The relationship between the UK and the Democratic Republic of Congo matters to us. We know how much the Congo wars cost the DRC with over 5 million lives lost. The UK supported and financed the creation of the largest UN peacekeeping operation globally so that it would never happen again.
And we see the potential, the prosperous country the DRC could become if free from conflict and able to develop. That is why our contributions in DRC exceed £1million per day, making us the second largest bilateral contributor after the US. The UK is here to work with the DRC for the long term.
The British Prime Minister set up the UK Special Envoy role because he wanted our relationship to match our investment. The region has mattered to me personally since I lived and worked there in the 1990s, first visiting Rwanda a year after the 1994 Rwandan genocide, then living and working in the NGO sector in Rwanda, Burundi and Eastern DRC from1997-9. I worked on Arusha as a translator, and also worked on food security and post-conflict rehabilitation. As I left that world and started an entirely different career, I continued to follow developments from a distance. So I hope that we can work to build our relationship and support the DRC in realising its potential. I think we can achieve a lot in partnership together.
I will be focusing on three areas where I want that partnership to grow: greater security, good governance and a stable region.
The first is greater security. While there has clearly been progress in the security situation in eastern DRC over the last fourteen years, the ongoing destabilising activity of foreign and domestic armed groups continues to be an obstacle to the DRC fulfilling its potential. The UK wants to see a future for the DRC where peacekeeping forces are no longer needed, but that is only possible if the security situation improves. That needs a partnership. The UK will use its role on the UN Security Council to ensure that the DRC can benefit from the best the international community can offer and that it is done with respect for and in co-operation with the government and its armed forces. I will be using my visit to urge the government to seize the opportunities available to back up their forces and repeat the successes of 2013 and 2014 in the next twelve months. We are stronger when we work together.
But even with further progress against armed groups, and on greater security and stability in eastern DRC, the bedrock of progress in DRC is good governance and the continued positive evolution of the political climate since Sun City agreement in 2002. The UK is clear that the biggest risk to stability is if the Congolese people’s expectation of choosing a new President next year is not met. It is true that the 2006 and 2011 presidential elections saw violence.
However we do not believe this is a reason to postpone the next presidential elections; it is rather a reason for everyone to work together to make sure they are credible.
The DRC has come a long way in its recent history. But recent events in one of DRC’s neighbours remind us how fragile these gains of democracy are.
In Burundi, President Nkurunziza decided to stay on in power in a way many people in Burundi and around the world consider illegal. Instead of bringing stability, this has brought instability. Since then the country has seen political assassinations, a coup attempt and over 200,000 Burundians becoming refugees, including in the DRC. And its economy is suffering thanks to the political and economic crisis which is engulfing the country. As the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance sets out, unconstitutional change is a serious threat to stability, peace, security and development.
You don’t have to be in Kinshasa for very long to know that this is all anyone is talking about here too. I’m not here to speculate but to talk about what is certain. The constitution is clear that presidential and legislative elections should happen by November 2016. As the UN Security Council said on 9 November 2015, a free, fair, credible, inclusive, transparent, peaceful and timely electoral process will contribute to the long-term stability and development of the DRC. I will be using my visit to talk about how the UK can support that goal. But to provide any kind of support we firstly need a credible electoral calendar, a realistic budget and the government to disburse money to CENI so it can begin its plans. The international community cannot commit to supporting the elections when there is no clear consensus.
Lastly, I will be using my visit to encourage the DRC to continue to play a positive and influential role in the development of a stable region. As a country with nine different neighbours, and the natural political centre of gravity for central Africa, the DRC must continue to play a strong role in regional politics. It is the hallmark of a caring and confident nation to help its neighbours.
I hope that the DRC will encourage dialogue and reconciliation in Burundi. It is the UK’s view that only a genuine and inclusive dialogue which includes Burundians from both inside and outside Burundi and is convened outside Burundi, and which is based on respect of the Arusha Agreement, will bring about a consensual solution to the crisis facing Burundi. While the Government of Burundi fails to listen, the Burundian people are suffering because of the poor decision-making of their leaders. The violence in Burundi must stop and the region must help put Burundi back on track towards a sustainable, peaceful and stable future.
Additionally, I will be using my visit to support those who have been working towards making DRC a place where stability, peace, security and development is assured. I welcome all the progress that has been made on this front during the last fifteen years. Nevertheless, I am concerned by signs that political space is shrinking. I call upon the government to guarantee political space in future.
I raise all these issues because the relationship between the DRC and UK matters to us and always will. We are partners in the long term. True partners can respectfully raise difficult issues with one another because through exploring them together the partnership is strengthened. It is a partnership between governments but also a partnership between peoples. Long may that partnership flourish and develop.