Despite having the fourth-largest population in Africa and one of the richest supplies of natural resources anywhere on the planet, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has been a perpetual human rights catastrophe for decades. Due to fractured internal violence, the DRC’s economy has struggled to progress, and the nation is now among the five poorest on earth. This violence is due to a complicated mix of ethnic tensions, national interests and competition over local resources. However, the widespread availability of weapons fuels it and allows it to continue unabated. For reformers to reduce gun violence in the DRC and develop the broken economy, it is vital that the nation mitigates weapons trafficking and confronts the sea of weapons within its own borders.
The Disastrous Impact of Gun Violence in the DRC
The DRC has a long history of extreme violence and instability, extending from Belgium’s brutal colonial reign in the nation. But, following the Rwandan genocide and the influx of Hutu and Tutsi immigrants into the DRC, this violence greatly escalated and has utterly undermined the nation’s development – resulting in a poverty rate of more than 80%.
Gun violence in the DRC between rebels and pro-government forces has displaced around 6 million individuals and killed a similar number; mass rapes and massacres have grown tragically common. As a result of this destruction, currently, more than 4 million people suffer from malnutrition, and the education system is in shatters. This violence has shown no signs of stopping, as more than 100 armed groups are actively fighting in the Eastern part of the country over territory, natural resources and ethnic disputes.
The DRC government has passed reforms and worked with international actors to address firearms. A product of the DRC’s limited governance is that the nation’s borders are extremely porous, meaning criminals easily traffic guns into the country. The DRC has participated in numerous workshops and forums with other nations to analyze flaws in their border security, strengthen cooperation with bordering countries and create action plans for reform. However, the DRC has struggled to implement meaningful border control legislation and still cannot realistically patrol most of its borders.
Even without the influx of new firearms, though, the country possesses enough weapons internally to maintain perpetual violence. The most recent comprehensive study from 2010 estimated there were more than 300,000 guns in the hands of civilians in the east of the country alone. As a member of the Regional Center on Small Arms (RECSA), a coalition of near-bye states that agreed to work together to reduce the number of small arms and light weapons, the DRC has taken steps to reduce the grip weapons have over the country. They have attempted voluntary gun collections to take firearms out of circulation, taken measures to protect state-owned stockpiles of guns from porous mismanagement and embarked on education campaigns to reduce the DRC’s cultural normalization of guns.
Additional Work Needed
While the DRC can embark on any number of avenues for firearm policy reform, enforcing real change has been challenging. Thus, as groups like the African Union have argued, the DRC must strengthen its government and crack down on corruption if it hopes to truly deal with the firearm issue. Moreover, given the weakness of its state, the DRC must willingly cooperate with other countries to crack down on guns (and vice versa).
For instance, NGOs have called on the DRC to join the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), an international treaty that the UN adopted. The treaty would help the DRC gain external assistance in fighting the illegal distribution of guns to local militias within its borders. If the DRC can strengthen its own government and work successfully with international actors, then it could pass more ambitious reforms. For example, critics have argued that a more effectively run DRC could help demobilize fighters, trace guns and destroy a larger number of old firearms.
Gun violence in the DRC has submerged the nation under a perpetual downpour of blood. This violence has utterly destroyed the country’s ability to prosper and left its population trapped in unthinkable poverty. While many aspects of the DRC need drastic reform, at its core, the widespread prevalence of firearms enables this carnage and promulgates widespread poverty. The DRC has implemented moderate reforms and worked with outside actors to investigate the issue. However, the weak nature of the nation’s government means reformers have a long way to go.
– David Newman