Ebola Epidemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
On May 8, 2018, The Ministry of Health in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) declared an outbreak of the virus disease Ebola in the North Kivu Province. The Democratic Republic of the Congo declared the epidemic over on July 24, 2018. This represented the ninth Ebola epidemic in this African country since 1976.

The Development of Ebola Epidemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The disease had been slowly building to the epidemic, even catastrophic levels. According to The World Health Organization (WHO), the country had seen and been aware of the virus in the area since the April 4. The organization reports that, in April, a total of 44 people had been infected with the Ebola virus, which included 23 deaths.

However, in May, this number was disputed, as only 3 new cases were confirmed. The World Health Organization later narrowed the origins of this particular epidemic and found that it began in the northwestern area of Bikoro, which was the place where first cases were recorded on May 8. From this, The World Health Organization identified nearly 400 contacts of Ebola victims that are currently and continuously being followed up.

The History of Ebola Outbreaks in DRC

This isn’t the first Ebola outbreak the country has seen, however. Though Ebola outbreaks are uncommon, the Democratic Republic of Congo has experienced multiple flare-ups of the virus- nine since 1976. One such flare-up happened in not so distant past, in 2017 to be exact, with five confirmed cases that were quickly dealt with. The fast response and eradication convinced many, including the World Health Organization and health officials that the 2018 Ebola epidemic in the country will be easily dealt with. Yet, this prediction proved to be optimistic and naive since, within a month of declaring the outbreak of an epidemic, two health officials were among those affected.

The Declaration of Epidemic

The World Health Organization was very quick to declare this year’s Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo as a global emergency to public health. Unlike the Ebola epidemic that ravaged Western Africa in 2014, The World Health Organization declared a state of emergency in the Democratic Republic of Congo swiftly after seeing the number of cases increase.

Moreover, the organization made an immediate urgent request for $57 million to stop the spread of Ebola. In total, the money received amounted to $63 million, exceeding the appeal by $6 million. Among those who contributed to the funding towards ending this Ebola epidemic in the DRC was USAID who contributed with $5.3 million.

On July 24, 2018, Al Jazeera reported that the Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been declared over. The virus had lasted a total of 10 weeks and had taken a total of 33 lives. Fortunately, the disease had remained contained, as Bikoro, the epicenter of the epidemic is a remote area of the country.

Although the people that were infected as a result of last Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo have completed their treatment, and have thus been declared cured, the health ministry of the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as The World Health Organization are monitoring the situation in the country closely to ensure the virus does not spread.

Isabella Agostini
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Poverty in The Democratic Republic of the Congo
Poverty in the Democratic Republic of The Congo (DRC) can be interpreted as a combination of spillover conflict from neighboring African nations, as well as an embedded culture of governmental corruption. In the text below, the top 10 facts about poverty in the Democratic Republic of the Congo will address the underlying causes, as well as how DRC has been able to improve impoverished conditions in recent years.

Top 10 Facts About Poverty in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

  1. The Democratic Republic of Congo has a population of approximately 78 million people. Out of this number, 80 percent of the population live in extreme poverty. DRC is classified internationally as the country of medium concerning human development. Indicators of human development measure parameters such as population’s well being, regarding life expectancy, child/maternal mortality, infant mortality, malnutrition and mortality associated with a disease.
  2. Wealth is unequally distributed, far better in urban over rural areas and wealth is a determinant for access to sanitation and medical services. The poor in rural areas are most affected.
  3. Poverty is also a direct consequence of the political conflict that occurred during the 1990s, called the First and Second Congo War. The country has seen a dramatic transformation from a state engulfed in brutal genocidal violence into a relatively stable post-conflict society. Poverty is a byproduct of political violence that in turn has significant economic and social repercussions. The consequences of the war can be seen even today, as more than 900,000 people were displaced from the country. in 2016 War-torn communities have left approximately 4 million children orphans or living on the streets.
  4. Contrary to popular belief, poverty and development are linked. As African nations develop, their populations rise as a result. However, the flip side to this is that malnutrition and new diseases spread as the existing system of governance cannot keep up with the uptick of the population.
  5. DRC transitioned from a Marxist to free market economy that has relied heavily on wealth from the mining industry. Upon the transition, the new economy has not been managed appropriately, as wealth is spent lavishly on the patronage of government officials instead of humanitarian efforts.
  6. War impacted on poverty since infrastructure communities that rely on for clean water and sanitation were destroyed, contributing to the spread of disease. Waterborne diseases, such as diarrhea, cholera and malaria are the most common and deadly in the country. Less than one-fourth of DRC’s population has access to clean drinking water and sanitation services. DRC has a 45 percent inoculation rate of malaria, resulting from lack of access to cleaning drinking water and poor nutrition. Approximately 40 percent of deaths in the country is related to malaria.
  7. DRC’s governmental structure has had a tumultuous relationship with the population, engaging in genocidal violence during internal conflict, and an unstable kleptocratic government post-conflict system. Historically, the country functions under an economy and government of affection. Primarily, government investment is spent on personal relations to buy popular support, rather than on social programs that would earn support.
  8. The people of the DRC look to the international community and nongovernmental organizations for assistance. The Nouvelle Esperance (New Hope) program offered great assistance in the Millennium Declaration that is based in human development and humanitarian assistance but also has specific goals to eliminate poverty all together using a strategy that fosters national and international stability. The Global Partnership plays an integral role in improving education in the DRC, increasing access to education by providing $20 million in learning materials and renovating 728 classrooms. Other notable contributions have come from UNICEF and USAID that aid and monitor the quality of the services that the country’s government provides.
  9. Significant assistance programs have been provided by transnational banks such as the World Bank and the African Development Bank. African Development Bank’s helps reduce infant and maternal mortality rates through programs that equally distribute medical supplies. World Bank’s helps with the program aimed to increase standards of living through sanitation, energy and various accessible social services. World Bank has 29 total projects active in the country representing a total of $3.8 billion. World Bank has also funded medical projects assisting the DRC in the successful eradication of poliomyelitis. Since World Bank began humanitarian projects in the DRC in the post-conflict era of the 1990s, there is a vast improvement since the strategy has shifted away from emergency assistance programs to sustainable growth strategies.
  10. Different organizations are helping the country’s situation. With the help of the U.N. which the Democratic Republic of Congo joined in 2000, the country has successfully been able to demobilize and improve health and education opportunities. Britain’s Department of International Development has developed an initiative that aims to support long-term programs that tackle the underlying issues of poverty, with the goal of cutting the number of people in poverty in half, as well as ensuring all children have a primary education, sexual equality, a reduction in child and mother death rates and environmental protection. Other notable contributions have come from the French and Belgian governments that foster public management of resources as well as public administrative support.

These top 10 facts about poverty in the Democratic Republic of the Congo provide an understanding of not only how poverty developed in the country and the effects poverty has had on the people, but also working solutions to address this issue. The Democratic Republic of the Congo can also provide an example of success for other post-conflict societies in improving poverty rates.

– Kimberly Keysa
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Hunger in the Congo
The Congo or the Republic of the Congo has high poverty and hunger rates. Malnutrition, anemia and stunted growth have been the direct consequences of poverty and hunger. The top 10 facts of hunger in the Congo presented below detail the different causes and effects of hunger in the country.

Top 10 Facts About Hunger in The Congo

  1. Fourteen percent of families in Congo are food insecure and 47 percent of the population lives under the national poverty line.
  2. The population is heavily dependant on farming of tubers and cassava. These food ingredients do not supply enough nutrients and reflect a lack of diversity in the everyday diet in the Congo.
  3. More than 75 percent of food in the Congo is imported. The direct result of this fact are high food prices that are especially dangerous because of the high poverty rates. However, the Congo does have the ability to change this statistic because even the population is constantly growing, only around 2 percent of the farmable land is used to produce food. The Agriculture Orientation Index for Government Expenditures score was 0.66 in 2010, which is an increase from 0.19 in 2004. Still, it reflects the government’s inadequate spending on agriculture and room for improvement.
  4. In 2016, violence broke out in Pool, a southeastern part of the country, displacing 100,000 people. The conflict inflamed the existing hunger crisis and malnutrition rates passed the 15 percent critical threshold. It did come to an end with a ceasefire in December 2017.
  5. Hunger has harmful effects on children and can disrupt their growth and development process. More than 12 percent of children under the age of 5 are underweight and 21.2 percent experienced slowed growth. Thirty percent of the population is stunted as a result of malnutrition.
  6. Hunger can be especially harmful to infants, who are more vulnerable to its effects. Malnutrition is the fifth cause of premature death and has been for over 10 years, with infant mortality at 3.3 percent. Additionally, only 5.6 percent of children aged between 6 months and 2 years receive a minimum acceptable diet (MAD).
  7. Anemia is the second most common cause of disability in the Congo and is a direct result of nutrition deficiencies. In 2012, 66.7 percent of children under the age of 5 and 54.2 percent of women had anemia. There have been attempts to fight this issue, including supplements and micronutrient powders for children.
  8. Thirty-five percent of people live in rural areas, where the effects of hunger are more dramatic. Children under the age of 5 in rural areas are 1.9 times more likely to be underweight than those in urban areas. Stunting rates for children under the abovementioned age are also higher, with 42.5 percent of the rural population being too short for their age compared to 27.2 percent in urban areas.
  9. Some indicators of hunger show signs of progress. While there have been highs and lows, the prevalence of undernourishment has gone down from 35.9 percent in 2001 to 30.5 percent in 2016. The percent of stunted children under the age of 5 has also gone down in a 10-year span, from 31.5 percent in 2005 to 21.2 percent in 2015.
  10. The World Food Programme is working towards their “Zero Hunger” goal in the Congo through food and voucher distribution, refugee aid and nutrition programs. They distribute food and vouchers that can be exchanged refugees and displaced people food. They provide nutritious foods for students in rural areas, some of which comes from local farmers. They have also established “social safety nets” that require HIV/TB patients and pregnant women to make regular doctor visits and check-ups in return for food vouchers.

While these top 10 facts about hunger in Congo demonstrate the severity of the situation, progress has been and is still being made to improve the situation. Through the efforts of various organizations, such as the World Food Program, success is achievable.

Massarath Fatima
Photo: Flickr

facts about genocide in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has experienced ongoing violence since the mid-1990s. Although the DRC has the potential to be one of the richest countries in the world with its vast resources, parties and rebels in the DRC are taking and profiting from the resources and committing mass murder in the process. These are seven facts about genocide in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Facts About Genocide in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

  1. Many believe the genocide committed by the DRC is a result of and closely connected to the conflict in Rwanda in 1994. Fighting still continues today on the Rwanda-DRC border, caused by the persecution of Rwandan Hutu refugees who fled to the DRC. A human rights activist from the border city of Goma told the BBC, “People don’t talk about it enough… but the Rwandan genocide was like flicking over the first domino.”
  2. The main participants in the genocide and violence in the DRC include the national army, the Armed Forces of the DRC and diverse groups of rebels throughout the country, including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda and Mayi-Mayi militias.
  3. The atrocities of the genocide not only include mass murders, but also abductions, rape, child labor and the displacement of persons. The DRC has been involved in the conflict since 1996, which is estimated to be the cause of more than six million deaths. Because of widespread violence, more than three million people have been forced to leave their homes and many continue to go without humanitarian assistance.
  4. Many of the six million deaths have been indirect consequences of the war. Diseases such as malnutrition and malaria have run rampant due to the country’s political instability and lack of infrastructure.
  5. The violence is far from over. In August 2017, the U.N. reported that in the DRC’s Kasai province, an estimated 2,000 people have been murdered due to ethnicity-based violence and that several mass graves have since been discovered in the area.
  6. Since December 2017, more than 34 villages have been ransacked by Lendu militiamen, who have killed many, including women and children, while also leaving many Hema people homeless. The DRC government has since decided not to intervene. However, the U.N. did warn the government months beforehand about a potential ethnic conflict that could lead to the deaths of many.
  7. There have since been efforts and intervention to address DRC’s genocide. In 1999, the U.N. created the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) in order to protect civilians and transform the country. In 2013, the U.N. extended MONUSCO further, making it first U.N. mission to include offensive action to strengthen the peacekeeping operation. The U.N.’s intervention brigade has since helped defeat the M23 rebels and continues to extend its mandate to stop other rebel groups.

These facts about genocide in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are only a portion of the complex situation in the DRC. With the country’s weak governance and many rebel groups, the DRC’s people have been constrained by too many years of violence and conflict. Nevertheless, by putting a stop to corruption, human rights violations and rebel groups through continued international efforts, the DRC has the potential to be a rich and prosperous country.

– Emma Martin
Photo: Flickr

Starbucks' Partnership with ECIThe Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI) was founded in 2010 by Ben Affleck. The goal of the ECI is to work in advocacy and grant-making at the local community level and to help the people who live in the eastern Congo. The ECI works incredibly hard to boost the coffee and cocoa industry as well as establish a successful and sustainable community there. Starbucks’ partnership with ECI is one among many in both the private and public sectors to create new opportunities in the Congo.

Background of the Democratic Republic of Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has a population of 75 million people and has some of the most fertile lands in the world. Most of the farming communities are found around Lake Kivu, in the eastern part of the country. Despite the conflict that has been ongoing in the DRC, the Lake Kivu area farmers have prevailed to provide some of the world’s best coffee and cocoa.

The DRC continues to work towards peace, with the completed Amani program for disarmament and the current Stabilization Program for Eastern DRC focusing on education, health and reintegrating soldiers into their communities.

The Success of Starbucks’ Partnership with ECI

Starbucks’ partnership with ECI began at the end of 2014. The goal of this partnership is to help sustainable agriculture and production of coffee grow in the Congo, mainly in the DRC. There are further plans to work with an additional 10,000 farmers and continue to build up the coffee industry in the Congo.

In 2014, when Starbucks’ partnership with ECI first began, the primary suppliers of coffee were in the Lake Kivu area. Over 4,500 farmers sold their coffee to Starbucks and were able to triple their income. With this increased income, the farmers were better able to send their children to school and gain access to healthcare.

By 2015, more than 4,000 farmers were able to export their coffee to Starbucks, who then sold the farmers’ coffee for a limited time at certain locations. Starbucks plans to purchase more Congolese coffee every year to support the ECI, the more than 10,000 farmers and their communities.

The Coffees

In 2016, Starbucks’ partnership with ECI continued, with even more specialty coffee becoming available at 1,500 locations across the United States and Canada, as well as online. This launch took place on March 22 and was a single-origin specialty coffee from South Kivu. The limited release from Lake Kivu included coffee from 4,500 farmers. The successful release was the result of a four-year project funded by the Howard G. Buffet Foundation and USAID.

Since 2015, there have been annual limited edition coffees from Lake Kivu that have had bold and flavorful blends, available as part of the Starbucks Reserve coffee selection. All of this has been made possible because of Starbucks’ partnership with ECI.

– Amber Duffus

Photo: Flickr

Growing Businesses in the CongoThe Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), located in central Africa, has long been an area of conflict, particularly in the eastern part of the country. Emerging coups and unstable governments have been a source of invasive wars and high taxes. The DRC is still ranked only 176th out of 188 countries for human development as listed by the U.N., but this is still an improvement, having moved up 11 places between 2013 and 2014. The Congolese people are making an effort to turn their country around by becoming more autonomous and growing businesses in the Congo to provide themselves with a living wage. This change is also turning foreign investors’ heads as they look abroad for growing economies.

The wars and conflict can generally be traced to political contentions which have then impacted education and business. Many have disagreed on the best path for the country to take, which combined with greed for power has created corrupt governments in the past. While there is still a ways to go before the country will be able to host fair elections, steps have been made to ensure they happen. In December 2016, an agreement was signed stating that President Kabila would not run for a third term (he has been president since 2001) and that time would be allotted for elections to be set up. Originally the new election was supposed to be held in late 2017, but voting was pushed back to December 2018. Although there is fear and frustration related to the delays, the fact that conversation is occurring rather than war is a positive step in the right direction and has in itself created more stability for the country.

Growth in the political sector has equaled, if not been exceeded by growth in the business sector as well. In the past, much of the difficulty of growing businesses in the Congo has been related to unreliable taxes. Jason Stearns, the author of Dancing in the Glory of Monsters, writes in his book, “If you paid all your taxes in the Congo…you would be dishing out 230 percent of your profits.” In other words, the only way to operate a business is to not pay all your taxes. Unfortunately, according to Stearns, the taxes were created by an unhealthy state who used taxes as a means of bribery. Even with government reforms, these taxes are often forgotten about until someone decides to use them take money from a business.

Even with the risk of unknown taxes. there are still growing businesses in the Congo, particularly in the micro-business realm, which does not necessarily require a brick and mortar shop. Now, if someone wants to start a business, they might just need a pan, oil, flour and a box to cook hotcakes and make a living wage as a street vendor. This flexibility helps keep these entrepreneurs from being charged excess taxes and is the cornerstone for turning these micro-businesses into larger businesses in the future.

Investing foreigners might be at higher risk because they will be perceived as having money to spend on taxes. However, foreign investors bring jobs and oftentimes roads to the country, which in the past may have slowed down investors before, but now increasing knowledge of and access to the DRC’s rich mining resources are creating businesses in the Congo, which has brought many Congolese around to accepting involvement in mining.

Changing and simplifying tax laws is a long-term goal that will be one of the keys to creating a stable and growing economy for the DRC. This will reduce the risk of being charged an unforeseen tax or fee and will continue to create growing businesses in the Congo.

– Natasha Komen

Photo: Flickr

Women's Empowerment in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Located in Central Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has experienced several decades of war, rebellions and civil strife between communities. While peace has been established throughout the majority of the country, the eastern provinces of the DRC remain areas in which gender-based violence frequently occurs. Recent nationwide surveys have indicated that 57 percent of Congolese women have suffered extreme physical or sexual violence, including rape. The issue continues to be exacerbated by a culture of impunity and gender-based violence; highlighting the need for women’s empowerment in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The issue of gender-based violence continues to be perpetuated through several key factors:

  1. Women care for an average of four children
  2. The average daily income of a woman in the DRC is $0.74
  3. 57 percent of women have no formal education
  4. Congolese culture perpetuates harmful gender discrimination

These factors place women at heightened risk for gender-based violence and exploitation as a result of their socioeconomic position and cultural norms.

What is being done to help

Women for Women International is an organization that works in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to empower women through a yearlong program. Since 2004, the organization has served 91,000 women ranging in ages 31-40. Throughout the course of the program, Congolese women are taught skills in a wide range of fields including agribusiness, basket-making, restaurant and catering and small business. By teaching women these skills, Women for Women International saw an increase from $0.74 to $1.22 in the average daily earnings of women. While this is a small improvement, the organization is actively trying to improve the livelihood of the Congolese women they serve through skill building, education of their rights as women and advocacy.

The organization also attempts to engage Congolese men as part of the widespread social change that is occurring across the country. The team that works in the DRC has developed a program for men by providing them with knowledge about health, and social and economic issues that can negatively affect women. To date, they have had close to 10,000 men participate.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) understands the need for women’s empowerment in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The UNFPA helps to aid survivors of sexual violence by providing them with medical care, economic and social rehabilitation and legal assistance. They also have trained thousands of armed forces on how to protect and care for survivors. Since the UNFPA arrived in the DRC, over 15,000 sexual violence survivors have received basic medical care.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) also did a tremendous amount of work in 2014 and 2015 to encourage women’s empowerment in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They provided medical treatment, psychosocial support and life skills training to over 9,000 survivors of sexual violence. They also provided economic programming to improve economic capabilities for close to 16,000 women.

The work of these organizations and agencies have had profound implications for women’s empowerment in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Their efforts have helped to shift cultural norms and provide women with the necessary skills and services to overcome the violence they have experienced.

– Sarah Jane Fraser

Photo: Flickr

South Sudan and Congo use U.S. AidOn October 21, 2017, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley declared her intent to scrutinize how South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) use U.S. aid. “The U.N. spends over $2 billion per year on the peacekeeping missions in these two countries alone…. we will not do that if our assistance is continuously blocked from reaching people in need,” said Haley.

The idea that developing countries waste generous donations from developed countries informs a great deal of discussion around the continent. Not only has the myth of corruption been inflated in the past decade, but the myth doesn’t explain the struggles of the two nations singled out by Haley. Here’s how the DRC and South Sudan utilize foreign assistance to develop a better future for themselves and for America.

South Sudan

In the 2017 fiscal year, the U.S. provided over $1 billion of humanitarian aid to South Sudan. Of that money, $746 million went to emergency assistance and $246 million went to life-saving care for refugees. These funds were provided for disease screenings, malnutrition treatment and staple food donations.

How can anyone be sure that the money went to those provisions? Development Initiatives may be an applicable answer. According to the website’s data, South Sudan brought in $3.3 billion in 2015. Of that money, $457.7 million was dedicated to operating expenses and $573.3 million went to oil service payments. Oil transfers to states, block grants to states and emergency funds made up 33 percent of expenditures according to Development Initiatives, roughly $1 billion.

Though operating expenses for oil companies may seem like a waste of how South Sudan and Congo Use U.S. Aid, allowing an economy to develop ensures that a nation will not always depend on foreign aid. For an example of how a financed economy can keep a war-torn nation afloat, look no further than…

The Democratic Republic of the Congo

Between 2011 and 2015, the DRC emerged as one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, averaging at 7 percent annual GDP growth. The Economist predicts that Africa will overtake Asia with the number of countries on the fastest growing economies list.

But why should the U.S. continue investing in an underdeveloped region mitigated with political strife? According to Alyoscia D’Onofrio of the International Rescue Committee, the world may not be giving enough aid as is. D’Onofrio acknowledges the massive poverty, malnutrition crises and presidential abuses plaguing the DRC. But donor aid provides an incentive for the DRC to respect its people’s wishes and bring an end to the violence. The U.N. has decreased the amount of aid sent to the DRC over the past five years. Giving less money has not helped people in poverty. To allow for long-term political change, argues D’Onofrio, the country needs to escape from its vulnerable state. The DRC can only do so by providing basic needs for its citizens.

Ambassador Haley suggests a re-assessment of how South Sudan and the DRC use U.S. Aid, and D’Onofrio agrees with her on that point. He believes that aid requires evidence-supported approaches, and he questions the effectiveness of NGOs. Despite these misgivings, D’Onofrio still supports foreign aid, and would not deprive funds, as suggested by Haley. “We view these efforts as foundational for bringing real and lasting improvements in… the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” said D’Onofrio in a Time Magazine article. “Now is not the time to step back from the challenge.”

Nick Edinger

Photo: Flickr

 

Child RecruitmentThe Democratic Republic of Congo’s national army recently became child-free after being removed from the U.N.’s “list of shame” of armed forces recruiting and using child soldiers. This list details all of the parties in armed conflicts that have “committed serious violations of international humanitarian law against children”.

However, even with their history of abuse and child recruitment, the Congolese army, also known as the FARDC, made considerable progress by releasing 8,546 children from their ranks between 2009 and 2015. The mission was conducted with the help of MONUSCO, the U.N. peacekeeping unit in the country.

Since its creation in 2003, Congo’s national army has experienced a long period of violence and conflicts with multiple Congolese militias. Those conflicts were the scene of several human rights abuses such as sexual abuse, child recruitment and deaths, perpetrated mostly by the FARDC armed forces.

Even though child recruitment has been decreasing, sexual violence against children is still at the top of the list of violations committed by the FARDC. It affects mainly girls, who represent 40 percent of Congo’s child soldiers, according to a MONUSCO report. While some of those girls are forced to join, many of them enlist voluntarily, since being in the army gives them better opportunities than living in neighborhoods prone to poverty and a lack of educational resources.

MONUSCO also revealed that documenting the percentage of girls in armed groups has always been a challenge, as the number of girls is often underreported. Out of the 8,546 freed child soldiers registered by MONUSCO, only 7 percent of girls were documented, which is a radical difference from the 40 percent figure estimated by hundreds of witnesses.

Being delisted by the U.N. is, however, a major win for the Congolese armed forces, whose efforts in stopping child recruitment have led to a positive change towards respecting human rights. Training armed groups on child protection issues and creating standard operating procedures have both helped to free child soldiers and eradicate the practice of child recruitment. Eliminating sexual violence within armies is the U.N.’s next mission to better the lives of thousands of soldiers.

Sarah Soutoul

Photo: Flickr

Causes of Poverty in CongoDespite its vast material wealth, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has long been a very poor nation. Beneath its surface lies about $24 trillion in minerals, but this treasure has so far done nothing to alleviate poverty in this country. Half of the country’s population lives below the poverty line, living on less than $1 a day, especially those in rural communities. There is no single reason, but there are several causes of poverty in Congo that can be identified.

In rural areas, there has often been a lack of investment in basic infrastructure, such as roads, making transportation costs high. Farming methods are often antiquated and inefficient. Finally, there is a general lack of investment on the part of the government and the private sector in rural Congo.

Disease has always been one of the biggest causes of poverty in Congo. There were about 6.7 million reported cases of malaria in 2009, which is especially deadly to children. Cholera outbreaks are frequent. HIV/AIDS affects 5.3 percent of Congolese. Congo’s healthcare system is anemic, with hospitals often understaffed and underequipped.

The mining industry in Congo is particularly corrupt and is one of the largest causes of poverty in Congo. The precious metals mined in the Congo are necessary for a lot of technology taken for granted in the west: smartphones, computers, etc. Many foreign investors in the mining sector end up signing billion-dollar contracts with parties funding armed paramilitary groups, who siphoned some $185 million in 2008 from mining deals. The Congolese army is also dependent on funding from valuable minerals.

There has been some recent pushback against corruption in the Congolese mining industry. #Standwithcongo was launched by activist JD Steir with Robin Wright of House of Cards fame to get mining companies to disclose owners of the offshore shell companies involved with these mining deals.

Additionally, the Congolese army has been successful in pushing back the rebel M23 faction, creating peace in the region and eliminating at least one of the factions that profits from the corrupt mining industry.
The United States has not been silent on the matter either  The U.S. Financial Reform Act, also known as Dodd-Frank, requires companies whose products contain certain minerals to disclose whether or not those minerals came from the Congo, and show what steps they took to ensure such trade was not financing armed groups.  The Department of State has cooperated with Congo’s government and mining sector to establish supply chains for conflict-free minerals being mined in the eastern part of the country.
The causes of poverty in Congo are myriad, but there have been signs of improvement, thanks in part to the actions of the United States, unlikely activists and Congo’s own desire to see a new day.

Andrew Revord
Photo: Flickr