As hundreds of thousands of people still live in fear of attacks, African leaders at the AU Summit must "seize the moment" and make peace a priority.
Leaders arriving at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa must seize the window of opportunity to take giant steps towards peace in eastern DR Congo, international agency Oxfam said today. It called on the AU to urgently step up its response to the enormous human suffering in the region.
Since the M23 armed group withdrew from Goma after capturing the city in November last year, global attention on the conflict has decreased, yet people are still fleeing attacks on their villages and daily looting and extortion by more than 25 armed groups. In North Kivu alone, some 910,000 people are still displaced with few basic services and little protection from violence.
Desire Assogbavi, the head of Oxfam's office at the AU, said: "Years of international policies in eastern DR Congo have failed to end people's suffering, and now is the time for the African Union to step up. The next few days offer a crucial opportunity for our continent's leaders to put an end to this unacceptable crisis. The lives of hundreds of thousands of African citizens are at stake here."
People living in terror
A recent Oxfam assessment around the town of Masisi in North Kivu found tens of thousands of people living in terror. Water points and infrastructure have been destroyed and cholera and other diseases are spreading fast as aid agencies are unable to properly respond due to ongoing fighting. There are now more than 60 camps in the area as people flee attacks by armed groups and Oxfam is scaling up its work in Rubaya, where around 40,000 people are now sheltering in a camp with no clean water. 150,000 displaced people are still living in camps around the city of Goma, Oxfam said.
Oxfam said the AU must step up its support and push the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) - made up of 12 African nations - to reach a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
An opportunity for peace
Assogbavi added: "Despite the suffering, there is now a real opportunity for peace and stability and the AU must seize this chance. Our leaders must send a message of hope and peace to the hundreds of thousands of displaced people all across eastern Congo. The lessons of the past must be learnt and the AU must make sure that any agreements are more than just words on paper, and tackle the root causes of a conflict that has blighted Africa for the past 20 years."
Oxfam said that any agreements must include the voices and opinions of the Congolese people, who have most at stake in resolving the crisis, and address underlying issues that fuel the conflict - such as lack of governance, the urgent need to reform the Congolese army which fails to protect its citizens, and the need for constructive regional relations. Potentially positive steps included in the 2006 Pact on Security, Stability and Development have not been implemented and must be reinvigorated, Oxfam said.
DRC is the biggest country in sub-Saharan Africa and the impact of the crisis has consequences for the stability of the rest of the continent, Oxfam said. More than 50,000 Congolese refugees are still sheltering in camps in Uganda and Rwanda and in the past few weeks thousands more have crossed the border.