extremely varied, composite reality and rich in contradictions. The course of its river, Congo, is not straightforward. During its trip along thousands of miles it crosses a dense equatorial forest, but it also touches the savannah and high altitudes up to 5,000 meters. The river also divides Kinshasa, the capital, from Brazzaville, the capital of the other Congo, and has for centuries been a reference point for more than four hundred ethnic groups living in the region. The DRC holds an immense treasure of natural and mining resources, has experienced a rapid and strong economic growth, but its people are among the poorest in the world and its political structure remains deeply unstable. Its history is complex, as complex was the decolonization process. The present RDC gained independence in 1960, but, 57 years later, the stabilization process has not yet been completed.
Joseph Kabila governs the country since 2001, when he succeeded the murdered father assuming office as President. His office was legitimately confirmed in 2006, when he was in the most expensive and most complex elections in world history. His mandate was further extended, this time without controversy, in 2011. It has expired definitively in 2016, but the date for the upcoming elections remains uncertain: Kabila adopted the glissement strategy, slipping, remaining Acting President, in violation of the constitutional dictum. Meanwhile, massacres happen in the country. In the endless war in Kivu, eastern part of the country, a new humanitarian emergency has been added for several weeks. The latter is located in Kasai, a central region. Kabila’s army is comparing with local armed groups. There were more than five hundred dead within a few weeks and tens of thousands of people are fleeing. Addition to the 922,000 IDPs in 2016. The United evacuated Nations has calculated that this new humanitarian emergency will cost at least $ 75 million, needed to respond to the most urgent needs of the population, largely women and children, with no access to water and Basic toilet facilities. The Congo thus poses a new challenge to the international community. In addition to those that continue to protect civilians and assist refugees in Kivu, to persuade Kabila to allow elections to be held by the end of the year and to ensure its proper conduct and, above all, the outcome.
Elections do not represent the panacea of all the political, economic and security problems that afflict the country. However, they remain a priority, as it is clear that a context of uncertainty such as the present does nothing but fuel new explosions of violence in a deeply divided country where every time a void is created, someone tries to fill it up. Diamonds, coltan, copper, fertile soils for the benefit of few. Poverty, so much for everyone else. These are the factors that move interest and generate conflicts at the disadvantage of stability and the civilian population.
In addition to political mediation, the international community’s commitment to stabilizing Congo must also pass through the empowerment of the private sector, in particular by ensuring transparency in the supply of minerals, metals and other raw materials of which Congo and other African countries are rich, but whose citizens are often only victims. The European Union has finally approved a Regulation to break the market chain through which European industries were, more or less consciously, at risk of funding armed conflicts. A vicious circle in which the West, with one hand finances conflicts, with the other responds to the humanitarian crises that result from it. In any case, no one can ever pay the price of suffering and human rights violations to millions of citizens. That is why the rules adopted by the European Union are of paramount importance. Civil society and NGOs have stimulated a major work of awareness, in synergy with the European Parliament, which has allowed to improve the text initially submitted by the European Commission, and to ensure the duty of diligence exercised by the importing companies of Tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold. From January 1, 2021, the rules will affect about 95% of the imports of goods with which they manufacture everyday products such as cars, cell phones and jewelery.
The Regulation on Bloated Minerals is a first significant result for the achievement of which Parliament and the Italian Government have also acted with determination. A different behavior, on the other hand, would have been censored and strongly contradicted by the new Italian strategy for Africa. For some years, Italy has finally recognized the strategic interest of African countries and the importance of relaunching the political and economic relationship with their institutions and those of the African Union. This interest has resulted in numerous and institutional unheard travels, including those of the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, and of the Presidents of the Council, Matteo Renzi and Paolo Gentiloni. A year ago, with the first Italian-Africa Ministerial Conference, relaunching relations with Africa has also formally been recognized as a priority of Italian foreign policy. Stability and security for the benefit of both African and Italian societies are finally one of the three pillars on which the Italian strategy for the development of the African continent developed by the Democratic Party in the Chamber of Deputies is based. The other two pillars of this strategy, called the Africa Act, are growth and labor, training and culture. Together, they form a package of measures aimed at further boosting Italy-Africa relations and strengthening the Italian presence on the continent in a co-development logic.
The Africa Act was presented a few months ago to the Chamber of Deputies and has already contributed to producing important results, starting with the establishment of a Fund for Africa of 200 million euros with the 2017 Budget Law. It is important that civil society representatives continue to work together with the political representatives who share the objective that, through the fund, it does not end up favoring African partners in border control activities to the detriment of the programs for sustainable development. Cooperation with African countries for the proper management of migratory flows remains indispensable, but development cooperation is the way to ensure that young people, in spite of impressive demographic projections, provide a future of opportunities in their lands.
It is not Italy that is the European country that cultivates relations with the DRC, which is not among the priority countries of the three-year programming and addressing document for development cooperation. However, since 1982, it has benefited from our cooperation, particularly in the agricultural and health sector, and that Italy has been distinguished over the years as one of the most determined partners in the provision of humanitarian aid. Our development aid in Congo also goes to the European Union, which has committed more than half a billion euros in bilateral cooperation over five years.
No less important is the political and diplomatic commitment. Even in the current iron arm between Kabila and the opposition, the European Union and Italy have been working, alongside the National Bishops’ Conference of Congo, for reaching the global and inclusive agreement last December, spending on serious and credible elections by the end of this year and thus saving the unity of the country. This has cost our diplomacy some friction with Kabila’s government, but represents an indispensable commitment and consistent with the plan to foster development in the African continent right from the stabilization of the institutions that govern the countries. To function they need to be honestly served by a new African leadership. For this reason, the Africa Act devotes an important part to schooling programs, inter-university relations, and further measures to promote the spread of African pride in history, art, literature, and varied cultures in the continent.
In its troubled post-colonial history, Congo was guided and represented mostly by a impudent kleptocracy like that of dictator Mobutu and by bloody leaders like Jean-Pierre Bemba, the first to be convicted by International Justice for Use of systematic rapes as a weapon of war. Once again, the DRC is an archetypal case of what Africa needs: strong investment in the development of human capital capable of building and operating in a democratic institutional set-up. Unfortunately, on the other hand, the Congolese opposition to the Rassemblement is often the soul of internal disputes that only benefit those who wish to avoid the course of democratic elections.
In the few months that he ruled the Congo just after becoming independent, before being assassinated, Patrice Lumumba asked his fellow citizens to “forget about the tribal conflicts that exhaust us” and “are … concentrated in the regions where our mining resources are greatest”. 57 years later, these words are still present and represent the only hope for the stabilization of the Congo, for the future of Africa and for the balance of the world.
Translation by Lucia Loddo